- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2000

China's main nuclear weapons center is using U.S. supercomputers illegally to simulate warhead detonations without actual underground tests, The Washington Times has learned.
U.S.-origin high-performance computers are being used at the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics, the main nuclear weapons facility in Beijing. The facility is viewed by officials as China's version of Los Alamos National Laboratory, according to Clinton administration intelligence officials.
The use of U.S. supercomputers with computational speeds of billions of operations per second or faster at the nuclear facility was outlined in a report classified "top-secret" and circulated among senior U.S. national security officials last month, said the officials who have seen it. They discussed some elements of the report on the condition of anonymity.
Disclosure of the use of U.S. computers to help develop China's nuclear arms comes as the Clinton administration and Congress are considering new measures to loosen exports of American-made high-performance computers.
An amendment to the current defense authorization bill President Clinton signed in February further relaxed export rules on advanced computers, allowing U.S. manufacturers to begin selling faster systems on Aug. 15.
Officials did not identify the U.S. manufacturers of the systems or how they were obtained.
Supercomputer sales have been restricted because they are crucial elements for designing and developing nuclear weapons, missiles and advanced conventional arms, according to defense officials.
Additionally, the U.S. intelligence community reported last month that China is expanding a nuclear research facility at Mianyang. The so-called "Science City" there is working on both nuclear weapons and civilian energy research, the intelligence officials said.
The reported supercomputer use at the nuclear facility is the third time China's government has been detected diverting U.S.-origin computers to defense facilities.
In 1997, China agreed to return a Silicon Graphics supercomputer that was illegally diverted through a Hong Kong front company to a Chinese defense facility.
A White House National Security Council spokesman declined to comment, citing a policy of not talking about intelligence matters.
A U.S. intelligence official who was not familiar with the report said that it has been difficult for U.S. intelligence agencies to learn whether China is using complete U.S. advanced computers, or whether they are using a combination of U.S. components and homemade systems.
According to Clinton administration officials, the president hopes to dramatically ease export control on high-powered computers.
An amendment to the current defense authorization bill sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, would make it easier for the president to change the export rules by reducing a congressional notification period from 180 days to 30 days.
The argument of some officials who support the changes is that the systems are so widely available that controlling them is futile.
Other officials who oppose the decontrol note that the United States produced the best and fastest supercomputers and that they should not be exported to countries that could use them against the United States, like China.
A Senate national security aide said the administration "failed completely" to win Chinese government cooperation in checking on the end use of U.S. computers sold during the 1990s.
"That's why the Chinese know that they can use these computers with impunity," the aide said, noting that the relaxation of controls "has been a disaster for U.S. national security."
Stephen Bryen, a Pentagon export-control official during the Reagan administration, said he predicted in the early 1990s that U.S. supercomputers would be used by China for developing advanced nuclear weapons.
"That's been the great worry about transfers of supercomputers," he said. "That they would be able to design a new generation of smaller warheads that can fit on smaller missiles or which can be MIRVed" multiple, independently targetable re-entry vehicles, or multiple warheads.
Mr. Bryen said in an interview that the United States was able to radically reduce the number of actual underground nuclear tests needed for developing new warheads, from several hundred to about five.
"This is not good news for us because the Chinese can do a lot of this covertly," he said. "It will be hard for us to know their capabilities, and we will have a difficult time understanding the threat."
The report by the special House committee that investigated Chinese spying and technology acquisition stated that there is limited information on China's use of U.S. supercomputers. However, the report said that the panel "judges that the [People's Republic of China] has been using high performance computers for nuclear weapons applications."
The report stated that under relaxed export rules, China may have purchased as many as 603 high-speed computers between 1996 and 1998.
Following the illegal diversion to defense use of several U.S. supercomputers by Russia and China, Congress in 1998 passed a law requiring tighter restrictions.
The law required exporters to notify the government before selling supercomputers to nations like China and Russia.
The U.S. computer industry opposed the requirement and has lobbied instead for further relaxation of controls as computer computational capabilities increased.
In July, Mr. Clinton loosened the restrictions further to allow exports of machines capable of 6.5 billion operations per second, and in February announced he will allow sales of computers that carry out 12.5 billion operations per second.
According to the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics was identified in June 1997 as an "entity of concern," a designation that warned American exporters that the institute was involved in defense programs.
A Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee report on weapons proliferation stated that China stepped up purchases of U.S. supercomputers for its nuclear weapons and missile development program in the late 1990s.

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