Mr. Harold J. Johnson,
International Relations and Trade Issues, National Security
and International Affairs Division
General Accounting Office
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
We are pleased to be here today to discuss the sale of high performance
computers to Russia's nuclear weapons laboratories. We understand that
your hearing today will focus primarily on the alleged improper sales of
computers to the Russian laboratories that have been the subject of recent
media attention. As you know, those sales are currently being investigated
by the Departments of Justice and Commerce, and by the U.S. Customs Service,
and we understand that other witnesses here today will address that issue.
To help understand the implications of the alleged improper sales and the
relevant policy issues, you asked us to define the context for those sales
by discussing (1) the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and its implications
for high performance computer exports to Russian laboratories, (2) U.S.
export regulations as they apply to the Russian nuclear weapons laboratories,
(3) the Russian request for such computers during the summer of 1996, and
(4) the executive branch's decision to return without action several export
license applications for high performance computers to the Russian laboratories
and the implications of that decision. Although media reports have provided
some details on the exporters and items involved in the prior license applications,
we are limited by section 12(c) of the Export Administration Act of 1979
from discussing details of the license applications in public.
Mr. Chairman, before I begin discussing each of the areas you asked
us to comment on, let me just briefly summarize what has occurred regarding
the sale of high performance computers to Russia. Russia has expressed
a strong desire to obtain high performance computers from the United States
for use at its nuclear weapons laboratories. According to the Russian
Minister of Atomic Energy, such computers are needed to help Russia maintain
its nuclear stockpile, particularly in light of the Comprehensive Test
Ban Treaty prohibiting future nuclear explosions. Russia attempted to
obtain high performance computers for its weapons laboratories for "civilian
purposes" from two U.S. manufacturers. The manufacturers, in compliance
with the export control laws and regulations, sought an export license
for the transaction but the applications were eventually returned by the
Commerce Department without action. The U.S. government said it needed
more information about how the computers would be used. Subsequently,
press reports began to circulate in Russia and the United States that Russia
had obtained U.S. high performance computers from other sources, and according
to officials from Russia's Ministry of Atomic Energy, the computers would
be used for nuclear stockpile maintenance. If these press reports are
correct -- and information supplied by the Russian Minister of Atomic Energy
indicates the reports are correct -- such a sale would appear to be contrary
to the policy underlying U.S. export control regulations and to U.S policy
boundaries regarding cooperation with Russia's nuclear weapons program.
THE COMPREHENSIVE TEST BAN AND HIGH PERFORMANCE COMPUTERS
With that overview, I would now like to discuss the relationship between
the sale of high performance computers to Russia and U.S. policies regarding
cooperation with Russia relative to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
High performance computers are playing an increasingly important role
in maintaining existing nuclear weapons stockpiles. As you know, the United
States, Russia, and about 140 other countries have signed a CTBT that prohibits
any nuclear explosions. Since nuclear explosions are not permitted under
a CTBT, the United States has embarked on a science-based stockpile stewardship
program that uses past nuclear weapons test data, nonnuclear laboratory
tests, and computer simulations to maintain confidence in the existing
U.S. nuclear stockpile. Russian officials have indicated their desire
to obtain high performance computers to help them maintain their nuclear
The executive branch has determined that it is in the U.S. interest to
cooperate with Russia on the safety and security of their nuclear weapon
stockpiles, but within certain specific boundaries. Pursuant to this policy,
discussions have been held with Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (MINATOM)
and other officials on the possibility of undertaking cooperative projects
under a CTBT. Department of Energy (DOE) officials said that the policy
boundaries for potential cooperative projects are that (1) they would be
unclassified, and most importantly, (2) they would not enhance performance
of Russian nuclear weapons or contribute to Russian nuclear weapons design.
These officials stated that any access to computers provided to Russian
scientists will be consistent with current export control laws. The regulations
implementing the law provide the executive branch the authority to deny
a license for any item intended for the research, development, design,
manufacture, construction, testing, operations or maintenance of any nuclear
explosive device or other sensitive nuclear activities. With this in mind,
the concern is that if a high performance computer is sold to a Russian
nuclear weapons laboratory, even for ostensibly civilian purposes, how
would the United States devise a safeguard plan to detect the possible
diversion of computers from civilian uses to proscribed nuclear weapons
activities? Clearly, there is a greater opportunity to devise such a plan
if an export license is sought.
POLICIES AND REGULATIONS AFFECTING THE EXPORT
OF HIGH PERFORMANCE COMPUTERS
Now let me turn more specifically to the policies and regulations affecting
the export of high performance computers to Russian nuclear weapons laboratories.
The United States has long maintained export controls over high performance
computers for national security and nuclear non-proliferation reasons.
On October 6, 1995, the executive branch announced a new policy for exporting
high performance computers. This policy now focuses controls on computers
that have a significant impact on U.S. and allied security interests and
eliminated controls that were deemed unnecessary or ineffective due to
rapid advances in computer technology. For example, the new policy removes
licensing requirements for sales of common desk top computers to most countries.
The policy requires companies to obtain an export license when selling
U.S.- manufactured high performance computers to Russia and certain other
countries when the computers (1) are intended for a military end user or
an end user involved in proliferation activity and have a composite theoretical
performance (CTP) of over 2,000 million theoretical operations per second
(MTOPS) or (2) are intended for a civilian end user and have a CTP of over
7,000 MTOPS. The policy also requires exporters to keep accurate records
of each export of a computer over 2,000 MTOPS to any destination, whether
a license is required or not.
The policy also outlines a number of steps that the U.S. government may
require of the exporter or the end user to safeguard computer exports.
Among other things, the exporter or end user may be required to limit
access to the computer or inspect computer logs and output. In addition,
the end user may also be required to agree to on-site inspections by U.S.
government or exporting company officials, who would review programs and
software used on the computer, or to remote electronic monitoring of the
The policy was announced after the executive branch concluded that computers
capable of a composite theoretical performance of up to 7,000 MTOPS would
become widely available in international markets within the next 2 years.
The executive branch set a lower export control limit of 2,000 MTOPS for
military end users and end users of proliferation concern because, while
these computers may be less controllable, the United States does not want
to support proliferation or certain military efforts in these countries.
U.S. export control policy also requires that an export license be sought
for items when an exporter knows that an export or reexport will be used
directly or indirectly for certain proscribed nuclear activities, including
nuclear explosive activities, unsafeguarded nuclear activities, and certain
fuel cycle activities, whether or not they are safeguarded. The Department
of Commerce's Bureau of Export Administration can also inform an exporter
or reexporter that an export license is required for specified items to
specified end-users when the Bureau has determined that there is an unacceptable
risk of diversion to proscribed nuclear activities.
The executive branch has commissioned a new review of high performance
computer export control policy which will be available at the end of 1997.
RUSSIAN REQUESTS FOR HIGH PERFORMANCE COMPUTER EXPORTS
In the fall of 1995, two U.S. computer manufactures applied for export
licenses to sell U.S. high performance computers to the Russian nuclear
weapons laboratories known as Arzamas-16 and Chelyabinsk-70. According
to the Commerce Department's interpretation of section 12(c) of the Export
Administration Act of 1979, I cannot provide any further details about
these cases in public. However, according to press reports, the license
applications were submitted by Convex Computer Corporation and IBM, and
the end uses for the computers were for ground water and atmospheric pollution
In the early summer of 1996, the Russian Federation Minister for Atomic
Energy sent a letter to the Secretary of Energy expressing his concern
about U.S. export restrictions on high performance computers. This letter
also requested that Russian and U.S. officials begin discussing the possible
export of a Convex SPP 2000 computer. This computer is more capable than
any computer known to be in use in Russia at that time. Although the Commerce
Department had not received an export license application for the computer,
the Secretary of Energy asked MINATOM for additional information on how
Russia planned to use the SPP 2000 computer and the other computers for
which the executive branch was then reviewing export license applications.
The Russian Federation Atomic Energy Minister indicated that the SPP 2000
would be used to help maintain Russia's nuclear stockpile but that the
other computers for which export licenses were pending would be used for
civilian purposes at Russian nuclear weapons laboratories. According to
the manufacturer, the SPP 2000, now known as the Exemplar X-Class, can
be configured with a maximum of 64 processors and the manufacturer told
us that the machine has a maximum performance rating of 22,275 MTOPS.
Our review of computer export data indicates that it was unlikely that
Russian military and nuclear weapon laboratories had acquired computers
capable of more than approximately 3,500 MTOPS, due to a lack of known
sales of computers above that capability from the United States or Japan,
the only countries currently producing computers above that level. However
the capabilities of the Russian nuclear weapons laboratories, before the
recently reported sales, may have been considerably less. The specific
details are classified.
EXECUTIVE BRANCH DECIDES NOT TO ACT ON THE EXPORT LICENSE APPLICATIONS
Although the Russian Minister of Atomic Energy explained that MINATOM
would use the computers sought under the pending applications for civilian
end-uses, the executive branch decided to return the license applications
to the exporters without action. The Commerce Department told the exporters
that the U.S. government was taking this action because of insufficient
information about the end-use of the computers. Commerce Department officials
told us that a decision to return a license application without action
means that the license application had neither been approved nor denied,
but that if a license is required, such a decision blocks the export.
The exporters can reapply for a license in the future.
In December 1996, the State Department informed MINATOM that the United
States did not approve the export license applications under review because
the applications were inconsistent with the U.S. government's export control
policy. This policy seeks to prevent the export of high powered computers
for end-uses or end-users which directly or indirectly support nuclear
POSSIBLE IMPROPER SALE OF HIGH PERFORMANCE COMPUTERS TO RUSSIA
Subsequent to the executive branch's decision to return the license
applications without action, press reports began to circulate here and
in Russia that Russia had obtained several high performance computers from
U.S. companies, apparently without an export license. Press reports indicated
that MINATOM told one of the companies that sold them a computer without
a license that the computer would be used for modeling of earth water pollution
caused by radioactive substances. However, MINATOM officials have stated
that the computers will be used to maintain the Russian nuclear weapon
stockpile and the Minister of Atomic Energy indicated that the computer
would be used to confirm the reliability of Russia's nuclear arsenal and
ensure its proper working order under the terms of the CTBT. Because the
computers Russia obtained use a technology known as parallel processing,
a number of processors can be added to increase their performance. If
the high performance computers allegedly acquired by Chelyabinsk-70 were
to be aggregated into a single cluster, the laboratory would have a central
computer with a composite theoretical performance capability of about 9,000
MTOPs. Through other acquisitions that the Russian Minister indicated
had been made, this capacity could be increased to about 14,000 MTOPS.
This concludes my prepared remarks. My colleague and I would be pleased
to respond to any questions you may have.