Tags: U.S. | Considered | Sharing | Security | Secrets | With | China

U.S. Considered Sharing Security Secrets With China, Syria, Pakistan

Monday, 14 May 2001 12:00 AM

The documents include a secret 1993 CIA cable on the "Clipper" project, a computer security chip developed by the U.S. government. The Clipper chip contained advanced "key recovery" surveillance technology, allowing the government to secretly tap phone conversations and monitor computer communications.

"Are Clipper devices likely to be permitted for importation and use in the host country?" asked a secret 1993 CIA cable addressed to the U.S. embassies in Beijing, Damascus and Islamabad.

"Would the host country demand joint key holding or exclusive rights to Clipper keys for law enforcement or intelligence purposes?"

"The U.S. intelligence community is concerned about the potentially profound impact on collection capabilities of the widespread foreign use of increasingly sophisticated encryption devices," states the secret CIA cable.

"Is there the possibility of cryptography 'race'?" asks the CIA cable.

The secret 1993 CIA cable is one of 69 documents released by the U.S. State Department on the secret Clipper chip project. The documents were forced from the State Department through the Freedom of Information Act.

In addition, the State Department refused to release 12 documents as classified "in the interest of national defense or foreign relations."

According to a top-secret 1992 memo, the Clipper chip contained an "exploitable" feature allowing the government to secretly monitor all communications. However, to be successful, the Clipper project also included plans to "mandate" the surveillance chip to be manufactured into all U.S. phones and computers.

FBI Director William Sessions described the mandatory nature of the Clipper project in a 1993 letter to George Tenet, then Bill Clinton's national security adviser.

"Technical solutions, such as they are, will only work if they are incorporated into all encryption products," noted Sessions.

"To ensure that this occurs, legislation mandating the use of Government approved encryption products or adherence to Government encryption criteria is required."

In 1993, Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General Richard Colgate wrote to Webster Hubbell on the Clipper project. Hubbell, then assistant to Attorney General Janet Reno, was tasked by the Clinton administration to run the top-secret Clipper surveillance program.

"FBI, NSA and NSC want to push legislation which would require all government agencies and eventually everyone in the U.S. to use a new public-key based cryptography method," wrote Colgate in his letter to Hubbell.

Hubbell later left the Justice Department in 1994 after pleading guilty to charges related to the Whitewater investigation. By 1997, the billion-dollar Clipper project also fell into trouble and was canceled in favor of less costly key recovery surveillance technology then under development.

The newly released documents shows that the Clinton administration considered sharing secret Clipper surveillance keys with China and other hostile powers in order to monitor worldwide communications for "law enforcement" purposes.

However, during a 1997 interview, Adm. James McConnell, former director of the National Security Agency, confirmed that the Clinton administration gave the sophisticated key recovery surveillance technology to communist China in 1996.

McConnell noted that the advanced technology gives China the power to electronically lock out U.S. intelligence monitoring and lock in the Chinese population.

"Even if the Chinese use weak encryption the sheer volume of their communications will make it impossible for us to monitor. If China were to erect a public key infrastructure it will severely impact our intelligence gathering ability," stated McConnell.

He also stated that Clinton was aware that the advanced surveillance technology might be abused by hostile foreign powers.

"Can Key Recovery be used against dissidents and political opponents?" asked Adm. McConnell.

"In a word, YES," he concluded emphatically.

The newly declassified documents suggesting that Beijing, Damascus and Islamabad might be given access to secret code keys drew sharp criticism from inside and outside of Capitol Hill.

"The compromising of U.S. sensitive encryption systems demonstrates the dangerous international environment that we now must face," stated Al Santoli, senior defense adviser to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.

"The Clinton administration's sharing of key recovery technology with adversarial countries such as China, and countries that have housed or sponsored terrorist groups such as Pakistan or Syria, shows the serious degradation of national security that the Bush administration has inherited," noted Santoli.

"It's another example of the utter wackiness of the Clipper project," stated Michael Ledeen, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of "Machiavelli on Modern Leadership."

"I'm not sure one can conclude from this cable that we were automatically going to share the 'keys' with the listed governments; we may simply have been trying to find out whether the other countries would INSIST on having the key which might be a negative for the project itself," noted Ledeen.

"Why not share all our code keys?" questioned another senior national security official who requested that he not be identified.

"After all, China and Syria are on the U.N. Human Rights Commission and we're not," he concluded with disgust.

See the secret CIA cables:

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The documents include a secret 1993 CIA cable on the Clipper project, a computer security chip developed by the U.S. government. The Clipper chip contained advanced key recovery surveillance technology, allowing the government to secretly tap phone conversations and...
Monday, 14 May 2001 12:00 AM
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