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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing


2Recovery of Encryption Devices and Missing Circuit Board From an American Satellite Mounted on a Chinese Missile
2Details on Intelsat Satellite and its Encrypted Information
2Issue of National Security and the Loss of the Circuit Board
3-4Questions on the Whereabouts of the Circuit Board
3State versus Commerce and the Issue of the Circuit Board

DPB #76
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 24, 1998, 12:50 P.M.

MR. RUBIN: Welcome to the State Department briefing. It is close to an on-time performance, but not close enough; we will continue to try harder.


QUESTION: New subject -- I'll try to go back to something that we've hammered away, I know many times, but I'll try at you again. The Chinese rocket that crashed in February 1996 - evidently in the House Committee hearing on this yesterday, some new matters came up. And there seems to be a circuit board that's missing from the American satellite that was mounted to the back of this Chinese rocket. What is the State Department doing to look into the missing circuit board? And is this something that the Secretary might take up in her visit to China?

MR. RUBIN: This is a very complex issue, and there has been testimony on this yesterday on the Hill and there will be further testimony today; so I will be limited in what I can say about it. There have been four failures of Chinese launches of US built satellites. Two of the satellites did not have any encryption devices on board. In one of the other two cases the devices were recovered and returned to the US.

In the other case, the Intelsat failure in February 1996, the command process or boxes as a whole were recovered, but not all of the circuit boards which contained the encryption information, which is used to send coded operating instructions to the satellite once it is in orbit. In this case, the encryption involved embedded single-chip devices that are unique for this particular satellite. Moreover, this encryption system used older algorithms that are no longer used in newer satellites. Therefore any loss of the chips and associated encryption algorithms would have had only minimum impact because the Intelsat satellite used these old keys which are not unique. There is some chance that a third party could examine recovered devices to gain some knowledge, but we believe the impact on national security would not be significant.

With respect to what happened to them, we do not believe that the loss of this device places at risk any government communications over communications satellites. Our requirement was to assure that the control of the satellite remain protected to prevent denial of service. The loss of this particular device at the time of launch, therefore, had no consequent risk to other communications or control of other satellites.

We do not know, as I understand it, what happened and where this is; but certainly in the course of the technical discussions that are ongoing between us and the Chinese in the satellite launch area that are pursuant to the various licensing, we will want to find out what happened to this chip. But again, the context is that we don't believe it had a significant impact because it was older technology; but we will continue to try to get to the bottom of this. Those who are expert in this very technical area can try to get more information to you later in the day.

QUESTION: Two things - do you believe - some officials have said that they believe the Chinese Government has the circuit board. Does the State Department believe this?

MR. RUBIN: I'll have to take that for the record.

QUESTION: Have you taken up this at all with the Chinese? Evidently when the crash occurred, they barred US officials from coming into the site, and all that was recovered was the --

MR. RUBIN: This has been gone over in extensive detail on the Hill in public testimony; and I will try to get transcripts that lay out the details of the situation. Let's all remember and let's bear in mind that the process that is ongoing here involves, in general, technology where we are talking about communication satellites; we're not talking about the technology that is used by American military satellites. The encryption device involved here is decades old, and even if reverse-engineered, would only tell somebody where we were decades ago.

QUESTION: You're using the term lightly. You're not ruling out that the Chinese took the board.

MR. RUBIN: I'm not ruling anything out. We know that it wasn't there; whether it was destroyed or whether it was removed is - (inaudible) - question.

QUESTION: By a third party.

MR. RUBIN: I don't know the answer to that.

QUESTION: So it's possible, then, that the Chinese could have it. They just haven't, perhaps, turned it over to --

MR. RUBIN: Again, I'd rather get you an answer from the technical experts. This is a highly technical field.

QUESTION: Just one more, if I may, on the purview of State versus Commerce in this - I understand that the State Department oversees the export of the board only, while the Commerce Department, once the board is mounted, in a situation like a satellite and becomes a part of a bigger unit, Commerce has purview and regulates this and is responsible for overseeing how it's used. Why is it that we have that distinction between State and Commerce? Why wouldn't you just follow the --

MR. RUBIN: Well, there are a whole series of technical reasons for this that I'd rather have the technical experts get into.

QUESTION: Have you asked the Chinese if they have the board?

MR. RUBIN: I think maybe you see now that there's public testimony going on. These are highly technical matters, and I'd rather have the technical experts get into a subject where there's been an enormous amount of misinformation in the press, an enormous amount of exaggeration. Rather than letting that go on, the hearings are going on, and the people who are expert in this highly arcane field are in the best position to answer these questions.


(The briefing concluded at 1:25 P.M.)

[end of document]

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