Jack Kemp last Wednesday released a startling document that was quickly consigned to oblivion. An experienced weapons scientist found that the Cox Report erred in claiming that Chinese espionage penetrated U.S. weapons laboratories, while failing to recognize Clinton administration culpability. As much as President Clinton would rather not hear this, Republicans like it even less.

That goes for William J. Bennett, Kemp's fellow Republican wise man and co-director of their conservative Empower America organization. The report by Gordon Prather, a nuclear physicist with long experience in government weapons programs, was commissioned by Kemp to produce an Empower America report. But Bennett barely glanced at the finished product when he said: Not on my watch. The Prather Report was released quietly under Jack Kemp's personal aegis, not his organization's.

A scientist and no politician, Prather takes 26 pages to demolish the impressions left by the bipartisan report of the select House committee headed by Republican Rep. Christopher Cox of California. He declares that Clinton's unilateral nuclear disarmament opened the nation's nuclear secrets to the world, while the post-Cox Report tightening of security actually enlarged the true menace of Russian nuclear proliferation by ending cooperation with Moscow. There goes the Clinton administration's credibility. There goes the GOP's Chinese peril. No wonder nobody likes it.

Prather for many years had access to national secrets, but not in preparing this analysis. He relied on the Cox committee's report and, significantly, the widely ignored findings by government technical experts (requested by Cox after he submitted his committee's findings to the administration).

The Cox committee's principal charge: "The People's Republic of China's penetration of our national weapons laboratories spans at least the past several decades, and almost certainly continues today." That, says Prather, "is almost certainly not true." Nor, he adds, is there evidence that China ever stole anything from the labs, that any lab scientist ever gave the PRC classified information or that China has incorporated U.S. secrets into its weapons systems.

On the contrary, Prather says that Clinton's policy of "openness" at the U.S. weapons labs "damages" future national security. The United States let it be known that it never would build another nuclear weapon and "invited the PRC weapons scientists to come over and check us out." With millions of pages of secrets made public, there was "no need to `spy' since the Clinton administration has thrown open the gates."

Further, the Prather Report suggests that openness was intended to extract Chinese secrets. If China's scientists picking up openly displayed U.S. secrets after being invited to get them is defined as espionage, "then the Clinton administration asked U.S. lab scientists to `spy.' "

Prather dismisses highly publicized charges that Taiwan-born Peter Lee, a U.S. scientist employed at the Los Alamos laboratory, stole secrets of the neutron bomb and a miniaturized thermonuclear warhead. Whoever allowed the Cox committee to make these "ridiculous" allegations, says Prather, "did so because the alleged spying incident happened on Reagan's, not Clinton's watch."

The real post-Cold War threat, contends Prather, is proliferation of Russian nuclear weapons. The administration's "draconian" security measures taken in the wake of the Cox Report "are going to further devastate our own nuclear weapons infrastructure while killing the one set of programs [cooperating with Russia] which had any chance of preventing the proliferation of Russian `loose nukes.' "

Faced with the prestigious Cox's bipartisan probe, it is politically understandable that the Clinton team supported heaping blame on the Chinese. But why should Republicans ignore the experts upon whom Prather relies? Why should Bill Bennett refuse to accept the judgment of his old comrade Jack Kemp?

Bennett declined to discuss the matter with me on the record. But the Republican establishment is wedded to the demonization of China. The lead editorial in the last Weekly Standard (co-authored by editor William Kristol, Bennett's former chief of staff) suggests that the United States should turn from the Balkans to China "to check Beijing's ambitions."

That suggests Republicans are too committed to Chinese-bashing to pay close attention to Kemp's cover letter to the Prather Report: "The White House is using the espionage angle to mask the real security risk, which comes not from foreign spies but rather from the Clinton administration's own ill-conceived security strategy."

(C)1999, Creators Syndicate Inc.