JPRI Critique Vol. VI No. 6 (June 1999)
American Intelligence Services Lose Credibility Over East Asian Security Problems
by Chalmers Johnson

A prominent Capitol Hill staffer recently remarked to me that it would have been better if the attempted impeachment of President Clinton had run on until the presidential election next year. "The danger," she said, "is that as soon as they have the impeachment out of the way, they will then reveal their true agendas--and these mostly involve going to war." Sure enough, only a few weeks after President Clinton's acquittal, we are bogged down in a war of his choosing in the Balkans. It may, however, be a better war to be caught up in than the one some high government officials have been plotting to start with North Korea and China.

The main technique of these officials is to engineer leaks of raw intelligence data allegedly showing that there is some dangerous new threat to national security from China or North Korea. They do this by eliciting the illegal services of "rogue" intelligence officers and high-ranking Pentagon officials, who in turn manipulate cooperative newspapermen. The leakers protect themselves by never identifying their sources by name and by claiming that the actual intelligence data is too highly classified to be released to the public.

For example, on February 11, 1999, the Los Angeles Times quoted unnamed sources at the Pentagon that the "Chinese government has deployed more than 120 ballistic missiles, and possibly as many as 200, on its side of the Taiwan Strait. . . . Analysts said the deployment--at least a doubling of the previous number of missiles massed on China's southern coast--is sure to fuel calls in the U.S. for including Taiwan in . . . the TMD [theatre missile defense]." The following day, in the same newspaper, a named Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Michael Doubleday, contradicted this by declaring that "China has not increased the number of missiles aimed at the island in five or six years . . . and has not seen any increases since an early 1990s buildup."

The Demonization of North Korea

This kind of false alarm is a very old story with regard to the military situation on the Korean peninsula. In September 1997, for example, the United States, South Korea, China, and North Korea were scheduled to hold negotiations on replacing the 45-year-old Korean armistice with a peace treaty. In the same month the U.S. also said it hoped to obtain North Korea's adherence to an international agreement first negotiated in 1987 called the Missile Technology Control Regime. This agreement seeks to bring under control the transfer of technologies that could be used to make ICBMs. The United States had indicated in advance that it would lift some economic sanctions against North Korea if the North Koreans would halt deployment and sales of their missiles.

However, on August 22, 1997, the eve of the talks, the North Korean ambassador to Egypt "defected" to the United States. He had been a key player in North Korea's missile sales to the Middle East, and R. Jeffrey Smith in the Washington Post quoted a CIA source as saying that "There will be people in the intelligence community who will be salivating to see this guy" (August 27, 1997).

However, in its issue dated September 8, 1997, Newsweek revealed that the former ambassador had in fact long been on the CIA's payroll. Informed observers concluded that the ambassador had not so much defected as been called in from the cold at a time of the CIA's choosing. North Korea in retaliation declined to attend either set of scheduled meetings. When, on September 2, the State Department's spokesman was asked whether the so-called defection was a conspiracy by the CIA to break up the talks, he replied "No comment."

A year later, amidst reports that North Korea had grown frustrated with the failure of the U.S. to normalize relations, the New York Times (August 17, 1998) published on its front page an article by David E. Sanger entitled "North Korea Site An A-Bomb Plant, U.S. Agencies Say." According to the article,"United States intelligence agencies have detected a huge secret underground complex in North Korea that they believe is the centerpiece of an effort to revive the country's frozen nuclear weapons program, according to officials who have been briefed on the intelligence information."

No other newspapers reported this story. Two days after the article appeared the Pentagon announced that the underground A-bomb plant actually seemed to be a large hole in the ground--one of thousands of such holes, sometimes containing factories that were sited underground after the devastating bombing by the U.S. during the Korean War--and that the United States had no evidence that North Korea had ceased to comply with its agreement to give up its nuclear weapons program.

Dr. C. Kenneth Quinones, who from 1992 to 1994 was the State Department's desk officer for North Korea and subsequently the Asia Foundation's representative in Korea--as well as the American who has probably visited North Korea more often than any other--has written, "This . . . story is centered in Washington, not in Pyongyang. It involves America's intelligence community and not North Korea's nuclear program. . . . The recent leak of unsubstantiated 'intelligence' certainly appears to have been an irresponsible effort by a 'pessimist' within the American intelligence community. . . . The U.S. government has officially denied the accuracy of the reports" (Northeast Asia Peace and Security Network, October 5, 1998, Nonetheless, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright continued to call the "suspected nuclear facility" a "huge threat" and demanded the right of the United States to conduct inspections in North Korea when and where it chooses.

Japan Subscribes to the TMD

Two weeks after the story about the alleged new A-bomb plant was published, the Pentagon and the Japanese Defense Agency got some news they thought they really could use. On August 31, 1998, the United States announced that North Korea had test fired a two-stage (later revised to three-stage) missile over Japan. The Japanese, at least metaphorically, went ballistic. They condemned North Korea for its dangerous military provocation, cut off all contacts, and said they would launch their own spy satellite to keep track of what was going on in North Korea.

