Sensitive technology on a material that can make nuclear warheads more accurate was sold to the Soviet Union while U.S. agencies bungled a chance to restrict the sales, congressional investigators said yesterday.
An aide to Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) said after a closed hearing that the Central Intelligence Agency and former assistant defense secretary Richard N. Perle agreed that the transfer was one of the five most damaging diversions of U.S. military technology to the Soviet Union.
The administration eventually stopped shipment of 5 percent of the equipment involved in a New Jersey company's contract to help the Soviet Union build a production facility for the heat-resistant substance carbon-carbon, according to Dingell and Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R-Va.).
During the hearing of the oversight and investigations subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, witnesses from the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, the Navy, the Pentagon, the Customs Service and the Commerce Department described the problems that led to the national security setback.
Sources said the CIA detected the transfer, but classified its reports on the matter. The result was that no action was taken to restrict U.S. export of carbon-carbon technology.
One source said that much of the problem stems from the ongoing clash between the Pentagon, which wants to sharply restrict technology exports, and the Commerce Department, which wants to expand trade.
Carbon-carbon is a lightweight, heat-resistant material that helps improve the accuracy of nuclear warheads when used on the nose cone because it burns more slowly and evenly than other materials and can prevent a warhead from tumbling. It also can be used on rocket nozzles.
Dingell and Bliley said in a joint statement after the hearing:
"Only now, after the subcommittee's investigation, do the agencies involved seem able to acknowledge how this extraordinary episode highlights the weaknesses in our control regime and the inconsistency in East-West trade policies of Western nations. It is time we put our domestic and international houses in order."
A source familiar with the inquiry said there was nothing illegal in what the company did because the contract was not controlled either in Britain or in the United States.
The source said a Scottish subsidiary of Consarc Corp., a northern New Jersey firm, contracted with the Soviet Union in 1983 to build the carbon-carbon plant.