The U.S. Justice Department this week gave the Boeing Co.
the green light to proceed with its ill-conceived Sea Launch
project — a multinational effort to blast satellites into space
from ocean platforms.
Earlier, the government formally suspended the program
over concerns about leaks of technology to Boeing’s
Ukrainian and Russian partners. Now, Justice says, Boeing
can go ahead with the project after agreeing to pay a $10
million fine and more closely monitor information it gives
the foreign participants.
Let me tell you how bad this idea is.
For starters, let’s examine why the government suspended
the project in July. The State Department said Boeing had
violated the federal Arms Export Control Act 207 times by
exporting “articles or defense services without obtaining
approval.” The violations began as early as 1994, according
to a settlement signed Tuesday by Boeing and the
As part of the agreement, Boeing will pay the largest fine
ever imposed under the Arms Export Control Act and
create a state-of-the-art document control system at its base
in Long Beach, Calif., to keep track of technical information
used by Sea Launch. Boeing also agreed to hire an outside
expert to monitor compliance with federal rules.
Now listen to these mixed signals from the government:
The State Department said Boeing’s violations, while
illegal, did not result in damage to national security. But
Justice is still leaving open the door to a criminal
investigation and the possibility that Boeing will still be
prosecuted for the infractions. That’s called “covering your
butt.” With impeachment proceedings in the works and no
one quite certain which White House crimes Congress will
pursue, the administration is leaving itself some wiggle
The White House has already been burned once on
high-tech transfers that damaged national security.
President Clinton himself approved the partnership
between Loral Space and Communications and the Chinese
government. Through a missile launch failure, it is now
believed Beijing secured sensitive encryption technology,
which can be used for international espionage, as well as
data that helped improve China’s missile targeting ability —
including its arsenal of nuclear ICBMs trained on U.S.
Interestingly, Sea Launch has already pre-sold 18 satellite
launches — 13 to Hughes Space and Communications and
five to, you guessed it, Bernard Schwartz’s Loral. Schwartz
was the single highest individual donor to Bill Clinton’s
1996 re-election effort. He was also Clinton’s first choice for
secretary of Defense in 1993.
But the real scandal of Sea Launch isn’t in the nitty-gritty
details of the program. It is that the basic concept is terribly
and hopelessly flawed.
The Sea Launch partnership headed by Boeing includes
three foreign “companies.” They include Norway’s
Kvaerner, a ship-building firm responsible for the launch
platform, Ukraine’s KB Yuzhnoye/PO Yuzhmash,
responsible for building the two-stage Zenit rockets, and
Russia’s RSC Energia, responsible for the upper stage of the
rocket and other launch support systems. It is the Russian
connection that is most intriguing — and alarming — from a
national security standpoint.
It turns out — and both Justice and State are aware of this —
that RSC Energia is controlled by Russian military
intelligence. It is no more a “private” company, as we in
the United States understand the term, than the China
Ocean Shipping Co., or COSCO, is. Both are government
controlled outfits. Both serve the state. In the case of RSC
Energia, it has been an arm of Russian military intelligence
since the earliest days of Sputnik.
Now how here’s the question: How can Boeing maintain a
partnership with Russian military intelligence yet not
divulge sensitive technical information to its partner? That
is, in effect, what the government is demanding of Boeing.
It’s the same ridiculous expectation the government had of
Loral’s partnership with the Chinese government. How
could Loral and Boeing maintain formal business
partnerships with hostile foreign governments and not be
expected to share sensitive technical information? I submit
to you that the central reason those governments wanted
to participate in such partnerships in the first place was for
the purpose of spying and intelligence gathering.
The Clinton administration is actively condoning, even
encouraging, such entanglements. A $10 million fine
won’t prevent the inevitability of national security threats
from such deals. Boeing and other multinationals see that
as a cost of doing business. And this business arrangement
has the backing of international power brokers at the
highest levels. The World Bank has even provided loan
guarantees for Sea Launch.
National security and sovereignty be damned. It’s time to
blast off to a New World Order.