By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
There is nothing like stating the obvious to provoke mass hysteria, and last week's obvious statement was that China spied on the United States. And—you may want to sit down for this part—China has been spying on us for the past 50 years.
Those shockers came from flatulent Republican Newport Beach Representative Christopher Cox, who summoned hundreds of reporters to the huge ceremonial House of Representatives caucus room on May 25 to drop what The Orange County Register called a "bombshell." Add to Cox's knack for self-promotion and shameless advocacy of America's wealthiest 2 percent an until-now unrecognized appreciation for lowbrow theater. In his best impersonation yet of a Hard Copy host, he said, slowly, "Espionage continues to this very day."
A GOP staffer accurately predicted that "we're going to milk this for all it's worth." Eager for a hero—even if strenuously manufactured—the press and Capitol Hill insiders quickly dubbed Cox the nation's latest Man of the Hour. Cox visited ABC's This Week With Sam and Cokie, and NBC News With Tom Brokaw as well as getting face time on every CNN show imaginable: Larry King Live, Burden of Proof, Newsday, Crossfire, Moneyline News Hour With Lou Dobbs, World View, Inside Politics, TalkBack Live, CNN Today, CNN Special Event, Morning News and Early Edition. (Perhaps it would have been over the top for Cox to appear on Showbiz Today.) The work of the Newt Gingrich-created Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns With the People's Republic of China became known internationally as the "Cox Report," ostensibly to avoid the title "Cox and Dicks Report." It was Norm Dicks, a Democrat from Washington, who blandly played vice chairman on the Cox-led special national-security committee.
For some unfathomable reason, the media has always loved the diminutive, toothy Cox. The release of the 700-page, censored spy report offered another opportunity to display that affection. In the space of one brief article, for example, a theoretically objective Washington Post reporter used eight unattributed modifiers for the 46-year-old Cox: "telegenic," "precise," "unflappable," "workaholic," "collegial," "brainiest," "impeccable" credentials and "cares deeply." The Los Angeles Times-owned Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot had little to say about the spying but gushed expectantly about the congressman's chances for higher elective office. Another paper called Cox not a fruit, but a vegetable, pegging him as the "coolest cucumber" in Congress. It took Tom Fuentes, of all people, to bring us back to reality, to properly synopsize the dire consequences of Chinese espionage. "It's an exciting, vibrant moment," said the don of Orange County's Republican machine. "And I'm sure it will be very serious, very important for Chris' political career."
Well, that just about says it all: Everyone can relax now. Chris' political career is in good shape.
Beneath the avalanche of bullshit, however, a few pesky—even embarrassing—details about the spy scandal remain unexplored.
Few members of Congress have been more outspoken in their verbal hostility to communist China than Cox's longtime buddy Huntington Beach Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. In an emotional Feb. 2 speech on the House floor, Rohrabacher called Chinese officials "gangsters" and China "the world's worst human-rights abuser." He also said the country is "a massively repressive military regime that threatens the United States." The extent of his antipathy was even more pronounced when he told a story about Surf City's recent plans for a Chamber of Commerce luncheon honoring a visiting Chinese official. "I said, 'Mayor, you should treat the representative of the Chinese communist government the same way that you would treat a representative of Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime in 1938.'"
If anything gets more of Rohrabacher's wrath than Chinese communism, it's Bill Clinton's China policy. "This hug-a-Nazi-and-make-him-a-liberal strategy of the Clinton administration is doomed to failure just as it was when Neville Chamberlain and those people in the 1930s confronted that threat to world peace and freedom," Rohrabacher said. "Clinton, of course, has gone beyond that. He is not just hugging the communist Chinese dictators, he is also encouraging American corporations to do business [with them]."
According to Rohrabacher, Clinton "has done nothing to prevent the flow of weapons technology." On this point, the former Register editorial writer is unquestionably right. The Cox Report more than adequately proves (as if it wasn't already clear) that Clinton and the Democrats have disgracefully yielded foreign policy (particularly when it comes to China) entirely to U.S.-based multinational corporations. Largely—if not entirely—ignored, though, has been the Republicans' direct complicity in the cozy Big Business-China relationship and the loss of military secrets. On this issue, Rohrabacher does not escape indictment. The Times and Register won't remind you, but the six-term congressman's behind-the-scenes actions contradict his fiery public anti-China, anti-communism rhetoric.
The evidence? On March 10, 1994, in the House subcommittee on Economic Policy, Trade and Environment, Rohrabacher recorded a voice vote in favor of loosening restrictions on U.S. companies eager to sell military-related satellite and related technologies overseas, including to communist China. Specifically, the vote shifted jurisdiction over highly sensitive technology transfers from the State Department to the free-and-easy, if not incompetent, Commerce Department. Two months later, on May 18, Rohrabacher proved his first vote wasn't an aberration. He cast the same vote in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The case against Rohrabacher gets stronger. There is irrefutable documentation proving that far from opposing Clinton's "disastrous" China engagement policy, Rohrabacher actually helped shape it. With 16 other Republicans, the congressman signed an Oct. 27, 1993, letter to then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher encouraging technology transfers from the U.S. to China. Rohrabacher and his colleagues wrote that while they supported "the objective of controlling missile proliferation," they were concerned that sanctions did not "allow communications satellites to be launched from China"—specifically satellites owned by Hughes Electronics Company, which makes consistent campaign contributions to the congressman.
