- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2001

Chinese military intelligence recovered large amounts of classified documents from the downed EP-3E surveillance aircraft in what U.S. officials say is a major compromise of secrets.
The classified documents include secret information on Chinese communications facilities and other targets of eavesdropping, said intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
One intelligence official said that damage is difficult to assess because the plane still is in Chinese hands. However, the official said the capture of classified documents is a major loss.
The Pentagon is still trying to get China to return the plane that made an emergency landing on Hainan island after colliding with a Chinese F-8 jet that had been flying too close.
Negotiations with the Chinese are being led by U.S. Ambassador to China Joseph W. Prueher. Asked the Pentagons position, one senior official said: "We want the plane back."
White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan said just because the administration has not made many announcements about the status of the plane does not mean its return is not a high priority for the president.
He added that the National Security Council maintains that "we will continue to have ongoing diplomatic discussions."
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley declined to specify what has been learned about compromised information in debriefings with the 24 crew members who were detained by the Chinese military until their release April 12.
Asked if there was a loss of secrets in the aircraft, Adm. Quigley told reporters: "We feel there was." He did not elaborate.
The preliminary assessment of the losses is part of a damage estimate being conducted by the National Security Agency, the Pentagons electronic eavesdropping and code-breaking agency.
The EP-3E crew, using hammers and axes, destroyed most of the electronic gear on the aircraft in the minutes after the April 1 collision with a Chinese F-8 jet.
One official said cryptographic equipment and keys were destroyed by the crew, but there are fears the Chinese might be able to recover the damaged equipment. If so, it would be a major loss because it would give the Chinese military a limited capability to read secret U.S. military communications.
The crew was unable to destroy the sensitive documents on the aircraft, which were obtained by Chinese military intelligence.
U.S. intelligence officials said the Chinese military dispatched about 100 technicians to Lingshui air base on Hainan island to examine the state-of-the-art surveillance plane.
Chinese military intelligence operates numerous electronic eavesdropping posts around its territory.
Several posts were successful in spying on U.S. and Saudi military communications before the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The Chinese military, according to U.S. intelligence reports, was able to predict the start of the allied ground offensive against Iraq to within hours of the actual start.
James Bamford, author of a new book on the National Security Agency, said the loss of classified documents would be "extremely valuable" for Chinese intelligence.
"The EP-3s probably carry a lot of documents that indicate what we know about Chinese communications and radar systems, such as frequencies and radar pulse rates," he said. That information could be used to frustrate or deceive future U.S. electronic surveillance.
U.S. intelligence-gathering planes also are known to carry lists of Chinese targets, Mr. Bamford said. The lists would make it easier for the Chinese to alter their communications or electronic signatures to make eavesdropping more difficult.
Mr. Bamford said the damage would be even worse if the Chinese obtained "key cards" used to scramble and unscramble coded communications.
"The cards probably will not do too much good in the future because NSA probably changed the codes as soon as the plane was captured," said Mr. Bamford, who revealed new details of the spy agency in his book, "Body of Secrets."
A second intelligence official said the initial damage assessment from the loss of the aircraft is "a matter of concern."
U.S. government officials told Reuters that the crew did not destroy as much of the sensitive material on the $80 million aircraft as first reports indicated.
"They werent able to get a lot of it," one source knowledgeable about the Pentagons damage assessment told the news agency.
"We still feel that the crew did the best job they could with the time that they had after the collision and before the plane touched down on Hainan island," Adm. Quigley said. "It wasnt perfect, but we feel they did the best job that they could."
When the crew is fully questioned, the Pentagon will then analyze "very carefully" what damage there was and "what changes then we might have to make in procedures, in equipment … in order to compensate for that possible compromise," Adm. Quigley said.
The aircraft is still at Lingshui air base on Hainan island.
* Bill Sammon, traveling with President Bush in Texas, contributed to this article.

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