ESSAY / By WILLIAM SAFIRE
U.S. Security for Sale
WASHINGTON -- A President hungry for money to finance his re-election overruled the Pentagon; he sold to a Chinese Military Intelligence front the technology that defense experts argued would give Beijing the capacity to blind our spy satellites and launch a sneak attack. How soon we have forgotten Pearl Harbor.
October 1996 must have been some tense month for Democratic fund-raisers. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times had begun to expose "the Asian connection" of John Huang and Indonesia's Riady family to the Clinton campaign.
The fix was already in to sell the satellite technology to China. Clinton had switched the licensing over to Ron Brown's anything-goes Commerce Department. Johnny Chung had paid up. Commerce's Huang had delivered money big time (though one of his illegal foreign sources had already been spotted). The boss of the satellite's builder had come through as Clinton's largest contributor.
But public outrage was absent. The F.B.I. didn't read the papers and Reno Justice did not want to embarrass the President. And television news found no pictorial values in the Asian connection.
Stealthily, the Clinton Administration held back the implementation of the corrupt policy until Nov. 5 -- the day the campaign ended. Now the reporting of Jeff Gerth and The Times's investigative team is putting the spotlight of pitiless publicity on the sellout of American security.
We begin to see how the daughter of China's top military commander steered at least $300,000 through the Chung channel to the D.N.C. (Apparently Mr. Chung skimmed off a chunk and may be spilling his guts lest he have to face his Beijing friends.)
We begin to learn more of the Feb. 8, 1996, visit of the arms dealer Wang Jun to the Commerce office of Ron Brown, and Wang's "coffee" meeting that day with the President, the very day that Clinton approved four Chinese launches -- even as China was terrorizing Taiwan with missile tests.
Clinton's explanation, which used to slyly suggest that China policy was not changed "solely" by contributors, has now switched to total ignorance: shucks, we didn't know the source of the money. But this President's D.N.C. did not know because it wanted not to know; procedures long in place to prevent the unlawful inflow of foreign funds were uprooted by the money-hungry Clintonites.
Today, two years after this sale of our security, comes the unforeseen chain reaction: as China strengthens its satellite and missile technology, a new Indian Government reacts to the growing threat from its longtime Asian rival and joins the nuclear club. In turn, China feels pressed to supply its threatened ally, Pakistan, with weaponry Beijing promised us not to transfer.
This makes Clinton the Proliferation President.
Who has helped keep this sellout of security under wraps? In the Senate, John Glenn was rewarded with a space flight by Clinton for derogating the leads to China of the Thompson committee. Fred Thompson's warnings about China's plan to penetrate this White House were then scorned by Democratic partisans; his Government Operations Committee should now swarm all over this.
The House's aggressive agent of the Clinton cover-up, Henry Waxman of California, is finally "troubled" by the prospect of damning evidence he prevented the Burton committee from finding. At least three Democratic partisans who foolishly followed Waxman in blocking the testimony of Asian witnesses may have difficulty explaining their cover-up vote to even more troubled voters in their districts.
The Gerth revelations lead to more questions: Where were the chiefs of the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency, their intelligence so dependent on satellites, on the satellite technology sale to China? Is anybody at Reno Justice re-examining testimony taken by independent counsel investigating corruption at Commerce before Ron Brown's death? Does Brown's former lawyer claim "dead man's privilege" on notes? Did N.S.A. tape overseas calls of suspect Commerce officials? Who induced Commerce to lobby Clinton for control of satellite technology? And the most immediate: Will homesick prosecutor Charles LaBella, beholden to Janet Reno for his political appointment in San Diego, dare to offend his patron by calling for independent counsel?