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The Cox Report and the US - China Arms Control Technical Exchange Program, 1999

This document was prepared as an account of work sponsored by an agency of the United States Government. Neither the United States Government nor the University of California nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights.
September 1, 1999
The Cox Report and the US - China Arms Control Technical
Exchange Program


Marco S. Di Capua
Proliferation Prevention and Arms Control Program
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Livermore, CA 94550

The report issued by the Select Committee on US National Security and Military / Commercial Concerns with the People’s Republic of China chaired by Representative Christopher Cox (Cox Report): devotes attention in Volume 1 to interactions between the three US Department of Energy National laboratories and the China Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP). These three US national laboratories, CAEP, and the Northwest Institute of Nuclear Technology (NINT) in China are responsible for research, development and testing of nuclear weapons.

The Cox report alleges that

The China Academy of Engineering Physics has pursued a very close relationship with US. national weapons laboratories sending scientists as well as senior management to Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore Members of the Academy of Engineering Physics senior management have made at least two trips during the mid-to-late nineties to US. national weapons laboratories to acquire information and collect intelligence. The presence of such PRC nationals at the US. national weapons laboratories facilitates the PRC targeting of US. weapons scientists for the purpose of obtaining nuclear weapons information.

US. and PRC lab-to-lab exchanges were ended in the late 1980’s but were resumed in 1993. Scientific exchanges continue in many areas including high energy physics. Discussions at the US, national laboratories are supposed to be strictly limited to technical arms control and materials accounting issues. Nonetheless these visits and scientific conferences provide opportunities for the PRC to interact with US. scientists outside of official meetings, and facilitate the targeting of US. weapons scientists.

The US. national laboratories argue that there are reciprocal gains from the exchanges. The Department of Energy describes some of the insights gained from these exchanges as unique. On the other hand the PRC scientists have misled the US. about their objectives and technological developments. Despite considerable debate in Congress and the Executive branch, including several critical Government Accounting Office reports, the US. Government has never made a definite assessment of the risks versus benefits of scientific exchanges and foreign visitor programs involving the US national weapons laboratories.

Thus, the Cox report alleges that the “lab-to-lab” exchanges of the early 90's, were a pipeline for transfer of U.S. secret information about nuclear weapons to China. This transfer is a risk that all the US Government policy makers and national laboratory scientists who conceived and established the exchange programs, the management of the national laboratories that hosted them, and the technical personnel who implemented them, recognized at the very beginning of the “lab-to-lab” exchange program. All took abinitio, decisive actions to mitigate and manage this risk. This paper describes the risk management and risk mitigating process at LLNL in some detail. The Cox Committee report does not discuss this process at all.

These laboratory-to-laboratory exchange programs were conceived and existed within the context of national and global security. Thus, this paper also describes the US national security, global security and foreign policy context of these “lab-to-lab” exchanges. The Cox report does not discuss this context either.

Please click here to download the report.



October 15, 2020 - 4:00pm

Please join the USC U.S.-China Institute for a book talk with author David Lampton. His new book examines China’s effort to create an intercountry railway system connecting China and its seven Southeast Asian neighbors.