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Stanford Report, January 5, 2000

Stanford analysts dispute congressional report on Chinese security threat

A congressional report on Chinese espionage that created a furor when it was issued last May contains numerous errors and misinterpretations, according to an analysis issued by Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). The overall effect is to overstate the Chinese threat to U.S. security and weaken the nation's weapons labs in the process, the analysts told reporters at a press briefing on campus on Dec. 15.

The report they critiqued is known as the Cox Report, because it was written by a House committee chaired by Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Newport Beach. The Cox Report has "clearly cast a pall on a whole group of residents and American citizens" of Chinese descent, said the Stanford report's editor, Michael May, a physicist who co-directs CISAC. May is a former director of Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, one of the federal weapons development laboratories whose scientists face new restrictions on their contacts with foreign scientists as a result of the Cox Report.

"A number of Chinese-origin scientists and students won't come near or make any applications to the [federal] laboratories now, which is damaging to the laboratories," May said. He urged the government to "keep the open interaction system . . . that has served to put the U.S. ahead in the defense and security area. That system is one where there are a number of contacts, approved and supervised," between scientists who do defense research and "the much larger, much richer world community of research and development in the United States and elsewhere."

Asked to comment on the December arrest of Wen Ho Lee, a scientist at the federal weapons laboratory in Los Alamos whom the Justice Department accuses of improperly downloading classified files, May said the allegations, if true, are serious. Publicity before his arrest may have been premature, May said, but "we live in a society that freely comments on everything, and on balance, that's good."

Some of the proposed new security restrictions since the Cox Report was issued also may apply to the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), where scientists and engineers from 26 nations collaborate on a range of non-classified, non-weapons research projects. Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson visited SLAC on Dec. 21 to hear scientists' concerns and to reassure them that he would try to get Congress to withdraw new restrictions on the use of SLAC computers by foreign scientists. SLAC is a Department of Energy laboratory run by Stanford. Richardson also visited other West Coast federal research labs, where he expressed similar concerns about more restrictions on scientific communications. Another recent report by a subcommittee of President Clinton's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, however, suggested reorganizing the Department of Energy because it allegedly has resisted adequate security precautions for national lab employees.

The Stanford analysis of the unclassified version of Cox Committee Report was conducted by five analysts with extensive backgrounds in national security issues, weapons technology and China. Their 100-page report can be downloaded from the Internet at They found "errors both big and small," May said, and decided to issue a detailed report, because "it's important to get things right and in perspective if we are going to have a useful relationship" with China.

Spokesmen for the Cox Committee told several news organizations that the classified version of the committee's report contained more evidence to back up allegations of Chinese espionage.

"There may well be some substantiating material in the classified part," May said at the campus news briefing. "However, there is no way in which the classified part can make statements which are wrong into statements which are right."

May's co-authors were physicist Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky, director emeritus of SLAC and a longtime participant in the U.S. nuclear weapons program; Alastair Iain Johnston, a Harvard professor and analyst of Chinese military and political institutions who was a visiting scholar at Stanford this year; Marco Di Capua, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, where he is responsible for Chinese affairs in the Proliferation Prevention and Arms Control Group of the National Security Directorate; and Lewis R. Franklin, a career intelligence expert on Sino-Soviet missile and space programs and former vice president of TRW, currently at CISAC.

Thefts overstated

Panofsky said the Cox Report repeatedly "uses the word 'stolen' for all information which China may have acquired" on nuclear weaponry. This "makes it appear that everything the Chinese have learned came through espionage, which is not true. They have some excellent people in their nuclear weapons establishment," he said.

The two alleged thefts discussed explicitly in the Cox Report, he said, do not threaten U.S. security even if they did occur. One is the neutron bomb, which the Chinese tested in 1988 and which the United States also has tried, but decided to drop deployment because it lacked military value. The other is the W-88 multiple warhead on U.S. nuclear submarines, developed 30 years ago. "There is no evidence [the Chinese] are developing multiple warhead missiles, but if they did, they would be primarily used to make their land-based missiles . . . less vulnerable to attack," Panofsky said. "Having their forces less vulnerable to attack is not a major factor in our security." Given U.S. numerical superiority in intercontinental missiles, he added, "there would be no way to predict that a first attack by China is feasible."

The Stanford analysis also accused the Cox Report of misleading its readers on how the Chinese government makes decisions. It mistakenly concludes that "the main aim for China's civilian economy is to support the building of modern military weapons and to support the aims of the People's Liberation Army. That isn't so," May said.

To support that conclusion, he said, the Cox Report authors quote a Chinese policy that applies only to the conversion of China's debt-ridden military production institutions, which are only 5 percent of the economy, he said. The Cox Report also misinterprets the conclusions of other studies of Chinese political and military institutions.

Damage to satellite industry, weapons labs

In criticizing security at the weapons labs, the Cox Report ignores the precautions taken by the United States to involve Chinese scientists in technical meetings on nuclear materials safety and arms control treaty verification, said Di Capua, who headed the security program for Livermore Lab. "China withdrew from the program in the wake of the allegations of the Cox Report. In my personal opinion and in the view of some of the other scientists who participated in it, the suspension of the program is a setback," Di Capua said.

The Cox Report also accuses China of stealing technical know-how from U.S. companies who use Chinese rockets to launch satellites. Based on this, Congress passed legislation to restrict U.S. company use of Chinese launching facilities. The new export controls also apply to U.S. university collaborations, Franklin said. They could undermine the nation's superiority in satellite-based information technology, he said.

Overall, the CISAC report is not meant to imply that China does not engage in espionage, May said, but to "introduce some balance and more reliable information. . . . China is much more open than the Soviet Union ever was, and there is a lot more opportunity for the U.S. to interact, to influence things and to gain by exchanges." SR