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8 June 1999

The Wall Street Journal, 8 June 1999, p. A18

Export Controls Will Limit the Damage From China's Spies


On Jan. 3 the House Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People's Republic of China voted unanimously to approve a classified report detailing China's theft of secret U.S. technologies useful for a wide variety of military purposes, including design information on our most advanced nuclear weapons. On May 25 an unclassified version of that report was released with the consent of the Clinton administration.

As Americans weigh the findings of the report and debate its implications, one question we frequently encounter is: Now that the PRC has stolen our nuclear secrets, what can we do about it? This week, we will offer several of our committee's 38 recommendations as a floor amendment to the defense authorization bill. These include giving the Defense Department control of security at Chinese launches of U.S. rockets, and centralizing responsibility for nuclear weapons counterintelligence at the Department of Energy. In addition, we have urged the Clinton administration to move forward aggressively with our recommendations in the critical matter of export controls.

Export controls remain essential because even as China has stolen some of our most important secrets, it has not yet obtained everything it needs to exploit them. Sophisticated machine tools, advanced materials, high-performance computers and state-of-the-art testing equipment are just some of the elements needed to build on the sophisticated nuclear weapons information we know China possesses.

Keeping such militarily useful technologies out of the hands of the Chinese military is not a simple task. The constant evolution of technology makes it difficult to determine just which technologies are most important for military purposes. At the same time, the legitimate commercial uses for advanced technologies are constantly changing. U.S. businesses trying to keep ahead in the dynamic Chinese marketplace thus have strong incentives to lobby against export controls and even to resist those that are in place, especially as their foreign competitors are under no such restraints.

If U.S. firms are the only ones prevented from making sales of militarily useful technologies, America will be twice the loser. First, we will lose out on profitable deals, to the detriment of both individual workers and our overall economy. Second, China will remain free to acquire militarily useful technology from third countries. to the detriment of our national security.

That is why our select committee unanimously recommended reviving an effective international export control regime on the model of the Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Export Controls. Cocom forbade member governments to sell their most sensitive militarily useful technologies to Warsaw Pact countries and the People's Republic of China. But in 1994, amid the euphoria that followed the end of the Cold War, Cocom was allowed to expire.

For two years we had no replacement for Cocom at all. Then, in 1996, the U.S. and other countries, recognizing the mistake they had made, entered into the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls. But Wassenaar is a remarkably weak accord. It furnishes a list of controlled items but allows each country to make sales of these items at their own discretion. In practice, this means that any country can do whatever it wants.

The U.S. must now exercise its leadership to establish binding multilateral controls on technology transfers that threaten international peace and U.S. national security. A new regime of multilateral controls will enhance America's global competitiveness, since we won't have to go it alone when it comes to export policy. This is also consistent with our goal of promoting trade with China, which for too long has been too much a one-way street. And the timing is propitious. This is the year for an already scheduled international review of the efficacy of the Wassenaar Arrangement.

The American public has a right to expect that its government will take reasonable steps to prevent militarily useful technologies from falling into the hands not only of China but of any country that may someday use those same technologies to endanger the U.S. The public also has the right to expect that our government will not require them to continue to make sacrifices that yield no national-security benefit. We believe that the recommendations proposed by our committee meet these expectations, and we stand committed to seeing them through.


Mr. Cox (R., Calif.) was chairman and Mr. Dicks (D., Wash.) ranking minority member of the House Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People 's Republic of China.