Hughes Takes Chinese Missile Rap

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WASHINGTON: It was billed -- by Republicans, anyway -- as the scandal America could really get behind: Clinton selling nuclear secrets to the Chinese for campaign donations (or something like that). But a Pentagon report says the villain is Hughes Space and Communications, which was acting on its own when it gave China a helping hand with satellite guidance technology in 1995 without getting proper authorization. Clintonís oft-decried decision to loosen restrictions on the transfer of such technology -Ė although it was certainly heavily lobbied for by Hughes -- was not made until 1996.

Thatís cold comfort for angry Republicans, though, who still smell a near-treasonous Clintonian laxity on military matters. And the transfer of sensitive technology still troubles them, even if Big Bad Bill isnít exactly to blame this time. "Our suspicions... were well founded," said Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran, who heads a Senate committee that has requested a copy of the report. But what the Pentagon never found out was whether any of the satellite know-how -- which transfers neatly to the world of missile delivery and nuclear payloads -- was actually used by the Chinese for those more nefarious purposes. It did offer that the strategic military balance between the U.S. and China had probably not been altered for the worse. Cold comfort indeed.