by Stephen Bryen

Sponsored by SDB Partners LLC 

Newsweek is carrying an important article on China and supercomputers, written by Dan Lyon. The thrust of the article is that China is ahead of the United States in supercomputers and this development is causing great concern. (http://www.thedailybeast.com//content/newsweek/2011/11/27/in-race-for-fastest-supercomputer-china-outpaces-u-s.html )

China’s rapid development of supercomputers does not come as any surprise. In fact, China’s success comes from the transfer of American technology at least since the end of the Cold War. Far from developing its supercomputers in isolation, China had available to it all the American expertise, know how, hardware and software it needed to launch its ambitious supercomputer development program.

This is exactly what I warned about fifteen years ago in numerous articles and in Congressional testimony. These warnings did no good. In fact, the transfer of technology got worse, not better.

It is true that, today, modern supercomputers are readily available on a global basis, as massively parallel supercomputer networks can be accessed by scientists and engineers from just about any global location. But in this sort of environment it is also complicated to try and hide research objectives or use supercomputers to crack encryption codes.

The growth of supercomputing in China will have grave consequences for the United States. It will negatively impact America’s high technology economy because supercomputers offer rapid design of machinery and equipment and the ability to run advanced simulations reducing time and cost in developing technology applications.

It will impair American intelligence because it will enable China to crack computer and encryption codes and launch ever-more sophisticated attacks on cyber-based systems.

It will help China leapfrog in military technology, as in the rapid development of stealth-enabled weapons, automated and advanced recognition algorithms, space weapons and advanced nuclear warheads.

America’s freedom of action to turn off the technology spigot to China is compromised over our dependence on China for monetary support and the overall poor condition of America’s economy.

There is a total lack of commitment to technology security to protect our country. This needs to change, and fast.

Below is what I said in 1997 about supercomputers and China.



Supercomputer Export Control Policy

I appreciate the opportunity to testify today. Let me take this opportunity to congratulate the Committee for its successful effort to put in place restraints on the sale of supercomputers. The Committee’s action and its leadership in this area are an important accomplishment.

Over the past four or more years the administration has pursued a reckless policy on technology transfer, and it has shown a total disregard for prudent technology security measures. The administration is pushing sales at the expense of security.

The failure of the administration’s policy is reflected in the fact that numerous supercomputers have disappeared and cannot be found. In addition, experts in our government believe that many computers sold to China have been upgraded to supercomputer status without proper notification given to the Department of Commerce. While there is no firm number, it is not implausible to believe that China may have already acquired between 100 and 150 supercomputers. In any net assessment, it has to be assumed that many, if not all, these machines are being used, or can be used to design weapons.

Technology security policies and procedures are an important part of our national defense strategy and programs. Without a coherent technology security program, the threat to the United States and to its friends and allies will increase perhaps to unacceptable levels.

The administration appears to understand this when thinking about Iran acquiring nuclear capability, or Iraq producing chemical and biological weapons. But, except for these two points of light and clarity, the administration fails to understand what it means to transfer sensitive technology to other countries.

China is a case in point. Our objectives in respect to China are to see China play a responsible role in world and regional affairs and to have China participate in general security arrangements that will benefit peace and stability. But, while we pursue these goals, we also are pushing the contrary policy of transferring advanced technologies, such as supercomputers, that are going right into China’s weapons programs, including nuclear weapons developments.

So far as I can determine, the Defense Department has prepared no evaluation of the impact these technology transfers will have on our overall national defense posture. There is no assessment of what the transfer of supercomputers will do to China’s timetable of deploying Tomahawk-type cruise missiles; nor is there any understanding of what would happen if such weapons were sold to countries such as Iran or Iraq. It is truly unfortunate that the Defense Department has remained silent on such an important strategic issue.

Some say, why should we care? After all China already has nuclear weapons. So what difference do some supercomputers make?

This argument obscures what China hopes to achieve in enhancing and modernizing its nuclear arsenal. Today a superior US nuclear arsenal can counter China’s nuclear delivery systems. Consequently, China has to operate in the shadow of US nuclear superiority.

However, if China can develop long range weapons, which are difficult to locate and destroy, China will be able to credibly threaten US assets. This will embolden the Chinese military and political leadership to believe it can act more aggressively on a regional or global basis. For example, China will be far better positioned to threaten neighbors such as Taiwan or, even, Japan; and the US will find it more difficult than ever to respond.

I believe that an effective technology security program can slow down any leap forward by China’s military. Moreover, a technology security program is particularly important during a period where we continue to cut the defense budget and slow down important initiatives, such as ballistic missile defense.

Supercomputers are one of the important tools China needs to build small and efficient nuclear weapons and to be able to “test” these weapons in simulations where our intelligence agencies cannot detect their progress.

Other complimentary technologies -such as advanced machine tools, hot section engine manufacturing know-how, the global positioning system-are being sold to China and will be used by China to build the ballistic and cruise missiles that will be a threat early in the next century. In fact, while the United States has, from time to time, complained about other countries transferring weapons technology to China, the truth is we are the worst offender because we are providing the know how that enables state of the art weapons development, particularly WMD systems.


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