- WASHINGTON (Agence France Presse) - U.S. officials believed that China
was stealing nuclear weapons secrets from the Los Alamos National Laboratory
at least a year earlier than previously acknowledged, the New York Times
- In November 1996, then deputy secretary
of energy Charles Curtis ordered security measures to be tightened according
to a strict timetable, but the measures were largely ignored or delayed
until February 1998, officials told the daily.
- The Clinton administration has insisted
that the government first learned of alleged security lapses at the New
Mexico labs in the summer of 1997.
- They said the inaction was largely due
to change in leadership at the Energy Department, when Federico Pena was
appointed secretary in March 1997. Curtis left one month later.
- Pena told the Times that he was briefed
about the suspected leaks to China in July 1997, but he was not told of
Curtis' proposals a year earlier.
- "The first time I heard about (Curtis')
plan was two days ago. What happened here?" Pena said in an interview
with the daily, adding that it was "a serious issue that should not
have fallen through the cracks."
- Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, who
succeeded Pena last year, told the daily he was "looking into this
- President Bill Clinton said last week
that his administration had promptly addressed the security problems at
the Los Alamos laboratory as soon as officials learned of the problems.
- Clinton, following briefings from Pena,
issued a directive on security measures in February 1998.
- However, the Times said the White House
was alerted as early as April 1996 to suspicions that China had stolen
- An investigation has been launched to
assess the damage to U.S. national security by China's alleged theft of
nuclear secrets in the 1980s that reportedly have allowed Beijing to miniaturize
its nuclear warheads.
- The investigation follows the firing
last week of a computer scientist at the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory
amid suspicions that he leaked secrets the Chinese government.
- China has vehemently denied the allegations
and the Taiwan-born scientist, Wen Ho Lee, has admitted having unauthorized
contacts with Chinese scientists, but denied spying, according to the
New York Times. (c) 1999 Agence France Presse