The Clinton administration believes that U.S.-made supercomputers sold to China may have been diverted to military use and is reviewing the sales, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
“It is true that we are investigating some cases of supercomputer sales to China,” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the Senate Finance Committee.
Her spokesman, Nicholas Burns, later said: “We are reviewing right now some of the supercomputer sales for possible diversion. . . . We suspect there may have been some diversions in some cases.”
Burns gave no details on the number or companies involved in the potential diversions.
But the New York Times reported Tuesday that the Commerce Department was investigating a 1996 sale by Silicon Graphics of a supercomputer that performs almost 6 billion operations per second--10 times the speed of the fastest personal computer--to a Chinese science academy.
The company said the buyer was a benign civilian institution, but nuclear experts said the academy also helps develop long-range missiles.
President Clinton deregulated the export of computers in 1995 on the grounds that increasingly powerful supercomputers were becoming more available worldwide.
The administration made a special provision for licensing sales of supercomputers to China to ensure against military use, officials said. As a result, licenses were required for all military-related sales of supercomputers to China in the range of 2 billion to 7 billion operations per second, and for the sales of all computers--military-related or not--with a capability greater than 7 billion operations per second.
Burns did not comment on the New York Times allegation that after Clinton’s 1995 deregulation decision, China went on a “shopping spree,” buying 46 U.S.-made supercomputers.