House panel to investigate satellite data exports Clinton China policy under fire as jeopardizing national security

June 19, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- As Clinton administration officials were testifying on Capitol Hill yesterday in defense of their satellite export decisions, lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to form a select panel with subpoena power to investigate whether those decisions jeopardized national security.

Voting 409-10, members of the House of Representatives agreed to form a panel of five Republicans and four Democrats to conduct the inquiry. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has tapped Rep. Christopher Cox, a California Republican, to head the panel, indicating Gingrich may want a probe that appears nonpartisan and deliberative. Cox has a reputation among lawmakers of both parties for being even-handed.

The panel is expected to investigate whether Clinton's decisions to allow U.S. satellite makers to use cheap Chinese launch companies enabled China to get sensitive technological information that has improved the capabilities of its long- and short-range missiles.

Although eight House committees have variously held hearings on the satellite export policy, the new panel will probe more deeply and for a longer time.

It has the power to subpoena witnesses and records, and take sworn depositions from witnesses both in the United States and abroad. It has a budget of up to $2.5 million and is expected to investigate for six months.

During one contentious four-hour hearing yesterday -- before the national security and international relations committees -- administration officials defended their policies.

"I believe this administration's policy on the export of commercial communications satellites to China both protects our national security and facilitates our economic well-being," said William Reinsch, undersecretary for exports at the Commerce Department.

John Holum, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told members that the administration had done nothing wrong when it approved the launch of a Loral Space and Communications satellite in China earlier this year, even though the company was under investigation for possible illegal technology transfers.

Pub Date: 6/19/98

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