After not giving a full-blown press conference since April of 1998, President Clinton ended his silence in mid-March with a series of public appearances designed to soften the impact of some of the charges and accusations that have been troubling to the press, the Congress and the American public. He and his top aides have been attempting to deflect the charges that the administration had failed to respond to warnings of the theft of nuclear secrets by the Chinese government. Their strategy has included lies, obfuscation, humor and ridicule.
Sandy Berger, the National Security Adviser, Bill Richardson, the Secretary of Energy, and the President all refuse to acknowledge what is known and on the record – namely that after being told that vital nuclear weapons technology had been stolen and the espionage was ongoing, they did nothing for over a year – even after the FBI had told them to take away access to classified information from the suspect, Wen Ho Lee, a Chinese-American who had been on the weapons design team at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
President Clinton was asked at his March 19 press conference if he was aware that, as Fox News was reporting, the theft of weapons technology from the labs had continued during his administration, which had been informed of that activity. His reply was classic Clinton-speak: (Quote) “To the best of my knowledge—and, you know, I try to—not only do I spend a great deal of time every day on national security measures, I try to prepare for these things. To the best of my knowledge, no one has said anything to me about any espionage which occurred by the Chinese against the labs during my presidency.” (Unquote)
He was talking here about espionage that some have described as the worst serious breach since the Rosenbergs delivered A-bomb secrets to the Soviet Union. Paul Redmond, formerly the CIA?s chief spy hunter, said giving the miniaturized nuclear warhead technology to China was far more damaging to the national security than anything Aldrich Ames had done.
At the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner, President Clinton joked about the theft of this important nuclear weapons technology from the Los Alamos National Laboratory. “Speaking of the Oscars,” he joked, “everybody’s got his or her own pick for best picture.” He said one that “deserves a little consideration is `Leaving Los Alamos.?” A lot of people don?t think that the most serious breach of security in 50 years is a joking matter.
Clinton also found humor in the large illegal contributions made to the DNC and his legal defense fund by Chinese entities. He said one advantage in holding the Democratic convention in Los Angeles next year, would be that “there’ll be a fund-raiser at Grauman’s Chinese Theater.” He edged closer to the truth at the Gridiron Club dinner when he said the title he had decided on for his memoirs was “My Story and I’m Sticking to It.” This admission that he lies was an improvement over his claim at his news conference that a box score would show hundreds of truthful statements and only one lie.