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EXCLUSIVE: China gets U.S. Olympics help
Question of the Day
The Bush administration has approved the export of sensitive equipment and expertise to China’s military and police forces to bolster security at the Beijing Olympics, according to a number of private and public interviews and documents.
The support includes security and military equipment that is restricted for export under the Export Administration Act, prompting some critics of the policy to question its legality.
The FBI and other U.S. security agencies also are helping China to develop sensitive counterterrorism coordination techniques, such as creating joint security operations and intelligence centers, according to Bush administration defense and national security officials.
The officials said U.S. support to the Beijing Olympics is modeled on the security plan and federal assistance used for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. The techniques can be used for surveillance of protesters, including Tibetans, they said.
The support is unprecedented for an administration that came to office voicing distrust of China, especially after a 2001 crisis involving the midair collision of a U.S. surveillance plane and Chinese jet interceptor.
It has raised concerns among human rights groups that some of the gear may be used to repress internal dissent, and has angered some in Washington who regard China as a long-term security threat.
Chinese officials said they think the assistance is appropriate given a history of terrorist attacks on the Olympics and the need to protect the athletes and visitors.
A senior Commerce Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said export-controlled equipment that was licensed for sale to China for the Olympics includes explosives-detection equipment, X-ray scanners, building access control systems, radiation detection gear, and fire and rescue equipment.
The Commerce, Defense and State departments have approved a total of 15 export licenses providing about $5 million in equipment to the Chinese, officials said.
These include explosive- and explosive residue-detection systems, hazardous chemical identification systems, and products related to monitoring environmental conditions, including computers for weather forecasting.
Requests for four licenses, worth $1.3 million, were denied, the officials said. One item was denied under a policy that prohibits the sale to China of crime-control equipment such as handcuffs and electronic stun guns. The sale of such items has been banned since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
The security cooperation was outlined in cables sent from U.S. Ambassador to China Clark Randt to FBI headquarters and other agencies in Washington involved in the security assistance program. Security officials confirmed details in interviews with The Washington Times.
Some of the cables, according to officials who have read them, state that China sees the main threat to the games coming from Tibetan protesters and dissident Uighurs - members of a mainly Muslim ethnic group in western Xinjiang province, some who have been linked to Islamist terrorism.
Additionally, the FBI, Secret Service and other U.S. security agencies are working with the Public Security Ministry and elements of the People’s Liberation Army to help them respond to any terrorist attack at the Olympics.
The Public Security Ministry controls the 800,000 troops of the People’s Armed Police that led the military crackdown on Tibetan unrest in March.
State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said it is U.S. policy to share “major-event security best practices with our Chinese counterparts.”
The security support is being coordinated within the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and formulated under a State Department-led interagency unit known as the International Athletic Event Security Coordination Group.
Mr. Gallegos said China’s lead agency for Olympics security is the Ministry of Public Security - China’s internal security and police ministry. Other Chinese security agencies involved include the Ministry of State Security, the Defense Ministry the Foreign Affairs Ministry, along with traffic, customs, and airport security organs, he said.
According to administration security officials, the FBI also is working with Chinese security authorities within an intelligence fusion center to identify threats to the Olympic Games and to conduct surveillance of threat groups.
Some Defense Department military communications equipment may be made available to the Chinese. Officials said China may be required to return some of the gear after the Olympics while some may remain in Chinese hands.
“The precise role of the Defense Department is still under discussion, but I assure you it will be fully consistent with the laws of our nation,” said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell. He declined to identify the equipment.
The United States also will send China some experienced U.S. security specialists who might otherwise not be allowed into the country.
Mr. Gallegos said the Energy Department National Nuclear Security Administration has sent China “radiological detection equipment” and training support for Chinese customs officials to use in detecting nuclear goods or radiological bombs.
The Energy Department also has offered civil nuclear and radiological detection equipment “to protect Americans and Olympic venues from radiological threats,” Mr. Gallegos said.
He said goods restricted for export to China under the U.S. Munitions Control List have not been supplied, but the U.S. government “would consider any request for a license” under current law and policy.
A report by the Security Industry Association, a private group, says China is expected to spend $300 million on security for the games, to be held Aug. 8 through 24 in Beijing and six other cities: Tianjin, Shenyang, Qinhuangdao, Shanghai, Qingdao and Hong Kong.
Most of the events will be held in a 2.5-acre Olympic Park in Beijing, where the Olympic stadium, national gymnasium and swim center are located.
The Security Industry Association report said international companies providing security equipment and other products for the games include GE, Panasonic and Samsung.
China is setting up a citywide video surveillance system for the games, the report said, adding that every major building in Beijing has been required to install building security and alarm systems.
