Associated PressAlbuquerque, NM -- A retired Los Alamos scientist, who spent the last decade studying China's nuclear programs, is fighting federal interference in his efforts to publish a book on his meetings with Chinese scientists and visits to their secret facilities.
May 29, 2001
Government Holds Back Scientist's BookBy Richard Benke
Dan Stillman's manuscript has been under review for 1-1/2 years at the Energy Department, Defense Department and CIA, said Mark Zaid, Stillman's attorney. Pentagon and Energy Department spokeswomen confirm the review continues.
Fellow scientists and Zaid say it's time Stillman's story - based on a decade of visiting China's most secret facilities - moves off the government shelf and onto people's bookshelves.
"I just don't see why they don't let him publish," said Harold Agnew, a former Los Alamos National Laboratory director who said he looks forward to reading the book.
Neither Zaid nor any publisher has been allowed to see the book, "Inside China's Nuclear Weapons Program."
Zaid expects to sue by mid-June alleging First Amendment abuses. Air Force Lt. Col. Willette Carter said the Pentagon declines to comment since a lawsuit hasn't been filed.
Asked why the government was blocking publication, Agnew said: "It may well be they're just embarrassed."
"The government's attempt to suppress an entire 500-page manuscript is intolerable to anyone who cares about the First Amendment," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy. "He has every right to tell his story."
Stillman, 67, retired at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1993.
Robert Vrooman, former Los Alamos counterintelligence director, said he helped debrief Stillman after some of the China travel.
"It was my impression that (debriefers) were very happy with what he was getting," Vrooman said.
Stillman said he's among only five Americans allowed to visit both the Chinese nuclear test site and nuclear weapons lab.
"I simply asked questions, and they seemed happy to answer," Stillman said of his 10 visits to China from 1990 to 2001.
"Everything I brought back in my notes was unclassified," he said, suggesting "the U.S. intelligence community" later imposed "a very high classification level in order to control the information."
China, among other things, wanted to convey a message to Americans, including congressional figures who accused China of espionage, he said.
"I wish I could testify before your U.S. Congress to tell them how much damage has been done," Hu Side, former head of China's nuclear weapons program, said in a 1999 speech attended by Stillman. "They have turned cooperation into conflict! I could tell them the truth, that we never found it necessary to steal any U.S. nuclear weapon secrets."
Referring to certain U.S. officials, excluding Stillman, as "you," Hu went on: "You have overestimated the scientific and technical capability of the U.S. and seriously underestimated that of China. You have insulted us. You must have made these (espionage) charges for political reasons and not on the basis of evidence of what we have done. We never learned anything from you. ... We did not need you!"
He added Wen Ho Lee, former scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, "is a scapegoat."
Taiwan-born Lee, a U.S. citizen, was freed last September after pleading guilty to one charge of illegal data downloading at the lab. The government dropped 58 charges.
The FBI had listed Lee's acquaintance with Hu as one of several reasons for keeping Lee jailed without bail.
Asked if he believed China never stole U.S. secrets, Stillman said: "Of course. Out of 1.3 billion people, it's certainly possible to find some really brilliant scientists that can develop their own nuclear weapons program without having to steal it from the U.S. I've never understood why some people in the U.S. think that we are the only intelligent people in the world."
Some suggested China's progress making smaller, "miniaturized" bombs came via espionage. Others argued it arrived with supercomputer access in the 1990s. But Agnew, the third director of the Los Alamos lab, said China could have succeeded without supercomputers.
"Absolutely," Agnew said. "We did."
Copyright 2001 Associated Press