A congressional report on Chinese espionage that set off a political furor this year contained significant factual errors, "inflammatory" language and "unwarranted" conclusions, according to a point-by-point rebuttal to be issued today by five experts at Stanford University.
Last spring, a House select committee chaired by Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) published a three-volume report concluding that China had stolen design information on every type of nuclear warhead in the U.S. ballistic missile arsenal as well as the neutron bomb.
But the Cox report presented "no evidence or foundation for these allegations other than recounting the existence of a 'walk-in' agent with some data on one system," wrote Michael M. May, co-director of Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation.
The "walk-in" agent was a Chinese official who gave the United States a 1988-dated Chinese document on nuclear weapons. The CIA later decided that he was working for Chinese intelligence and, therefore, that the document was unreliable. But it triggered a four-year espionage probe that resulted last week in the indictment and arrest of Wen Ho Lee, a Chinese American physicist, on charges of illegally downloading a vast quantity of secret data from computers at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Lee pleaded not guilty on Monday.
The Cox report, together with the allegations against Lee, focused public attention on alleged security lapses at Los Alamos and other U.S. weapons laboratories. But some "important and relevant facts [in the Cox report] are wrong and a number of conclusions are, in our view, unwarranted," says the 99-page analysis by Stanford scholars coordinated by May, a former director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he worked from 1952 to 1988.
In challenging the Cox commission, May and his colleagues acknowledge that they have seen only the public version of its report. "We realize that not all of the report was declassified, and thus some of the factual justification for the report's conclusions may be classified," May wrote.
Although there have been earlier critiques of the Cox report, the Stanford panel's is the most detailed. It accuses the Cox commission of broad mistakes, such as caricaturing the complicated Chinese political system, and petty ones, such as mixing up kilometers and miles when discussing the range of a Chinese missile.
The Cox report alleged that "essentially all Chinese visitors to the United States are potential spies." That statement, the Stanford authors said, has "cast a cloud of suspicion" while presenting "no evidence . . . that Chinese scientific visitors have abused their privilege in visiting the United States by behaving differently from U.S. scientists abroad."
A key section of the Cox report dealing with Chinese politics and nuclear doctrine contained "sloppy research, factual errors and weakly justified inferences," the Stanford panel added. For example, the scholars challenged as a "basic error in understanding" the Cox commission's finding that "the main aim for the [Chinese] civilian economy is to support the building of modern military weapons and to support the aims of the PLA [Chinese army]."
The basis for that assertion, China's so-called Sixteen Character policy, in fact refers to conversion of military-owned industries to civilian product lines whose profits "can be used to support less profitable military product lines during peacetime," they said.
The scholars also accuse the Cox commission of misstating China's view of nuclear deterrence and "no first use" of nuclear weapons. The Cox commission said Chinese policy "might allow the first use of nuclear weapons on its own territory, which the PRC views as including Taiwan." China, the Stanford authors say, "has in fact officially . . . included Taiwan in the scope of its no first use declaration."
The panel's expert on Chinese governance and policy was Alastair Iain Johnston, a Harvard professor who is a visiting scholar at Stanford. The nuclear weapons section of its report was by Wolfgang K.H. Panofsky, former director of the Stanford High Energy Physics Laboratory; the Chinese arms control section was by Marco Di Capua, a Lawrence Livermore physicist who served at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing from 1993 to 1997; and the section on China's acquisition of U.S. missile technology was by Lewis R. Franklin, a career intelligence expert on Sino-Soviet missile and space research who is a visiting scholar at Stanford.