By September 12 the back-down had begun. It turned out that the North Koreans had used a three-stage rocket to launch a satellite in connection with the celebration of the country's 50th anniversary. Like the famous 1970 Chinese satellite that broadcast "The East is Red" into outer space, Pyongyang Radio announced that its satellite was transmitting the "Song of General Kim Il-sung" and "Song of General Kim Jong-il," said to be "immortal revolutionary hymns." The North Korean foreign ministry also pointedly added that "We have never criticized the United States and Japan for having launched artificial satellites. We are well aware that these satellites have been used for espionage on our country." Japan has in fact launched at least 24 satellites since its National Space Development Agency was founded in 1969 and has budgeted more spy satellites specifically to keep an eye on North Korea.

However, the United States continued to harp on the threat posed by North Korea's missile capability. It also ostentatiously flew B-52 and B-2 bombers to Guam. The uproar achieved what the Department of Defense and the arms industry most wanted--Japanese financial and technical contributions to America's star wars research programs, which Japan agreed to on September 20, 1998.

Chinese Nuclear Spies

A new campaign has now been launched to raise American fears about China via accusations that a Chinese-American computer scientist at Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory is a spy for China. Wen-ho Lee was born in Taiwan, not in mainland China, was educated in the U.S., and is a naturalized U.S. citizen. The sole evidence cited against him is that in June 1988, during the Reagan administration, he along with 200 other scientists attended an International Computational Physics Conference in Beijing with the permission and clearance of the Los Alamos Laboratory. According to Newsweek (March 15, 1999), the FBI believes that in the question-and-answer period following his lecture, "the talkative and gregarious Lee" may have--inadvertently or intentionally--revealed some technical information about the warhead. The FBI went on to allege that "Beijing targets the hundreds of thousands of Chinese students, scientists, and entrepreneurs living in the United States as part of a nationwide technology-collection effort." These accusations set off a press campaign of bigotry and paranoia reminiscent of anti-Japanese propaganda during World War II. There is no evidence at all that the Chinese have incorporated any of the allegedly stolen technology into their nuclear weapons. As long ago as 1964 I wrote an article for the New York Times Sunday Magazine ("China's 'Manhatan Project,' or How Mao Learned to Love--and Build--the Bomb," October 24, 1964) in which I described China's first nuclear weapons test as probably headed by K. C. Wang. When I discovered that Wang had studied at Berkeley, I telephoned physicist Emilio Segré at the Radiation Laboratory and asked him whether he remembered Wang as a student (he did) and whether he thought Wang could build an atomic bomb. "Of course," Segré replied proudly, "I taught him."

The current innuendoes of treason against Wen-ho Lee have an eery similarity to the case of Captain Alfred Dreyfus in France exactly a century ago. In that most serious case of anti-Semitism in Europe before World War II, French military officers falsely accused Dreyfus of being a spy for Germany while he was serving on the French Army's General Staff. He was sentenced to solitary confinement on Devil's Island until the head of French military intelligence revealed that he had been framed because he was Jewish in order to protect the real spy, Major Ferdinand Esterhazy. In 1898, Emile Zola wrote J'accuse to denounce the French government and political and religious establishments for the ease with which they had condemned a loyal soldier because of his ancestry. Zola's accusations led to a massive scandal in which Drefyus was ultimately exonerated and France in 1905 finally separated church and state.

There is today no more of a case against Lee than there was against Dreyfus in 1898. The contemporary American equivalent of a Jewish officer on the French general staff is a scientist of Chinese ancestry working at a weapons laboratory. It is important to note that the U.S. government has neither charged Lee with a crime nor arrested him. The FBI questioned Lee for two days without his lawyer being present--the same technique it used against Monica Lewinsky to try to get her to secretly tape-record her conversations with the President. With no evidence against him, Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson (himself the descendant of an immigrant Mexican) nonetheless fired him. The CBS Evening News staked out his house in Los Alamos and broadcast pictures of it, making it a perfect target for radical attacks of all sorts. On Saturday, April 10, the FBI searched Lee's home for some six hours and carried off his computer and some books but still has neither charged nor exonerated him.

Until Lee is actually charged with a crime, one can only assume that the charges against him are politically motivated by elements within the U.S. government who seek to turn China into a dangerous enemy. These elements include the American intelligence services, which are no longer politically neutral in their reports about China and North Korea, just as their reports about Russia in the 1980s were exaggerated to serve the interests of the U.S.'s military-industrial-educational complex. The Chinese are not wrong to be outraged by the May 7, 1999, U.S. bombing of their embassy in Belgrade and to wonder whether it was really an 'accident.' It is more plausible that the Chinese embassy was deliberately targeted because the U.S. intelligence services and Pentagon have agendas of their own than to believe that the U.S. Air Force had been issued--in Secretary of Defense William Cohen's words--an "outdated map."

CHALMERS JOHNSON is president of the Japan Policy Research Institute.

Downloaded from