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.