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China scandal: Cast of characters

Issue: "There they go again," June 5, 1999

President Clinton

  • His policy of engagement with China included increased access for Chinese officials to national laboratories like Los Alamos. Evidence of espionage and security lapses played to a White House audience concerned with expanding trade with China, planning summits in 1997 and 1998, and finessing campaign contributions from Chinese sources. The first White House briefing on Chinese espionage took place as now-discredited financiers John Huang and Johnny Chung were funneling millions into the Clinton-Gore reelection effort. One popular Chinese funding source: Liu Chao-ying, an aerospace executive who is the daughter of China's highest-ranking military commander. Federico Peña
  • As Secretary of Energy beginning early in 1997, Mr. Peña downgraded a counterintelligence program that was meant to tighten security surrounding nuclear secrets at the energy department's national weapons laboratories. He ignored FBI recommendations that background checks be performed on visitors to Los Alamos and Sandia. When Energy Department whistleblower Notra Trulock asked to speak with Secretary Peña about new spy operations at the weapons labs, he was told to wait four months for an appointment. Sandy Berger
  • Mr. Clinton's national security adviser was first briefed on Chinese espionage in April 1996. He says he did not tell the president of the massive technology hemorrhage until July 1997. Even The New York Times tilted a May 26 editorial toward calling for his resignation, saying "his fitness is in question." Janet Reno
  • The attorney general resisted all congressional entreaties to investigate illegal contributions by Chinese sources to Mr. Clinton's 1996 presidential campaign. When it came to national security, she turned down a request by the FBI to wiretap suspected spy Wen Ho Lee. She also refused a request to search Mr. Lee's government computer. FBI officials say they make about 700 such requests each year, and they are rarely turned down. Wen Ho Lee
  • A Chinese-American computer scientist, believed to have downloaded sensitive warhead technology from a classified computer at Los Alamos, where he worked, to a personal computer. In 1997, he traveled to Hong Kong and obtained $700 from an American Express office. The FBI believes he used the cash to purchase a ticket to Shanghai, where he likely handed over computer design records for the W-88. Mr. Lee was allowed to keep his national security clearance at Los Alamos for more than a year after FBI director Louis Freeh told Energy Department officials he should be stripped of top-secret access. He was also allowed to keep his job until last March, long after security officials and lawmakers had evidence of his misdeeds. He has not been arrested. Christopher Cox
  • The six-term congressman and chairman of the Republican Policy Committee was tapped to head a bipartisan select committee on espionage in the midst of partisan bloodletting over impeachment charges against President Clinton. When the investigation was over, the declassified version of the committee's long-awaited report received unanimous endorsement from committee Republicans and Democrats. That will make it harder for White House spin doctors to say the espionage charges are political, and easier for Asian allies to support the findings. Notra Trulock
  • The Energy Department's chief whistleblower and key witness before the House Select committee on China-but it was a long road to stardom. In 1996 Mr. Trulock unveiled to CIA officials evidence of Chinese espionage at Los Alamos national weapons laboratory in New Mexico. The evidence was already a year old. Mr. Trulock toted to Capitol Hill evidence of astonishing advances in Chinese missile technology in 1998 and gave the Cox committee its first comprehensive report on the espionage. Mr. Trulock was head of the Energy Department's intelligence office before he was demoted to acting deputy.

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