“None of it’s justified strategically,” says Peter Leitner, a strategic trade adviser at the Department of Defense, who has been critical in the past of administration and Pentagon technology export policies. “They’re in the pocket of Silicon Valley and they’re trying to do whatever they can to get whatever they can out the door before they leave office.”
America’s computer manufacturers must be satisfied with something the administration has been doing. The computer equipment and services industry has been the fourth largest contributing business sector to the Democratic National Committee this election cycle, donating $3.2 million from Jan. 1, 1999, to July 1, 2000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The industry contributed $1.9 million to the Republican National Committee, making it the ninth largest contributor during that period, according to the center.
That time frame, it turns out, coincides with some of the administration’s most radical decontrols.
In January this year, the computing performance level requiring a license and security review for Tier III militaries was increased by the White House from 2,000 to 6,500 MTOPS. This month, it was raised again to 12,500. The latest decontrol will raise the limit to 28,000.
“Only a short time ago the Chinese were having trouble getting licenses for computers over 3,000 or 4,000 for military applications,” says Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control.
“If this were to happen 20 or 30 years ago, presidential candidates or incumbents would have to do what Richard Nixon did, which was resign in shame. Today, it’s more or less anything goes, and it’s outrageous,” says Weldon.
Milhollin and other security experts are concerned it will become easier for countries of concern to purchase advanced computers they can use to more quickly and secretly develop and test nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and other arms.
Previous government licensing reviews, according to Milhollin, blocked Digital Equipment Corp. from selling a high-performance computer to China’s Harbin Institute of Technology, which makes components for China’s long-range nuclear missiles, and an IBM deal with China’s Northwest Polytechnical University, which develops engines and guidance systems for large rockets.
Advanced high-performance computers can help China more quickly develop miniaturized nuclear warheads that will fit on cruise missiles or can be grouped on larger missiles, says Steven Bryen, a former director of the Pentagon’s technology control office.
“No one would argue that if you didn’t sell them a supercomputer they wouldn’t eventually be able to do it,” he says, “but high-performance computers will allow them to do so much quicker.”
More capable computers also could help countries more quickly develop techniques for foiling a future anti-ballistic missile system, says Leitner, who has testified several times on Capitol Hill against the administration’s export policies.
“Here [the administration is] trying to prematurely push a National Missile Defense system. And they’re concerned that other guy might develop better warheads with decoys and be able to simulate what we’re going to do,” says Leitner. “So why the hell are we giving them the computer horsepower to do that?”