FBI counterintelligence probe under way at APG research lab Charges that technology was transferred to China trigger investigation

November 15, 1997|By Scott Shane and Tom Bowman | Scott Shane and Tom Bowman,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The FBI has begun a counterintelligence investigation at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground into allegations of the possible transfer of advanced technology to China and perhaps other countries, according to officials and sources familiar with the probe.

"We do have an investigation under way at the Army Research Lab," said Larry Foust, a spokesman for the FBI in Baltimore, who declined to comment further.

Lab officials said yesterday they believe the allegations come from disgruntled former employees who they say have a 2-year-old vendetta against some senior ARL personnel.

The lab officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they have reviewed the allegations and found no evidence to support them. They also said the accusations make no sense on technical grounds but have enough of a ring of authenticity that they have triggered a series of inquiries by Congress, the Army inspector general and the FBI.

Sources said the current FBI probe focuses on charges that the lab's advanced Cray supercomputers may have been used for calculations on behalf of China or other foreign powers. Other targets of inquiry include ARL research that allegedly could have been shared with Third World countries and used to design chemical or biological weapons.

The exchanges are alleged to have begun in the mid-1980s and continued as recently as 1995, said the sources. The research lab is the Army's premier facility for weapons experimentation and development, with some 900 employees.

The FBI began looking into these charges as a criminal matter more than a year ago. But the bureau switched its criminal probe to a counterintelligence investigation within the past few weeks, sources said.

Counterintelligence involves efforts to thwart attempts by foreign governments to gain access to the nation's secrets.

In addition to the allegations involving misuse of the supercomputers, the former employees who seemingly sparked the FBI probe have described official foreign trips by ARL scientists that seemed to have no scientific purpose.

The ex-employees also pointed to the past ties of some lab scientists to Gerald V. Bull, a Canadian-born ballistics expert who was jailed in 1980 for arms-export violations and later worked for both China and Iraq.

Bull made frequent trips to the lab in the 1960s and visited twice after his six-month prison term, though officials say he did not on those occasions have access to secure areas or supercomputers. He was assassinated in Brussels, Belgium, in 1990, some suspect by either Israeli intelligence or Iraqi operatives.

FBI agents already have interviewed Sam W. Shelton III, an ARL lawyer, and George Howell, chief of security at the lab.

"I'm not free to discuss what I discussed with the FBI," Shelton said yesterday. Howell could not be reached for comment.

Pub Date: 11/15/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.