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Rudman Appointed to Lead U.S. Nuclear Security Review

By Walter Pincus

Under attack over allegations of Chinese espionage, President Clinton asked former Sen. Warren B. Rudman, R-N.H., Thursday to undertake a bipartisan review of security threats to U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories over the last 20 years.

Rudman, who heads the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, was asked to conduct an inquiry in 60 days not only of the present-day security problem but also of “the way in which it has evolved over the last two decades and the steps we have taken to counter it.”

By going back into the checkered history of security problems at the Energy Department’s nuclear labs, the White House seemed to be trying to dampen Republican criticism of its pace in responding to spy allegations -- focusing attention as well on the Reagan and Bush administrations’ reactions in the 1980s to critical security reports.

Republican congressional leaders have accused the Clinton administration in particular of reacting too slowly to indications in 1995 that information from Los Alamos National Laboratory came into Chinese hands in the mid- to late-1980s and may have helped China more swiftly develop miniature nuclear warheads, several of which could be carried by a single ballistic missile.

In response, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and other Clinton lieutenants have insisted they tightened security regulations in 1998, after officials realized the seriousness of the suspected breach. But the GOP attack has boiled on, with some critics seeking to connect the allegedly slow reaction to other charges that Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign accepted money from donors connected to the Chinese government.

Rudman will put together a four-person task force from his 12-member panel and trace the problem both back in history and forward into the future, sources said.

As for looking back at earlier administrations, Shelby said, “We know the history of this is not just recent, but it probably has been exacerbated since the end of the Cold War.”