To ensure the Clinton administration understood his position, Rohrabacher—the politician so outraged by the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and averse to cooperating with communists—stressed in his letter to Christopher, "We believe that national-security policy objectives can be met without placing sanctions on communications satellites, and we ask you to direct that these satellites be excluded from any list of sanctionable items [to China]."
The Cox Report asserts that China made massive gains in its military satellite and missle capabilities specifically because of the business relationships Rohrabacher encouraged. Nowadays, the congressman is angry, saying he was duped. He told the Weekly that "Hughes and Clinton assured me that if I would support their plans, then there would be the ultimate of precautions—that absolutely no technology would be transferred to the communists. Of course, all the precautions went right in the trash basket as soon as they got their deal." Rohrabacher places blame squarely on Clinton "for the worst betrayal of America's security interests since the Rosenbergs. . . . The Chinese Communists, the people who hate us, now have the ability—a greater ability—to incinerate millions of Americans." He also has stinging words for Hughes Electronics and other American-based conglomerates that associate with the Chinese. "Powerful American business interests wanted to go there and wanted to make a quick profit, and they couldn't care less about the other implications of doing business with a regime that is so tyrannical and so militaristic."
Although pundits and reporters and politicians have cheered the bipartisan nature of Cox's spy report, Americans should be suspicious whenever the two major political parties agree. If the Democratic and Republican national parties have anything in common, it's that they are both funded by big business. U.S.-based multinational corporations have a messy track record when it comes to placing U.S. national security over expanding markets and foreign profits. That point is only more salient in the aftermath of this latest scandal.
At the urging of well-connected defense-company executives, Ronald Reagan was the first president to allow two U.S.-based businesses, Hughes Electronics and Loral Space & Communications Corp., to form partnerships with other nations—including China. The companies have been using Chinese launch services for their satellites since the late 1980s, after the NASA Space Shuttle Challenger disaster temporarily put U.S. rocket launches on hold. The foreign governments supplied rockets that launched the technologically sensitive satellites but were to never have access to the satellites themselves or to any American secrets. But Chinese rockets blew up, too, destroying the American satellites. Cox Committee investigators found that the corporations —fearful of losing more money if additional satellites were destroyed during launches—secretly violated U.S. law and surreptitiously gave China the technical data to improve their rockets. The probe also uncovered an incriminating paper trail of internal corporate memos and reports showing a stunning contempt for honesty and national security.
"It is almost certain that the U.S. satellite manufacturers' recommendations led to improvements in the People's Republic of China's rockets and that the improvements would not have been considered or implemented so soon without U.S. assistance," the investigation found. Those enhancements were "useful for both commercial and military purposes."
Simply stated: for larger profits, Hughes Electronics and Loral—two corporations that have lived well off American taxpayers through massive Pentagon contracts—effectively told the Chinese government how to improve their once-inferior, dysfunctional rockets, whether those rockets were designed to carry communication or espionage satellites or nuclear warheads.
Odd then that the disturbing (some might say treasonous) actions of the multinational corporations have been successfully downplayed (some might say intentionally) by Cox, his committee, Congress, the White House, media conglomerates and defense contractors. Remember that the committee had been formed to investigate whether U.S. companies in partnership with China had compromised national security. They found their answer—convincingly. Nevertheless, when Cox—who may be corporate America's biggest congressional mouthpiece—and his carefully selected committee released its report, it focused on the weakest, most unsubstantiated part of their probe: alleged Chinese espionage at two nuclear-defense laboratories, the proof of which was supplied solely to the CIA four years ago by a Chinese spy working on behalf of his country's counterintelligence service.
About the only motives we can be sure of, however, are those of Hughes Electronics and Loral: as the Cox Report makes clear, they gave away secret U.S. technology to save themselves money. Numerous individuals who have given away far less sensitive data for comparatively insignificant cash have been convicted of treason. But leave it to the Newport Beach millionaire Republican, who regularly mocks defense attorneys, to come up with a novel defense for Hughes Electronics and Loral, which have given Cox campaign contributions. He generously concluded in his report that the companies—which have denied intentional wrongdoing—had been wracked merely by a "conflict of interest." Clinton's Justice Department is reportedly considering criminal indictments.
If Cox and the rest of his committee's politicians had been trying to divert attention from their corporate sponsors by blaming faceless, nameless government bureaucrats and sinister Chinese spies lurking in dark halls, it worked. All four major television networks and the nation's newspapers focused almost exclusively on the sensationalistic laboratory allegations. Most of those few papers that reported on the activities of Hughes Electronics and Loral did so as an unimportant afterthought. Register reporters didn't even bother to mention the companies in an article released immediately after the report was issued.
"The important thing about releasing the report" is to have "a full and public discussion of the most serious policy issues involved," Cox told NBC's Brokaw on May 21. "More than anything, [the important thing] . . . is to make sure that we all focus on the gravity of the problem."
Yet ironically, it is perhaps Cox who has done the most to bury the question that no Democrat or Republican politician wants debated: What to do in a capitalist system in which multinational corporations have access to a nation's most sensitive military secrets yet recognize no geographic boundary or political allegiance in their search for profit?