November 14, 2000

Clinton critic says he was targeted

Uncovered spying on nukes by China

By Bill Gertz

Missteps and appeasement by the U.S. government helped China develop into a dangerous global power, according to "The China Threat: How the People's Republic Targets America" (Regnery), a new book by Bill Gertz, national security reporter for The Washington Times. In the second of three excerpts, he examines the case of an Energy Department official who was punished for exposing Chinese theft of nuclear secrets.

Knowledge of the enemy's dispositions can only be obtained from other men.
--Sun Tzu
ancient Chinese strategist

Two FBI agents confronted Notra Trulock in his Falls Church town house. The tone of their questioning was hostile. ``Do you have classified information in the house?'' one agent asked.

For the former counterintelligence chief at the Energy Department, it was the ultimate insult. Mr. Trulock was being accused of disclosing classified information improperly in a manuscript he had submitted to the CIA for publication in its journal, Studies in Intelligence.

Instead of publishing the manuscript, the CIA referred it to the FBI for investigation - which is why the agents were in Mr. Trulock's home on this hot Friday evening on July 14.

When he asked to see a search warrant, the agents said they didn't need one. They said they had the permission of the property owner, Mr. Trulock's friend Linda Conrad, who worked in the Energy Department's intelligence office.

One agent went into a bedroom, started up a desktop computer used by Mr. Trulock and downloaded the contents of its hard drive to a disk.

For more than an hour, the agents asked accusatory questions about classified information. He told them the truth: He had none.

``Screwed, blued and tattooed,'' is how Mr. Trulock later described the incident, which came only days after his abrupt dismissal by defense contractor TRW Inc. - a move he is convinced was the work of political enemies.

``This is what happens to whistle-blowers who speak truth to power in the Clinton administration,'' he told this reporter.

In truth, Mr. Trulock had submitted the manuscript - the same one sought by the FBI - to the Energy Department for security review. But the department had declined even to look at it.

The FBI raid on his home was harassment for his role in exposing one of the most damaging espionage cases in American history: He had uncovered Chinese espionage in the heart of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

Chinese spies had scored a major coup; they had walked off with information on how to build Chinese versions of every warhead in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. And the spying continues today.

FBI Director Louis Freeh authorized the Trulock investigation in consultation with Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, one of President Clinton's closest advisers.

Mr. Trulock suspected that they singled him out because the political journal National Review had just published a shorter version of his manuscript. The article was highly critical of the Clinton administration's utter failure to aggressively pursue Chinese spying.

The administration wasn't interested in catching spies. Its highest priority was repressing critics, especially those in U.S. intelligence who had exposed the deception and politicization within the national security community under Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Trulock had been a major target ever since he quit the Energy Department after being pressured into taking a meaningless job and having his judgment on intelligence questioned by an inspector general's report that went to great lengths to cover up the entire Chinese espionage debacle.

The story actually began 18 years ago when the telephone rang at the home of Gwo Bao Min, a former nuclear weapons engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It was Dec. 2, 1982.

The caller was Wen Ho Lee, another scientist who designed nuclear weapons at a second Department of Energy laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M.

The FBI, which was investigating Mr. Min, intercepted the conversation.

Mr. Min was in trouble. He had been fired from his job at Livermore under suspicion of passing nuclear weapons secrets to China. Mr. Lee guessed it must have been someone in China who revealed Mr. Min's identity to the FBI, and he promised to uncover the informant.

Mr. Min never was prosecuted and today lives in Northern California. But the exchange between the two men would be at the heart of the most damaging espionage case in U.S. history.

China had stolen the keys to unlocking the secrets of America's nuclear arsenal. This was more harmful to national security than the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted of passing nuclear secrets to Moscow in the early years of the Cold War.

A grand jury indicted Mr. Lee in December on 59 felony counts of copying nuclear secrets from Los Alamos computers onto portable tapes. He was released after nine months in jail when his attorneys reached a deal with federal prosecutors. In the deal, Mr. Lee pleaded guilty to a single count of mishandling classified information and agreed to describe under oath why he downloaded nuclear secrets and what he did with the computer tapes.

The first hints about the extent of the danger came Sept. 25, 1992, when the ground shook beneath a test site for nuclear weapons in China about 120 miles north of Lop Nur, a town in the remote northwestern province of Xinjiang.

The explosion was the first successful test of a small, compact warhead similar in design to the U.S. W-88. The fact that China had succeeded in building so small a warhead so quickly shocked many officials inside the U.S. intelligence community.

A spy working secretly in China for U.S. intelligence revealed important details about the 1992 test. In short, China had made a quantum leap in the killing power of its nuclear forces. The spy said the Chinese had set off a relatively small, 150-kiloton explosion using an oval-shaped core. The shape of the core was the tip-off to analysts that China had discovered one of the most important secrets about U.S. nuclear weapons.

And the Chinese had succeeded in doing so through espionage. The spying occurred under several administrations. But the magnitude of the problem was kept secret and only became public in the late 1990s.

The official reaction to the espionage - or, really, the lack of a response - was the result of a pro-China policy that caused serious damage to U.S. national security interests. The inaction sent a signal to any would- be nuclear power: U.S. nuclear secrets are up for grabs.

Under the so-called ``engagement'' policy of President Clinton, the administration ignored, minimized and ultimately covered up Chinese spying. Nothing would be allowed to interfere with the deliberate policy of pretending China poses no threat to the United States.

The story of how Chinese nuclear spies stole nuclear warhead secrets is about the failure of the U.S. government to protect long-term national security interests.

