Clinton faces storm over missile secrets

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 May, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 May, 1998, 12:00am

The United States Congress is preparing an all-out attack on the Clinton administration over allegations that the White House tacitly allowed two major satellite companies to pass damaging technological secrets to China.

Hearings on the affair have already been scheduled in the Senate and the House of Representatives, beginning next week.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich has ordered his colleagues to make the issue a top Republican priority.

The issue threatens to throw a cloud over preparations for President Bill Clinton's visit to China next month.

Republicans are angry that the White House appears to have ignored a classified Pentagon report from last year which suggested the Hughes and Loral corporations passed Beijing valuable information on how to improve their satellite launches. Critics claim the information could have been used to improve China's nuclear missile programme.

The Republicans also plan to probe whether political contributions influenced the White House's decision in February to give Loral permission to help China with another satellite launch.

After permission was given, the Justice Department reportedly had to drop a criminal investigation into whether Loral and Hughes' discussions with China in 1996 resulted in the transfer of sensitive information.

Loral's chief executive Bernard Schwartz has given more than US$1 million (HK$7.74 million) in political donations in the past two years, virtually all of it to the Democratic Party.

Mr Gingrich said: 'This is a national security issue, and it has to be cleared up in the next couple of weeks.' Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, chairman of a sub-committee of the House science panel which will hold a hearing on the issue, said Mr Gingrich had authorised him to head a vigorous probe.

'He believes this is going to emerge as an issue far more important than any White House sex scandals,' said Mr Rohrabacher. 'It's embarrassing to talk about a sex scandal. There's nothing embarrassing about calling the President to task about the giveaway of American technology to the Chinese.' Another Republican leader, Congressman Dick Armey, said: 'This is a matter of consequence when the contractor is a substantial contributor to the Democratic Party.' Congress is also preparing to put pressure on the administration to discuss its agenda for the forthcoming presidential trip to China, beginning with a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing next week.