February 17, 1997
Computer Sale to Russia Probedby William Heartstone, Staff Writer
WASHINGTON BUREAU - A Russian nuclear scientist and Energy Minister, Viktor Mikhaylov contacted the Clinton appointee Hazel O'Leary, U.S.Secretary, asking for super computers to be provided so that Russia could conduct virtual nuclear test explosions. This after Russia signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which bars actual nuclear blasts.
Today it 3as learned that the Russians have that super computer. Federal authorities on friday were investigating whether Silcon Graphics of Mt. View, California recently violated the espionage act by selling the high-powered computer tevhnology and hardware to a Russian nuclear weapons laboratory without a required export license.
Administration officials said that Customs, and the Departments of Commerce and Justice are investigating how the supercomputer manufactured by Silicon Graphics could have been delivered to Russia's Chelyabinsk-70 nuclear weapons laboratory.
A U.S. official confirmed the three agencies were investigating the alleged unlicensed sale of the computer technology and hardware by Silicon Graphics.
The company's chief executive officer is Edward McCracken, a Republican who was an influential supporter of Clinton in 1992 and 1996 had also successfully lobbied the president to liberalize the same export controls his firm may have violated.
Silicon Graphics officials did not respond to several requests after a Newsday story about the alleged technology sale broke on Sunday.
The supercomputer could be used to test the reliability of Russia's remaining nuclear arsenal, an especially important function in the wake of the nuclear test ban treaty signed Sept. 24. Russia does not have machinery comparable to the Silicon Graphics supercomputer, U.S. officials said. The supercomputer is twice as powerful as can be shipped overseas under U.S. export restrictions.
While Russians has been pressuring the C;inton administration for access to American computer technology, the White House has been saying it has stopped the export of the technology from five other computer firms in October by ordering the license applications returned without action. That allows the companies at some later date to reapply for licenses.
In a September letter to Clinton appointee O'Leary, the Russians made it clear they wanted a highly secure code that offers high-performance to guarantee 'the reliability of ... Russia's nuclear stockpile.'
The Commerce Department had issued a statement asserting that the administration has not approved the export of any high performance computer technology and there are no requests pending for such exports.
In a Nwsday interview Friday, William A. Reinsch, Commerce's undersecretary for export administration, said Mikhaylov's claims were immediately investigated by the department and that 'it's going to take a little longer to find out exactly what's going on.'
Reinsch refused to discuss whether the department was focusing on any particular company, but acknowledged that Commerce had 'referred it [the case] to the assistant U.S. Attorney and to the Justice Department.' He said the inquiry was being conducted 'under the direction' of the assistant U.S. Attorney in San Jose, Calif.
Rep. Floyd Spence (R), chairman of the House National Security Committee, asked Defense Secretary William Cohen in a letter Thursday whether any supercomputer technology of U.S. origin had been exported because the committee wanted to 'review ... this serious matter.' He sent similar letters to the Commerce Department, the CIA and U.S. Customs.
Congressman Duncan Hunter (R) chairman of the committee's military procurement subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over nuclear weapons issues, warned he would call for severe sanctions against Silicon Graphics if it is subsequently proven the company sold the computer technology without a license. 'If Silicon Graphics has in fact sold the supercomputer to the Soviets, I'll do everything I can to see to it that they never get another piece of business with the federal government,' he said.
He said he would hold public hearings on the matter and 'bring in the executives [of Silicon Graphics]. We're going to subpoena them if we have to.'
Little detail could be learned about the computer technology allegedly shipped to Chelyabinsk. One knowledgeable official said the main Silicon Graphics unit was rated at about 4,500 MTOPS but that the system contained additional central processing units and servers that could boost the system's speed.
The alleged sale to the Russians took place just three weeks after a private luncheon with McCracken at the White House in September, 1993. The timing of the alleged illegal sale is puzzling. After that meeting president Clinton announced sweeping liberalization of computer export standards, allowing computers of up to 194 MTOPS to be sold without a license.
Until then only machines with up to 12.5 MTOPS [the power of a popular 486 chip desktop PC] could be sold without a license.
Then, in 1995, anticipating that such computers would soon be readily available in the international market, the White House upped the limit to 2,000 MTOPS roughly equivalent to a very fast Intel Pentium system.