China Atomic Spy Flap: It's Getting Worse

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WASHINGTON: This is getting more and more embarrassing. Former Los Alamos physicist Wen Ho Lee is already suspected of slipping secrets to China in the late 1980s about the W-88 nuclear warhead. Now it seems he took information about virtually every warhead in the U.S. arsenal, and practically posted it on the office's computer bulletin board. U.S. officials told the New York Times that in 1994 and 1995, Lee used his top-secret clearance -- which he retained despite having been a spy suspect for years -- to transfer weapons codes from a restricted computer system to one that was widely accessible to outsiders.

Officials aren't yet sure how much of the torrent of so-called "legacy" codes -- which amount to blueprints of how the weapons work -- was then scooped up by the Chinese. But the revelations are another major embarrassment for President Clinton, who used to be able to claim that the most egregious Los Alamos lapses had occurred before he came to office. Not so any more. "It's not so much that the Chinese are spying -- the U.S. and every other country does it too," says TIME correspondent William Dowell. "But the repeated security lapses are going to seem inexcusable." For Clinton, already a target of Republicans on military readiness and China policy, this is only going to get worse.