WASHINGTON — Communist China worked through Clinton-Gore
fund-raiser Yah Lin “Charlie” Trie to import equipment used in the
production of bacteria for deadly biological weapons during the first
two years of the administration, and possibly longer, it was revealed in
hearings held yesterday by the House Government Reform Committee.
Trie swore to the FBI last year that his role in helping a Chinese
laboratory buy such equipment ended with the November 1992 sale of a
single fermentation tank. Trie was convicted in 1999 of unrelated
But committee investigators produced documents showing Trie, who ran
a Little Rock, Arkansas-based export-import business, was still
discussing Chinese deals with New York-based supplier BioPro
International Inc. through at least May 1994.
“Delegation for China would be invited to New York for sales
discussions as done before,” wrote BioPro head Rene Lohser in a May 27
letter to Trie. Lohser suggested future sales of the dual-use
biotechnology would be easier thanks to Clinton’s loosening of export
controls and extending most-favored-nation trade status to China.
“We are looking forward to hearing from you and are hoping for a
successful business relationship,” he said, “especially since your
friend President Clinton has further opened the door for trading with
In a Jan. 18, 1994, letter to Lohser, Trie’s assistant told him that
Trie and a delegation of Chinese officials would be in New York by the
end of the month to meet with him. A week before, Lohser had sent Trie a
list of biotech products he could offer Chinese labs, including:
- Incubation shaker cabinets.
- State-of-the-art fermenter systems.
- Control systems.
- High-tech dryers and mixers.
- Sophisticated sensors, such as “turbidity” meters.
“We can also provide Changchun with spare parts for their
fermenters,” Lohser wrote.
Trie confessed to FBI agents that he had helped sell a 132-gallon
bio-fermenter to the Changchun Biological Products Institute in
Changchun in China’s Jilin province, which borders North Korea. The
government-run lab is suspected of being involved in the Chinese army’s
biological warfare program.
But after grilling from Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., Trie admitted to
selling at least two bio-fermenters, one of which sold for more than
$550,000, to the Changchun lab. He collected a $15,000 commission for
each sale. It’s not clear if the $30,000 wound up in Clinton-Gore
The panel, chaired by Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., asked an expert on
Russia’s biological weapons program to review the manufacturer’s
specifications for the bio-fermenters. He concluded they could, in fact,
be used for “weapons-related production of bacteria.”
“The fact that they have double mechanical seals and are equipped
with an exhaust gas filter jacket — into which various types of filters
could be installed — means that they could be used with highly
hazardous pathogens,” advised Kenneth Alibek, former deputy director of
the Soviet Union’s biological weapons program.
Alibek, who now heads Virginia-based Hadron Inc., also said the
bio-fermenters could be used to mass-produce biological weapons. They
“could conceivably be used to produce tons of bacteriological weapons in
the course of a year,” he wrote the panel in a letter obtained by
Barr pointed out to Trie that the export of such sensitive dual-use
gear is controlled by U.S. export laws. Asked if he got a license to
ship the gear, Trie said that would be the job of the manufacturer.
“My job is to find the buyer and seller,” he said. “I just get a
Also, Trie claimed he didn’t know the tanks could be used to aid
China’s biological weapons capabilities. Experts say the country is busy
beefing up its biowarfare program.
“So it doesn’t concern you that this machinery is in the hands of the
Chinese government and may be used to produce biological weapons?” Barr
“If they don’t get it from me, they get it from someone else,” Trie
replied. “They gonna get it.”
At that, one of Trie’s lawyer’s whispered something in his ear. Then
Trie quickly added: “If I thought it (the tanks) would make poison for
people, I wouldn’t agree” to help sell them.
Barr questioned if Trie really thought that, or was just repeating
what his lawyer told him to say.
“Yeah, he told me … and I agree,” Trie said — to the chagrin of
his lawyers, who blushed as several spectators snickered. One of Trie’s
lawyers, Reid Weingarten, represented the late Commerce Secretary Ron
Brown when he was a target of an independent counsel probe in 1995 and
It also turns out that the Changchun lab wasn’t the only one for
which Trie helped procure biotech gear. He also helped the Wuhan
Institute of Biological Products in Wuhan, China. Zhang Jianming, the
director of the Changchun lab, has “good contacts” with the Wuhan lab,
Lohser wrote in one memo.
Zhang, a geneticist, first visited Trie in the U.S. in November 1992,
after Clinton and Al Gore were elected, whereby they formed a shell
company called United Biotech.
According to Barr, Zhang is a Chinese Communist Party boss. Besides
being lab director, he also holds the title of deputy to the National