DIA Scoops Cox Report

1984 Defense Estimate Details Chinese Nuclear Espionage

For More Information Please Call:
Jeffrey T. Richelson, Project Director: (202) 994-7000
Michael L. Evans, Project Associate: (202) 994-7029

May 27, 1999

Several years ago, the National Security Archive initiated a project to obtain critical declassified documentation on key aspects of the U.S.-China relationship, focusing on the period from 1969 to the present. Through Freedom of Information Act requests, collection of relevant publications, and archival research, the Archive has amassed a collection of more than 2,000 documents, consisting of over 15,000 pages, covering major foreign policy issues, U.S.-China security cooperation, technology transfer, economic issues, and intelligence.

This April 1984 Defense Estimative Brief, released to the Archive on April 15, 1994 through the Freedom of Information Act, describes the then ongoing efforts of China to make "qualitative improvements" in its nuclear arsenal "from both overt contact with U.S. scientists and technology, and the covert acquisition of U.S. technology."

The document, released by the Defense Intelligence Agency in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Archive in June 1993, makes predictions about several specific kinds of warhead improvements that the Chinese were likely to realize in the 1980s and early 1990s, and cites evidence "that the Chinese have been successful in assimilating into their nuclear weapons program United States technology."

Using language remarkably similar to the Cox report--the recently-released findings of a select House committee set up to study Chinese efforts to obtain U.S. technology--the estimate predicts that increased Chinese access to U.S. technology, combined with its covert acquisition efforts, would by the 1990s show up as "qualitative improvements" in "warhead reliability" and the "development of more compact warheads," among other things.

The entire collection of U.S.-China documents, which include policy and research studies, intelligence estimates, diplomatic cables, and briefing materials, are to be published on microfiche with a detailed, item-level printed index in NSA’s document set: China and the United States: From Hostility to Engagement, 1960-1998. The document set is part of the Archive’s Special Collection Series, published by Chadwyck-Healey Inc. and will ultimately also appear in the Chadwyck-Healey World Wide Web publication of The Digital National Security Archive.

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Dr. Jeffrey T. Richelson (Ph.D., University of Rochester) is the director of the Archive's China and the United States project and previously directed Archive projects on intelligence, the military uses of space, and presidential national security directives. He is the author of several books on intelligence, including A Century of Spies: Intelligence in the Twentieth Century (Oxford, 1995) and The U.S. Intelligence Community (Westview, 1999), as well as articles in a variety of magazines and academic journals.

Michael L. Evans (M.A., George Washington University) assists with the China and the United States project, the Archive’s forthcoming Guatemala documentation project, and has also assisted with the Archive’s U.S. Espionage and Intelligence project.

Praise for China and the United States:

The China collection is a breathtaking record of America’s long journey toward the People’s Republic of China. To "hear" the voices, for the first time, of China’s revolutionary icons, Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai, cajoling, admonishing and debating American leaders in private, with both sides seeking to out-charm and out-wit the other, will stand as the greatest contribution of this document set. But for researchers and historians, these conversations are sprinkled over a much broader landscape of documentation that provides the larger context of Chinese-American relations over four decades and nine administrations. For Asia hands, this collection will likely prove the indispensable benchmark of primary source documentation for years to come.

Patrick E. Tyler
Bureau Chief, Beijing (1993-1997)
The New York Times