The White House, like much of America, was waiting with bated breath for the final release of the Cox Joint Committee Report. But it wasn't because the White House wanted to address the concerns of Chinese espionage. Instead, the White House was getting ready to dismiss the gravest threat to American security in this decade.
Committee Chairman Chris Cox, R-Calif., deserves kudos for his patience and tenacity. He worked with Democrats to ensure the investigation would be conducted fairly and not degenerate into a political circus. His combination of fairness and toughness allowed the truth to get out at last.
The Clinton Administration has struggled for months to keep the Cox Report under wraps. In January, all nine committee members five Republicans and four Democrats voted to release it. But the White House balked. It demanded changes, alterations, endorsed, and later reneged on, the release of the report.
But this strategy of shifting blame and pointing fingers won't last forever. The final version of the Cox report may be 30 percent shorter than the original, but the consequences are no less grave.
What the report makes all too clear is that the nation is in danger. Much of the information jibes with earlier news reports. But it shows that the U.S. Congress has recognized what President Clinton will not.
"The People's Republic of China has stolen classified design information on the United States' most advanced thermonuclear weapons." Worse, the report shows that the Chinese now possess data on every weapon in America's nuclear arsenal from the Minuteman II to the sophisticated W-88 to the neutron bomb.
Unfortunately, at a time of grave national security President Clinton chooses to try to shift the blame instead of act.
The Cox Report notes that Chinese espionage efforts extended back as far as the Carter administration and continue to this day. The difference is Presidents Carter, Reagan and Bush knew nothing of this.
President Clinton did. Despite the president's claims in March to the contrary, his own Secretary of Energy now admits he was repeatedly briefed. We already know that Clinton's "strategic engagement" has been a failure. It has worked just as well as Neville Chamberlain's "appeasement."
What's different is that Clinton and his campaign have given direct access and cover to those Chinese operatives willing to pay for his re-election and soft money commercials. In other words, the Chinese weren't part of the Carter, Reagan or Bush campaign teams.
The cost has been high. Today, we learn that China will be able to deploy weapons using American technology as early as 2002. What's more, China's ICBMs are already capable of striking targets anywhere in the United States. Not just Los Angeles, or Seattle, or Anchorage. Anywhere.
Chinese spies also stole guidance technology for the U.S. Army's anti-tank tactical missile system, the Navy's extended-range land attack missile and nearly all modern fighters, including the F-117 "stealth" fighter.
That's not all. According to the report, China clandestinely controls more than 3,000 front companies in the United States, many concentrated in high-tech regions of California and New England.
If the nation is at great risk today, it will be in greater danger tomorrow. What does the Clinton administration have to say about this? How does the White House propose to rescue national security?
The Clinton administration has belatedly reinstated some security programs. But such public-relations moves do not answer the key question: Why didn't the White House, so ready to blame previous White Houses, expose this problem? Why was it left to Congress?
America has been down this road before and not just with the Cold War. In the 1930s, there were many "bipartisan reports" from Congress warning of the growing threat of totalitarianism in Europe. But the majority of Congress, sensing the country's isolationist mood, opted to keep the country neutral.
In Britain, Winston Churchill argued in vain before Parliament that losing air parity with Germany would have grave consequences. He later recalled that when Britain's policy of disarmament was backed politicians were afraid to take any other line, lest they risk losing their seats. But, Churchill wrote, "it is much better for parties or politicians to be turned out of office than to imperil the life of the nation."
Of course, Hitler and Mussolini were allowed to arm and act on their totalitarian designs. By the time the United States and Britain acted, war was inevitable.
The forces of freedom won, but not without paying a high price in "blood, sweat, tears and toil." The United States must not allow itself to be forced into another war. The best way is to keep America on the cutting edge of technological superiority.
We can assume that many nations will soon have the ability to test and deliver nuclear warheads. China and Russia both have this ability. In early 1997 those countries committed themselves to a "multipolar" world that is, an end to America's position as sole global superpower. Iran, Pakistan, India, Iraq and even North Korea have, thanks to China, made significant strides in developing their own nuclear arsenals.
Perhaps, this is where we see the Clinton administration at its worst. The president can blame prior administrations for espionage. But the hard truth is that none of them were as remiss as he is in trying to protect the United States from those lost secrets.
Clinton has been the implacable foe of missile defense, exactly when technology can be deployed to protect the nation.
Congress passed the National Defense Act in February, which calls for deployment of a ballistic missile defense "as soon as is technologically possible." But these are little more than words on paper until the president gets behind it. Unfortunately, there are no efforts currently underway to make any such defenses "technologically possible" before 2010. We are wasting precious time.
As the Cox Report makes frighteningly clear, 2010 is too late. The White House must not be allowed to dismiss these findings, or claim that it has taken steps to correct the problems. The secrets are all out, and they bode ill for the future. This is a crisis that demands immediate attention, not games.
Congressman Cox is to be congratulated for his hard work. Given the urgency of this crisis, Congress could learn a valuable lesson from it.