- The Washington Times - Friday, June 23, 2000

The State Department said Thursday it had told the Chinese government this week it must gain prior U.S. approval before its state-run news service could occupy a seven-story apartment building overlooking the Pentagon.
As State pressed the Chinese Embassy here, House Republicans said they would force the department to keep Xinhua News Agency from permanently occupying the Pentagon Ridge Apartments as its Washington bureau.
"What I can tell you is that the Xinhua News Agency should have requested prior authorization from the Department of State to purchase an apartment building," said Philip T. Reeker, a department spokesman. "That's a fact. We have informed them that such a request needs to be made and there are talks with the Chinese Embassy, and we'll have to see what develops from there."
Rep. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, prepared an amendment to a State Department budget bill scheduled to be debated in the House last night.
"The Xinhua News Agency is an integral part of the government's intelligence-gathering apparatus," said a statement from Mr. Vitter's office. "Should this purchase be allowed to stand, it is clear the U.S. national-security interests will be compromised."
Defense Department spokesmen, seeking to reassure the public that it has adequate security measures in place, downplayed the importance of Xinhua's new location. The spokesman said its measures would defeat eavesdropping.
Mr. Vitter's amendment would tell State not to use funds to approve Xinhua's purchase. But since the bill could not take effect until Oct. 1, the measure's real purpose is to send a signal to the administration to reject the $4.6 million sale, the congressman said.
Republican opposition surfaced after the State Department said the Chinese government failed to notify the United States, as required by law, that Xinhua planned to buy the building. Some department officials urged the administration to press China to cancel the sale, which was completed June 15.
Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Republican Conference, denounced the sale, saying it follows on a long list of security breaches during the Clinton presidency.
"It is unacceptable for the Chinese government to own a building within earshot and view of the Pentagon," said Mr. Watts, mentioning security lapses at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and a missing laptop at State that held classified information.
A spokesman for the Senate Intelligence Committee said it had summoned Clinton administration officials for a meeting today to determine how the Xinhua sale went undetected.
Administration officials learned of the sale in Wednesday's editions of The Washington Times.
The 1985 Foreign Missions Act requires foreign embassies to notify State when they plan to buy U.S. property. The notification allows the department to consult with various intelligence agencies to determine if the deal would harm national security.
At the State Department yesterday, Mr. Reeker said once the Chinese apply for approval, the United States has 60 days to either approve or reject the transaction.
Mr. Reeker declined to speculate on whether State would block the sale or whether it has the legal authority to do so.
Asked why Xinhua must get approval, he said, "The Xinhua News Agency is considered tied to the government of the People's Republic of China and, therefore, is under the relevant provisions of this act in terms of the restriction. They're very aware of that."
A Chinese Embassy spokesman did not return a reporter's phone call yesterday.
U.S. China experts say Xinhua, a growing news service with bureaus in more than 100 countries, is an arm of the Chinese bureaucracy. Xinhua's last president, who died of an undisclosed illness last week, was a member of the ruling Communist Party's Central Committee.
Congress' Cox report named for Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican, who chaired the probe last year disclosed a widespread effort by the Chinese to steal U.S. technological secrets.
The Beijing government and Xinhua's Washington bureau chief deny that the news service engages in espionage. They call such reports "smears" and "nonsense."
In 1997, Xinhua's Washington bureau head, Wei Guoqiang, 47, committed suicide after being recalled to Beijing. Chinese officials had discovered he was preparing to defect to the United States, according to a report in the New York Times.
The Times said Xinhua "collects information overseas for the Chinese government [and] is also reported to provide journalistic 'cover' overseas for officers of the Ministry of State Security, China's intelligence agency."
Mr. Reeker yesterday declined to say if Xinhua spies on America.
"As you know extremely well, we don't comment on intelligence or counterintelligence issues from this podium," he said.
While Pentagon spokesman downplay the security threat, behind the scenes military officials expressed concern.
"It gives the Chinese easy access to microwave and radio and other transmissions that go back and forth from the antenna on top of the Pentagon," said a department official, who asked not to be named. "They would have direct line of sight to the Pentagon. They should be able to intercept readily, passively."
Outwardly, he said, the Pentagon appears to have little protection against a laser that could be used to pick up sound emanations from an office window.
Nicholas Eftimiades, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst and author of a book on Chinese espionage, said three dozen Xinhua employees have been expelled from various countries on suspicion of spying over the past 30 years. He said none has been kicked out of this country.
"There's no question about the Xinhua News Agency," said Mr. Eftimiades, author of "Chinese Intelligence Operations." "They have roles as part of the Chinese intelligence apparatus."
He said reporters typically file multiple reports, one for the news wire and others for Chinese officials at different government levels. His book was published in 1994 and re-released last year.
Martin Turk, a real estate agent who represented Xinhua, said the agency never sought a location near the Pentagon. He said the Chinese checked out other locations before he matched them up with the owner of Pentagon Ridge.
"They did not target that particular area when they were trying to find property," he said. "They were in an old building that needs renovation. They were working with another broker as well."

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