- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2000

The Clinton administration Thursday announced it would further ease export controls on powerful computers that are used largely in business but also can have important military applications.

The decision more than doubles the power of computers that U.S. manufacturers like IBM, Unisys and Hewlett-Packard will be able to ship to China, India, Pakistan and Israel.

Vice President Al Gore revealed the change, even though it was President Clinton who signed a decision memorandum making the change Wednesday.

"The decision reflects the consensus position of our national security and economic advisers," Mr. Gore said. "It helps our nation devote more resources to controlling those technologies that truly pose a threat to national security."

Mr. Gore stressed that an effective national security policy requires the United States to allow its information technology companies, some of whom depend on exports for up to half their revenue, to sell their off-the-shelf products overseas to finance new research and development.

Undersecretary of Commerce for Export Administration William Reinsch said the administration concluded the new rules were necessary because many of the computers whose export the United States now restricts are increasingly available from other countries.

"These rules reflect the levels [of computing power] that we feel are uncontrollable," Mr. Reinsch said.

The change will allow U.S. computer makers to export high-performance computers, whose power is measured in millions of theoretical operations per second (MTOPS), without having to obtain permission from the Commerce Department for each shipment.

As in the past, the Commerce Department will apply the new controls, which will go into effect in six months, based on the destination of shipments. Exports to "Tier One" countries like the European allies of the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan are virtually unrestricted.

Similarly, U.S. companies will be able to export machines capable of up to 45,000 MTOPS to "Tier Two" countries in South America, Africa and Asia. The previous level for this group was 33,000 MTOPS.

For Tier Three countries, a category that includes China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Israel, U.S. companies will be able to export computers capable of up to 28,000 MTOPS without any restrictions. The previous level was 12,500 MTOPS.

"This decision gives us more or less what we asked for," said Dan Hoydysh of the Computer Coalition for Responsible Exports.

Mr. Hoydysh said the move will facilitate the export of computers that use four of the latest generation of chip, the Itanium, produced by Intel, the main producer of microprocessors. A single Itanium, which will come out this fall, is capable of 6,132 MTOPS.

Mr. Reinsch said the new rules would speed the export of computers that are used by companies with a large base of customers. Companies in China, such as banks and railroads, already have earlier generations of these computers, he said.

The computer industry itself frequently markets these products as "supercomputers." But Mr. Reinsch said that these machines are "fairly run-of-the-mill work stations and servers."

Extremely powerful computers, like those used in American nuclear weapons labs, have always remained under very tight controls.

Computers like these can serve military purposes, like weather prediction or weapons design, but Mr. Reinsch stressed that "every weapon in [the U.S.] arsenal" was created using much slower computers.

U.S. companies have argued that they need regular adjustment to export-control rules because their overseas competitors, especially Japanese companies like Hitachi and Fujitsu, but also Germany and France, are manufacturing similar machines. Mr. Reinsch said export curbs would be further relaxed by the end of the year.

Under current U.S. law, the changes will go into effect 180 days after the president's decision. Congress is on the verge of approving legislation that would reduce the window for future changes to 60 days.

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