High-Tech Transfers to China Continue; on the Bush Administration's Watch, Highly Sensitive U.S. Technology Still Is Being Exported to the People's Republic, Where It Is Being Used to Build Better Weapons. (Special Report)

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The Bush administration has been "as bad, if not worse" than the Clinton administration when it comes to the transfer of sensitive technologies to the People's Republic of China (PRC), claims Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a nonpartisan public-interest law firm. Fitton says the Bush administration even has "relaxed the rules put in place during the Clinton years." Specifically, he tells INSIGHT, the administration has allowed the transfer of "computer technology [whose] only practical purpose is for nuclear-weapon design." Fitton says that from the beginning the administration went "full-speed ahead" with China trade and efforts to get the PRC into the World Trade Organization (WTO), which Fitton tells INSIGHT only gives China more opportunities to modernize its military and "get cash" with which to buy high-tech weapons elsewhere.

While few have gone so far as Fitton with such complaints, criticism of U.S. transfers of sensitive technology to China is growing. Accuracy in Media, another Washington watchdog group, echoes Fitton on computer-technology transfers: "President Bush seems to have no clearer vision of what constitutes a strategically sensitive export than did Clinton. For example, Republicans harshly condemned Clinton for exporting high-performance computers to China, but President Bush has more than doubled the control threshold on these computers despite existing intelligence estimates that demonstrate how China's national security benefits from such acquisitions."

Indeed, in his last days as a lame-duck president Clinton made exports of U.S. supercomputers easier by raising the export threshold from 28,000 millions of theoretical operations per second (MTOPS) to 85,000 MTOPS. Bush raised that limit to 190,000 MTOPS. A General Accounting Office (GAO) official tells INSIGHT that the government hadn't done the necessary pre-export analysis and that an "interagency process" led by the Department of Defense should be in place for export controls.

An April 2002 report by the GAO on computer-chip technology transfers to China claims that the government did not do an adequate analysis of the cumulative national-security effects of chip exports to China either, and that most export applications are simply approved. The policy is to approve applications unless it is shown that the items in question "would make a direct and significant contribution to electronic and antisubmarine warfare, intelligence gathering, power projection and air superiority."

Never mind that, as a Pentagon official told the GAO, these chips can be used to improve China's capabilities for preemptive long-range precision strikes, information dominance, command and control and integrated air defense.

Another reason the government got a bad grade from GAO was the fact that the Commerce Department hasn't conducted any end-user checks, so it's unknown if the exported technologies are used for military purposes, though experts guess they are.

Richard Fisher, senior fellow with the Jamestown Foundation, tells INSIGHT: "In general, I give the Bush administration great credit for solidifying the U.S. commitment to defend Taiwan, and to begin to increase U.S. defensive deployments to Asia to counter China's military buildup against Taiwan. However, it has yet to begin the logical extension of these policies: seeking to curtail major weapon-systems sales and dual-use technology sales to the PRC. The Bush administration has many officials who are aware of this threat and who are privately very concerned, but policy has yet to be enunciated."

The administration is known to be full of Cold Warriors, and the Pentagon is led by Donald Rumsfeld, the most hawkish secretary of defense since Caspar Weinberger. Yet Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith, in his former role as a private-sector attorney, helped move technology transfers as a lawyer for Loral Space & Communications Ltd. …