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Missiles Are New Focus of FBI Inquiry Into Chinese Espionage

October 19, 2000|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — A new review of Chinese military documents provided by a defector in 1995 has led U.S. intelligence agencies to conclude that Chinese espionage has gathered more American missile technology than nuclear weapon secrets, senior U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The conclusion was reached only this year because CIA and other intelligence agency linguists did not fully translate the huge pile of secret Chinese documents, totaling 13,000 pages, until four years after the agency obtained them, according to a senior law enforcement official, who described the delay as a major blunder.

The belated translation and analysis has prompted a major reorientation of the FBI's investigation into Chinese espionage.

From 1996 until late last year, the FBI probe centered on the suspected loss of U.S. nuclear warhead designs and quickly narrowed into an investigation of Wen Ho Lee, a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Now, however, the FBI--which never found evidence that Lee spied for China--has shifted its focus to the Defense Department and its private contractors.

That is because the documents provided by the defector show that during the 1980s, Beijing had gathered a large amount of classified information about U.S. ballistic missiles and reentry vehicles.

The missile secrets are far more likely to have come from defense officials or missile builders than from Los Alamos or other U.S. nuclear weapon labs, officials said.

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