U.S. knew of Chinese spies in July 1995, officials say

Nuclear arms warnings came early on, they say


WASHINGTON -- Senior White House officials were informed that China might have stolen U.S. nuclear secrets nearly a year earlier than the Clinton administration originally disclosed, according to current and former U.S. officials.

White House officials were told about China's apparent theft of U.S. nuclear weapons technology in July 1995, soon after it was detected by the Energy Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, several officials said.

Until now, the administration has left the impression that White House officials first learned about the matter in April 1996, when Samuel R. Berger, then President Clinton's deputy national security adviser, was briefed on the case by Energy Department officials.

But interviews with current and former officials show that warnings about possible Chinese nuclear espionage received high-level attention within the Clinton administration early in the government's investigation of the matter.

By late 1995, within months of first learning of the case, the director of central intelligence, John M. Deutch, was convinced that the evidence showed that China had stolen design information from the United States' most advanced nuclear warhead, and had briefed Clinton's national security adviser, Anthony Lake, on the matter.

Yet the investigation into China's apparent theft of the nuclear secrets languished, vexed for the next four years by what many officials now describe as miscommunication, bureaucratic inertia and outright bungling by several agencies.

Pub Date: 6/27/99

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