Exploring China’s Nuclear Weapons Program

09.04.08 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

A detailed new portrait of China’s nuclear weapons program is beginning to emerge into the public domain following years of pre-publication conflict between author Danny B. Stillman and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Mr. Stillman, a former Los Alamos intelligence officer, was able to learn more about China’s nuclear weapons infrastructure than any other American, particularly since the Chinese, for their own reasons, welcomed his attention. Over the course of numerous visits in the 1990s, he was able to inspect secret nuclear facilities that had been completely off limits to foreigners.

But when he proposed to publish his findings, the Central Intelligence Agency stepped in to block publication. Through the prepublication review process, the CIA objected to approximately 15% of Stillman’s manuscript, which it said contained classified information. A court later affirmed that view. (“CIA Blocks Book on Chinese Nuclear Weapons,” Secrecy News, April 4, 2007). Now a redacted version of the manuscript is scheduled for publication early next year.

A preview of some of the book’s findings with an overview of Stillman’s interactions with Chinese nuclear weapons scientists appears in the current issue of Physics Today. See “The Chinese Nuclear Tests, 1964-1996” by Thomas C. Reed, Physics Today, September 2008.

Some specialists dispute certain assertions that appear in the article, including a surprising claim that China performed non-explosive nuclear tests for France in the 1990s. See “Report Says China Offered Widespread Help on Nukes” by Dan Vergano, USA Today, August 29, 2008.