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Secrecy Surrounds Chinese Espionage

On the March 14 edition of NBC?s Meet the Press, National Security adviser Sandy Berger insisted that President Clinton had in 1998 signed a “sweeping reform” of security precautions at U.S. nuclear labs. He claimed this new policy had resulted in “new security,” in the form of “supervision of the labs, counterintelligence, people in the labs, polygraphing of people who go into the labs.” One day later, in a column in the Washington Post, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson talked about the same policy, identifying it as Presidential Decision Directive (PDD-61), issued in February 1998. “In the directive,” Richardson said, “President Clinton ordered the Department of Energy to establish a stronger counterintelligence program. Then-Secretary Federico Pena set up an independent Office of Counterintelligence, which began an intensive review of the counterintelligence program.”

This reference to PDD-61, a classified document, has become a staple in the administration?s effort to deflect charges that it did nothing to stop our nuclear secrets from being stolen by the Chinese. Dumping the problem on previous administrations, Vice President Al Gore told CNN that this “brand new presidential directive” had “fixed problems that we had inherited” in the labs. Gore said the new directive “vastly changed the security procedures in the national laboratory system.”

Really? In February 1998, when Energy Secretary Pena announced he was establishing a new office to deal with national security problems at the labs, his official press release made no mention of PDD-61. The White House made no announcement of it, either. Now, all of a sudden, it?s big news!

How is it possible that PDD-61 somehow “fixed” the problems at the labs? Berger admits he was originally briefed about the spy case in 1996, and that he was given a more substantial briefing in 1997. The PDD wasn?t issued until 1998. The alleged Chinese spy at the Los Alamos National Laboratory wasn?t dismissed from his job until March 8, 1999, more than one year after the PDD was issued. The dismissal came only after revelations about the spy scandal in the New York Times had embarrassed the administration. It appears the Times had more impact on cleaning up problems in the lab than Clinton?s own advisors and policies, including PDD-61! This suggests that the secret nature of PDD-61 may have concealed from the public and the Congress the true dimensions of the emerging scandal.

If PDD-61 was such a great step forward, why doesn?t the administration provide a copy so that the public and the Congress can determine whether it “fixed” anything. If their response is that the document is and should remain classified, then they should not cite the document as part of a public relations campaign to convince us that they took the problem seriously. Their references to PDD-61 appear designed to prevent a thorough analysis of what the administration knew and did – or did not do—about Chinese espionage.

This controversy occurs as the Administration is working tirelessly to conceal some of the secret findings of the Cox Report on the transfer of sensitive U.S. technology to China. At this point it?s not clear how much of the five-volume, 700-page report will actually be released.