China today is engaged in a major buildup of strategic nuclear weapons targeted at a single nation: the United States.

The buildup includes two new road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Dong Feng-31 and the Dong Feng-41; at least four new strategic nuclear missile submarines; and a host of exotic, high-technology weapons such as lasers capable of shooting down or blinding satellites. The buildup also includes computer-based information warfare designed to launch crippling attacks on everything from electrical power to the computer networks used to keep commercial aircraft flying safely.

Intelligence analysts working at the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory wrote a classified analysis that said the nuclear device tested near Lop Nur in 1992 was shaped differently from any other known Chinese warhead. The device looked like an American warhead, and the scientists were concerned that the Chinese had obtained strategic secrets.

In April 1995, the Los Alamos analysts sent their classified memorandum to Notra Trulock, a political scientist by training who had worked at Los Alamos and who was director of intelligence for the Department of Energy. Four years later, Mr. Trulock would be hounded out of the department for his efforts to expose Chinese nuclear spying.

Chinese espionage efforts against the weapons laboratories were not new to security officials.

``But we were beginning to uncover the outlines of a broad and very successful Chinese intelligence assault against our nuclear weapons laboratories,'' Mr. Trulock said. ``These labs are the repositories of the secrets underlying the U.S. nuclear deterrent, accumulated through decades of U.S. nuclear weapons experience at the cost of billions of dollars.''

Mr. Trulock explained that he had tried to alert U.S. officials, ranging from his immediate superiors at Energy all the way to White House National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger. Their responses were always ``appropriate,'' he said, but their actions never matched their expressions of concern.

The Clinton administration viewed Chinese nuclear spying as a mere inconvenience, since the only strategy was to ``engage'' China's communist leaders - a policy that was ridiculed by China's communist leaders as the abject weakness of a decaying Western society.

``If our assessments of their perspective on their deterrent in the mid- '80s were correct, I think the Chinese now are moving much closer to having what they consider to be a credible deterrent,'' Mr. Trulock said. ``And if they think the credibility of their deterrent is solid again, then that to me seems to open up a lot of other options for them, like Taiwan. The whole idea behind their deterrent is to keep us from intervening in the achievement of China's regional objectives.''

Energy Department intelligence analysts learned that China had acquired U.S. secrets on at least seven of America's most modern thermonuclear warheads. The damage was known to key officials in the Clinton White House, the CIA and the Pentagon, but the information was kept hidden from the public to protect the policy of engagement.

It took a select congressional committee, formed in 1998 to investigate Chinese acquisition of U.S. missile technology, to bring the story into public view.

The administration fought the committee for five months, trying to prevent release of classified intelligence information that exposed Chinese espionage. But in the spring of 1999 the committee's report finally was made public.

``The credentials of the scientists conducting the assessment, the nature of the evidence and the quality of the technical judgments made for a compelling case,'' Mr. Trulock said. ``Some of the nation's most experienced nuclear scientists participated in this work. Their contributions have never been recognized or acknowledged by their government.''

The CIA, supposedly the nation's premier intelligence service, was ``politicized'' in the debate over Chinese spying. Its analysts tried hard to play down, minimize and ignore the damage. The CIA even insisted that what the Chinese obtained by espionage could have been obtained in other ways, such as from leaks of classified information or from public documents.

But Mr. Trulock provided an inside account of the Chinese espionage case that showed otherwise. The real issue was not whether a damaging spy scandal had occurred, but how the White House managed to contain the political fallout so that it touched anyone but the administration.

The White House went into its ``war room'' mode of media damage control. James Kennedy, the White House lawyer who handled the president's impeachment, was put on the China spying story.

The spin: Chinese spying was not the Clinton White House's fault; it all happened in the 1980s. To influence news reporters and their coverage, Mr. Kennedy emphasized that the story was ``old news,'' and if anyone were to blame it would be the Republicans who were in power then.

When the select committee's bipartisan report went public, the administration privately - and falsely - warned the major television networks that the report did not reflect the version based on classified information.

If the media ``went hard'' with the story, the White House promised it had the means to discredit the report.

So there was no story - or, at least, little criticism of the administration.

``As the director of DOE [Department of Energy] intelligence, I was the talking head for the DOE group and bore most of the brunt of these attacks,'' Mr. Trulock recalled. ``To his credit, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson did present me with a $10,000 bonus, but this didn't offset the fact that I had been demoted, relegated to a meaningless job and eventually forced out of the department. Routine stuff for whistle-blowers in this administration.

''But I also came under media fire of the type normally reserved for [independent counsel] Ken Starr or someone involved in the president's public scandals. I read that I was a `dangerous demagogue,' a `great impostor,' `obsessed,' that my `style' was abrasive and a host of other epithets. Reporters attributed a variety of motives to explain my involvement in this case, including imputations of racism and xenophobia. This was pretty heavy stuff for someone who has spent most of his career trying to stay out of the public eye.

``Of course, most of these allegations came from the very officials within DOE and the White House responsible for the cover-ups and stonewalling of the Congress, and who had fought so hard to kill any meaningful security reform at the labs. Many of these were the perpetuators, if not the creators, of the very security lapses that made Chinese espionage possible in the first place.''

No good deed goes unpunished, as they say.

Notra Trulock had dared to challenge the pro-China policies of Bill Clinton. He had spoken bluntly about the Chinese strategic nuclear threat to the United States. He had revealed China's decades of nuclear-related espionage - and that the spying continues today.

(c) 2000 News World Communications, Inc.