- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 2, 2000

The Chinese decision on Thursday not to move its state-run news agency, Xinhua, into an apartment building overlooking the Pentagon was a very wise one. It also got the State Department out of an uncomfortable bind. There is just about nothing American diplomats hate more than having to offend the Chinese. Yet this was so evidently detrimental to U.S. national security that something had to be done. The State Department was in the process of thinking about the matter, and could have kept on thinking for the next 54 days (by law it has 60 days to review such cases), when the purchase of the building was cancelled by the Chinese.

It took amazing gall for Chinese officials to even consider this gambit in the first place, which only came to light through reporting in this newspaper. Belatedly, Xinhua asked Monday to apply for admission to buy the seven-story-tall building in Arlington, less than a mile from the Pentagon and with a view to match. From this advantageous position, security experts say that Chinese spies ahem, sorry, journalists -would have a first-class view of who comes and who goes at the Pentagon. In other words, it is a positively splendid location from the Chinese perspective.

Equally astonishing is the fact that this was new information to the State Department just two weeks ago, after the Chinese had already bought the house and signed the deal on June 15. No application had been forthcoming from Xinhua requesting to buy the property, though this is mandated through the 1984 U.S. Foreign Missions Act.

The Chinese version of the story is interesting, and more than a little confused. At first, the Chinese claimed that no permission was needed. However, when the news broke about the obligation to inform the State Department, Xinhua claimed that an application had been mailed on May 22. A search of almost one month's worth of State Department mail uncovered no application. Jiang Liu, bureau chief of Xinhua, called The Washington Times' suggestions that the post might be used for spying of spying "groundless, absurd and irresponsible." Simultaneously, Pentagon Spokesman Kenneth Bacon assured the press that DOD had countermeasures to foil surveillance. And if you believe that, we have an apartment building in Arlington to sell you.

On June 27, the State Department finally put Xinhua on notice that it could not use the building until an application for approval had been sought, received and granted.

All of which raises the inevitable question: How could this have taken place without the knowledge of anyone in the relevant agencies having the faintest clue? The answer is probably the same one that keeps coming up time and again when you consider the appalling breaches of security practices that have taken place in the course of the two Clinton administrations, particularly where the People's Republic of China is concerned. This time, the Chinese realized that the gig was up, but it was no thanks to those in charge of guarding our national security.

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