- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2002

CRAWFORD, Texas President Bush yesterday more than doubled the limit on the speed of supercomputers that U.S. companies can sell to such countries as China, Pakistan and India, a move critics said endangers U.S. security and puts American troops at risk.
Under the new guidelines, U.S. producers of supercomputers can export hardware capable of running at 190,000 millions of theoretical operations per second without notifying the federal government. The current cap is 85,000 MTOPS.
"The president's decision will promote national security, enhance the effectiveness of our export-control system and ease unnecessary regulatory burdens on both government and industry," the White House said in a fact sheet released yesterday.
Critics, however, called that claim laughable, noting that supercomputers that run at such high speeds are used only for two purposes: code decryption and nuclear-weapons development.
"This has nothing to do with national security," said Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control in Washington.
"Their argument is that our com
puter companies will make more money, and what's good for the computer industry makes America stronger because it creates jobs and brings money in. National security's being equated to profits," he said. "That's what they mean when they say that. It's not true, of course."
Stephen Bryen, director of Aurora Defense in Bethesda, said, "What they really have in mind is keeping alive the supercomputer companies. That's the only argument they can make that fits.
"The entire supercomputer industry is underwritten by the NSA, the Defense Department, Los Alamos [National Laboratory]. That's really where most of the purchasing is done."
Mr. Bryen said the move puts U.S. troops in jeopardy.
"We're putting our fleet at risk because tactical communications there are all encrypted. This sort of thing creates real dangers because the Chinese can now listen," he said.
Mr. Bush notified congressional leaders by letter yesterday that he was raising the threshold for government approval of computer exports to "Tier 3" nations, which the White House said includes India, Pakistan, all of the Middle East, the countries of the former Soviet Union, China, Vietnam and parts of southeastern Europe. The order will take effect 60 days after the notification letter.
"These reforms are needed due to the rapid rate of technological change in the computer industry. Single microprocessors available today by mail order and the Internet perform at more than 25 times the speed of supercomputers built in the early 1990s," said White House Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan.
"These changes will advance the president's goal of updating the U.S. export-control system so that it protects U.S. national security and, at the same time, allows America's high-tech companies to innovate and successfully compete in today's marketplace," the spokesman added.
The United States will continue to maintain strict limits on computer exports to nations under U.S. sanctions, such as Iraq, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan and Syria.
The issue has been contentious since the Clinton administration, when congressional Republicans and even some Democrats opposed moves to raise the caps and to drop any distinction between military and civilian buyers.
The computer industry has been pushing for the higher cap, which prompted Mr. Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign to pledge he would raise the threshold.
In October 2000, then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, and Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, strongly objected when President Clinton raised the cap to 28,000 MTOPS, a threshold that has been raised since.
"This is basically the computer lobby getting its way again, as it has been doing under the Clinton administration for the last eight years," said Mr. Milhollin, reached on vacation in Paris. "They're seeking the same campaign contributions that the Clinton people did and they're doing the same thing to get them."
Mr. Bryen said the move is particularly ill-timed in light of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
He said the White House has been "extraordinarily lazy" in gathering information before raising the cap.
"I know the administration hasn't done any serious analysis, particularly of code security, especially tactical-code security, and that's where we're really vulnerable," he said.
"Now with our forces deployed where we have to worry about our communications, we have to worry about the fact that our adversaries can listen. Why we would want to do this right now leaves questions in my mind. We're on a war footing."
Mr. Milhollin also questioned the timing.
"We're worried about nuclear war in India and Pakistan, but we're giving both countries the means to make better nuclear weapons and better missiles to deliver them with," he said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide