U.S. Intelligence Eyes Chinese Research into Space-Age Weapons


U.S. Intelligence Eyes Chinese Research into Space-Age Weapons

Possible Use of Electromagnetic and Microwave Radiation against Taiwan or U.S. Fleet Raised

Declassified Documents Are Part of Major New Collection on a Half Century of U.S. Spying on China

Other Highlights of the Collection Include:
References to Cyber-Warfare
Dangers of Building Nuclear Plants in Japan (Fukushima Plant an Example)

For more information, contact:
Jeffrey Richelson and Matthew Aid


Washington, D.C., July 21, 2011 – In 2005, U.S. intelligence agencies monitoring Chinese research into high-power microwave (HPM) and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) radiation speculated that Beijing might be trying to develop a capability to incapacitate Taiwan electronically without triggering a U.S. nuclear retaliation, according to documents published in a major new National Security Archive collection.

In recent years, China's development of an assortment of conventional and nuclear weapons has regularly attracted the interest and concern of U.S. policy-makers, intelligence officials, and China watchers. So has Beijing's interest in less conventional means of conflict, including cyber-warfare — with Chinese hackers recently linked to or suspected in a number of incidents, notably breaking into highly sensitive U.S. government computer systems (see CBSNews.com, for example).

But cyber-warfare is only one of a number of unconventional approaches to warfare that China has investigated. A declassified 2005 report from the U.S. National Ground Intelligence Center describing Chinese experiments using HPM and EMP on animals concluded that the real objective was to determine the effects of that radiation on humans. Analysts did not believe the experiments, which produced "high mortality rates" among the animal subjects, were aimed at developing "antipersonnel" weapons, but they did describe a hypothetical "Taiwan Scenario" in which a lower altitude EMP burst would damage electronics on the island without causing enough human casualties, "either Taiwan[ese] or U.S. military," to trigger "a U.S. nuclear response."

Other recently declassified materials describe similar military concerns. A U.S. defense intelligence document from 2001, for example, details Chinese plans for developing radiofrequency weapons (although it stops short of speculating on their possible purpose). Still others reflect on issues of current interest, for example the risks of constructing nuclear power plants — like the Fukushima facility that exploded after the recent tsunami — at questionable sites in Japan.

These and 2,300 other records are part of a new National Security Archive publication, U.S. Intelligence and China: Collection, Analysis and Covert Action, the latest addition to the "Digital National Security Archive" series published through ProQuest Information and Learning. A sampling of materials in this important new collection appears on the Archive's Web site today.

Read more about the new collection on the Archive's web site.