Here Come the Spies
The Wall Street Journal -- March 7, 1997
We've already made the case for why the Senate should reject the Chemical Weapons Convention. The last thing the world needs is another unverifiable arms control treaty. The worst danger here is creating the illusion that we are ridding the world of the threat of chemical weapons. But there's another danger: The treaty would be a bonanza to countries that are in the business of spying on American business.
Worst hit would be the defense and aerospace industry -- and hence national security -- but plenty of other industries would be subject to industrial espionage. There has never been an arms control treaty whose reach would extend so far into ordinary business, both through its reporting requirements and its inspection regime.
The CWC covers not just companies that manufacture certain chemicals and discrete organic chemicals, but also those that use them to make something else -- such as automobiles, pharmaceuticals, electronics or even liquor. The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency has drawn up a list of more than 1,000 American companies that would be subject to the treaty's terms. Others say at least 6,000 companies would be affected.
The Chemical Manufacturers Association has been vocal in pooh-poohing the treaty's reporting and inspection requirements, which may in fact not be much for the CMA's already highly regulated membership of fewer than 200 companies.But companies that make such things as soap or tires or paint are going to find the paperwork alone an expensive new irritant.
Far more troublesome, however, is the treaty's proposed inspection regime, to be carried out by a new international bureaucracy in the Hague called the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. A better name might be the Organization for the Promotion of Industrial Espionage.
OPCW will conduct both routine inspections and "challenge" inspections at the request of member governments. Under the terms of the treaty, it would be next to impossible for the U.S. to halt a frivolous or abusive inspection. A challenge inspection would take place with less than a day's notice, and inspectors would have extraordinary access to files, data, equipment, etc. A company might as well post its trade secrets on the Internet.
The challenging country would send along an observer, and even though he wouldn't be permitted beyond a specified perimeter, there's a lot he would be able to learn from that distance. In a mock inspection that the U.S. carried out using the CWC's proposed rules, the "observer" was able to steal proprietary information simply by gathering soil and water samples from his spot on the edge of the inspection site.
CWC Is Watching
From a May 14, 1996 list compiled by the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency of companies that would be subject to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Archer Daniels Midland Co.
Armco Steel Co.
Citgo Petroleum Corp.
General Motors Corp.
Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.
Jim Beam Brands Co.
Lever Brothers Co.
Maxwell House Coffee Co.
Quaker Oats Co.
Simpson Timber Co.
Source: Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Worse, there are no guarantees that the inspectors themselves won't moonlight as spies. Senator Helms raised this issue during Madeleine Albright's confirmation hearing in January. He pointed to evidence that Chinese applicants for OPCW inspector jobs had been "directed to volunteer" and that most had ties to the People's Liberation Army's chemical "defense" program. It's not hard to imagine the damage an inspector-spy could do. Reverse engineering is one threat, but even something seemingly as simple as the type of equipment used in a manufacturing process could constitute a trade secret.
All this poses a danger to national security. Kathleen Bailey of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory testified to that effect before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last year. She said "classified information can be obtained from sampling and analysis during, and perhaps after, inspections under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Furthermore, clandestine sampling would be virtually impossible to detect or to prevent." In the defense area, stealth technology is particularly at risk; a challenge inspection of a U.S. defense contractor could yield much on that score.
So far, the debate on the Chemical Weapons Convention hasn't moved beyond Washington to the boardroom. Only a few companies -- Dial Soap and Citgo Petroleum among them -- have spoken out against the treaty. It's perhaps understandable that most CEOs would assume that a treaty on chemical weapons wouldn't affect them. It does and they'd be wise to pay attention.