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U.S. Efforts to Halt Arms Race Called Limited

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stung by disclosures after Operation Desert Storm about the magnitude and capabilities of Iraq’s arsenal, President Bush signed a secret finding last year authorizing the CIA to develop plans, including covert action, to block proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, according to informed U.S. sources.

The presidential finding mandated that the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies make arms proliferation one of their top priorities. It also opened the way, in principle, for covert operations--ranging from recruiting or subverting scientists in Third World countries involved in weapons development to sabotage of weapons research, production or storage facilities--as well as more extensive satellite, electronic and human espionage, sources said.

The finding was groundbreaking, even historic, in significance because it effectively acknowledged the change in the nature of the threat facing the United States: from a single major ideological and military rival to a host of smaller countries with growing weapons capabilities.

But sources familiar with the finding charged last week--after the signing of a sweeping U.S.-Russian nuclear disarmament agreement--that the Administration has both underutilized and underfunded the non-proliferation intelligence initiative over the past year.

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Even after the Persian Gulf War and the discovery of massive Iraqi arms caches, U.S. attention has remained focused more on the remnants of the Soviet Union and their weapons capabilities. In contrast, Third World proliferation has received far less attention, the sources said.

Because of the quiet spread of weapons development programs in the 1970s and 1980s, at least 10 developing nations either had or were working on nuclear weapons as of 1990, according to U.S. intelligence sources. At least 22 have or are working on chemical and/or biological weapons, while 25 have or are working on ballistic missiles.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union last year, the most serious long-term arms threat has shifted to these countries, which are also often unstable, insecure or undemocratic, and thus more vulnerable to either internal or regional conflict, U.S. arms experts say.

“We’re still late in recognizing the dangers of proliferation anywhere outside of what was the East Bloc,” said a Senate staff specialist on proliferation. “Instead of acting on the lessons learned from the Gulf War, there’s a growing gap between talk and application.”

U.S. officials familiar with the presidential finding said its potential has not yet been tapped or translated into more tangible programs.

“Over the course of about a year, the finding has not made much of an impact--either in reversing the pattern of proliferation or uncovering major capabilities we didn’t already know about,” said a U.S. official briefed on the finding.

Another source familiar with the effort added, “My impression is that the Administration has given it lip service rather than real priority.”

Administration sources counter that inroads have been made since the Gulf War. To improve U.S. intelligence capabilities, a new interagency Non-proliferation Center was established last September. It has its headquarters at the CIA and is now headed by Gordon Oehler, a leading expert on arms technology and research.

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“The center has a broad non-proliferation mission covering the worldwide development or acquisition of production technology, designs, components or complete military systems in the areas of mass destruction and advanced conventional weaponry,” according to a CIA spokesman.

Since U.N. teams uncovered the scope of Iraq’s arsenal after the war’s end, the United States also has heightened both overt and covert efforts to discourage the spread of nuclear, chemical, biological and missile technology elsewhere. Countries long engaged in developing weapons of mass destruction, such as North Korea, Pakistan, India, Libya and Iran, have been particularly targeted for increased surveillance, the sources said.

And over the past year, the new director of the CIA, Robert M. Gates, and other intelligence officials have become more outspoken on proliferation issues in testimony before congressional committees and in speeches to public affairs groups.

But the year-old intelligence effort has produced limited results in part because of limited funding, the sources said.

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U.S. officials said the CIA’s non-proliferation effort received less than $20 million after the finding was signed. That is only a fraction, for example, of the $100 million allocated to the Pentagon and Energy Department in a Democratic amendment to the 1993 defense budget. The amendment, which passed the House this month, calls for improved U.S. detection capabilities and greater U.S. cooperation in international non-proliferation efforts.

Proliferation specialists said the Administration also has not taken key steps adopted by other countries to discourage acquisition or development of weapons of mass destruction.

“The Germans and Japanese have policies stipulating that the amount of aid will be determined in part by a country’s position on weapons of mass destruction and on proliferation,” said a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, a developing country believed to have all three kinds of weapons of mass destruction.

“The Japanese have not always applied the rule evenly, but Germany recently cut back on money to both India and Pakistan. That sent an important message. So far, the United States has not linked aid to proliferation.”

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A Senate specialist on arms proliferation said the Administration also has so far refused to publicly disclose the names of companies and countries contributing to proliferation of advanced conventional and unconventional weapons.

“You can’t claim to be tough on proliferation unless you’re willing to blow the whistle on any or all parties linked to the spread of these very deadly weapons,” he said.

The Administration also has not introduced tougher export controls that would prohibit the kind of technology transfers made to Iraq during the decade before the Gulf War.

In testimony before a House Armed Services subcommittee, Rear Adm. Edward Sheafer, director of naval intelligence, declared in February, “The handful of voluntary international export control regimes governing the sale of technology related to nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missile-related technology has proven largely ineffective.”

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