- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2001

Among the many last-minute regulations, rules and executive orders of the outgoing administration is a Commerce Department bid that lifts export controls on military grade computers, virtually guaranteeing that the United States will face dangerous new threats in the coming years that our defense planners are ill-prepared to meet.
The new regulations, announced amid yawns by the White House on Jan. 10, allow a handful of U.S. companies to export super-computers more powerful than those used in most Defense Department weapons labs to Russia, China and other nations that do not have the best interests of the United States at heart.
This is the sixth time the Clinton-Gore anti-defense team has raised the limits on exports of high-performance computers (HPCs) to please a handful of computer manufacturers and their cronies who have contributed millions of dollars to the Democratic National Committee. As a result of these earlier steps, the White House now concludes gee whiz that there are "no meaningful or effective control measures" any more.
Why should Americans care? Isn't my desktop PC far more powerful today than it was in 1993?
Unfortunately for that argument, the export of a handful of high-performance computers has little to do with the price or power of desktop PCs. In fact, HPCs are designed for very different tasks and do not use the same architecture as consumer PCs. At the very low end, these machines are 80 times more powerful than current desktops. At the high end, they are several thousand times more powerful and are custom-built for specific applications.
A 200,000 MTOPS (million theoretical operations per second) machine, which can now be exported to Russia under the new on-Gore rules, bears as much resemblance to a desktop PC as that PC resembles an abacus. Top-grade desktops run at around 1,000 MTOPS.
Countries such as China, North Korea, Iran and Iraq use HPCs to build more accurate ballistic missiles and test new nuclear warhead designs using computer simulations instead of actual tests, thus blind-siding our intelligence community. We will have no way of knowing what's going on in the weapons programs of these countries until they use their new weapons on the battlefield against us and our friends.
In the Jan. 10 fact sheet, the White House admits that "the administration would prefer to remove most controls on computer hardware exports, including the existing controls on exports to Tier 3 countries," a group that includes India, Pakistan, China, Russia and most of the Middle East. Instead, they grudgingly require that exporters seek a license for sales of HPCs above 85,000 MTOPS, way above the level needed for most forms of ballistic missile simulation and nuclear weapons design work.
But there is good news. The truly bad players Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan and Syria will not be able to buy American supercomputers, not ever-ever-ever. "The United States will maintain a virtual embargo on computer hardware and technology exports to these destinations," the fact sheet states.
Of course, since the administration has now lifted all restrictions on supercomputer sales to most of Europe, Africa and Central and South America, the bad guys can simply buy through third parties. In case you doubt that our "friends" would be so unfaithful, ask the Sun Microsystems dealer in Tehran to buy you a new supercomputer for your nuclear weapons lab in Isfahan. He'll complain that the U.S. restrictions have made life so difficult that it could take up to a month to get delivery.
Meanwhile, both Russia and China recently announced that they were upgrading "scientific and technology" exchanges with Iran, and would be signing a political treaty later this year to cement their budding strategic alliance.
President Clinton's midnight regulations pose a clear and present danger to America's national security. They should be rescinded immediately by the new administration and replaced with a common-sense approach that allows businesses to expand overseas markets but places national security first.
First, the new administration should facilitate instant export reporting by generalizing an electronic form of the shipper's export declaration that all exporters are currently required to file with Customs. This was a reform I initially proposed in 1993 that has been implemented only gradually by the current administration. This information should be broadly disseminated within the intelligence community and coded in ways to make potentially troublesome exports stand out instantly from the mass of innocuous transactions carried out each day.
Next, the new administration needs to conduct a thorough review of the existing export-licensing system, and consider replacing it with a more flexible and discretionary system driven by the actual threats to our national security, not specific technologies. For example, there is no conceivable threat to U.S. security posed by the sale of a supercomputer to Israel; however, damage could be done through the clandestine transfer of used metalworking machinery to Syria, Pakistan or Iran.
Finally, once order and common sense have been restored to our own house, the administration needs to rebuild a consensus among our allies of the common threats we face, and where that fails, work unilaterally to defend that United States by deploying missile defenses and proactively denying exports to countries of concern.
As Secretary of Defense-designate Donald Rumsfeld pointed out in 1998, U.S. enemies are actively building new missiles and nuclear weapons. These reforms require urgent attention, because U.S. security is at risk.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is the author of four books on foreign policy, and was a candidate in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in Maryland.


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