Critics of the security support are questioning whether it violates a 2000 law limiting U.S. military exchanges that could boost China’s military, which is playing a behind-the-scenes role in Olympics security.
Mr. Morrell said any Pentagon support will be “fully consistent” with U.S. laws. The precise Defense Department role in Olympic security is “still under discussion,” he said.
Some Pentagon officials and others who oppose the security support also said the transfers could undermine a U.S. arms embargo put in place after China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown.
“I am worried if we go too far and exceed the congressional guidelines controlling our defense exchanges with China, then … we undercut the rationale of our asking the European Union to continue to ban all defense technology and weapons exports to China,” said Michael Pillsbury, author of two National Defense University books on the Chinese military.
Beijing has lobbied the Pentagon for the embargo to be lifted, but the Pentagon continues to oppose such move and has urged Europe to maintain its own arms ban for fear that Western arms could be used against U.S. forces in any conflict over Taiwan.
T. Kumar, Amnesty International’s advocacy director for Asia, said the United States should get guarantees from China that any security assistance will not be used for repression.
“The concern we have, even before the Olympics, is how much equipment is going to be used against genuine protesters, against the Chinese themselves,” Mr. Kumar said.
He said the U.S. government must insist on receiving “very concrete” commitments from the Chinese that the security assistance will not be misused.
A Chinese Communist Party document on Olympic security that was obtained by The Times identifies the Chinese Community Party’s main security concerns regarding the games as Tibetan “separatists,” Falun Gong religious practitioners and criminals.
“Our fear is that unless these guarantees are given, [the assistance] will definitely be used against the Chinese,” Mr. Kumar said.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong dismissed those fears and said that because the Olympic Games are an international event, “it would only be natural for the U.S. to cooperate in the security area.”
Mr. Wang declined to discuss details about the U.S.-China security cooperation, saying those questions could only be answered by authorities in Beijing.
However China’s state-run media confirmed in May that counterterrorism is a top priority for the government. Security activities for the games include conducting surveillance, “intercepting intelligence” and “taking preemptive actions to neutralize the enemies before they can launch terror attacks,” said a China News Service report.
Other security steps will include installing nuclear, chemical, and biological sensors and monitoring equipment in stadiums and facilities, the state-run agency reported on April 24.
Jennifer Windsor, director of Freedom House in New York, said the U.S. government should not be helping China’s military and security forces because of the handling of protests in Tibet.
“Chinese citizens are in prison right now specifically because they dared to criticize the decision to allow a brutal dictatorship to host the games. It would be a shame if U.S. technology, meant to protect our athletes, was instead used to tighten the screws on pro-democracy dissidents,” she said.
Mr. Gallegos said the United States has urged China “to seize the opportunity to put its best face forward and respect universal principles of human rights, including freedom of expression.”
“The games provide China with an opportunity to demonstrate greater openness and tolerance,” he said. “We continue to call on China to respect the human rights of its citizens and to carry out its commitments as host of the games.”
Mary Beth Markey, a vice president with the International Campaign for Tibet, said protecting the security of athletes at the Olympics is “paramount,” considering the use of terrorism in Munich, where 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were slain in 1972.
“Having said that, I also think that we have to be very careful with sharing sensitive technology with China,” she said.
Some U.S. officials, including those who question the legality and ethics of the support, said China plans to dispatch the 38th Group Army to Beijing for the games. The army group, with about 25,000 troops, took part in the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square, when troops opened fired on unarmed pro-democracy protesters, killing hundreds or thousands.
One defense official said three of the 38th’s divisions have been moved to the Beijing area in case of violent protests. The divisions were identified as the 112th, 113th and 114th divisions. The total number of soldiers from the three divisions is about 30,000 troops.
The U.S. security support began in February after eight FBI agents were dispatched to Beijing to assess China’s Olympic security efforts. Several of them had taken part in the federal security effort for the 2002 Olympics in Utah, during which about 5,000 U.S. Army troops were on standby to respond to any mass-casualty attack.
The FBI agents in Beijing discovered shortly after arriving that they would be working with the Chinese military, specifically the General Staff Department of the People’s Liberation Army, raising questions about violations of the 2000 law limiting military exchanges with China.
Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said that while security will overwhelmingly be handled by Chinese authorities, the department will provide security specialists from several agencies.
“The U.S. Secret Service is expected to have the largest presence, in terms of personnel, on the ground for dignitary protection,” he said.
The Transportation Security Administration will help the Chinese coordinate with local authorities and airlines for Federal Air Marshals coverage on various flights.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement attaches will have a presence, and the U.S. Coast Guard will have a liaison officer in Beijing to provide assistance and expertise if requested by local authorities.
“From an intelligence perspective, we will be watching the threat picture very closely, as always, from our headquarters in Washington, D.C.,” Mr. Knocke said.