from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2008, Issue No. 8
January 22, 2008

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Tsien Hsue-shen, the 96-year-old architect of China's ballistic missile program, was once a promising student of aeronautics in the United States, a protege of Theodore von Karman, and then a leading expert in the field, until he came under suspicion of espionage and was deported in September 1955.

According to a declassified 1998 Defense Intelligence Agency briefing, Tsien had "worked on [the] Titan [missile] program in [the] 1950s," and his immigration to China constituted an unauthorized transfer of Titan technology to that communist country.

But it turns out that the DIA claim cannot be true, because the first contract for the Titan development program was not let until October 1955, after Tsien (also known as Qian Xuesen) had departed the United States.

"Unless Tsien possessed the secret of time travel, there is no way that he could have worked on the Titan ICBM before the program even started," wrote historian and space policy expert Dwayne Day in an incisive account in The Space Review.

Mr. Day discusses the Tsien case, the 1999 Cox Committee on Chinese espionage that received the classified DIA briefing on Tsien and endorsed it uncritically, as well as the work of the late historian Iris Chang, Tsien's biographer.

See "A Dragon in Winter" by Dwayne A. Day, The Space Review, January 14:

In a follow-on piece this week, Mr. Day reports further on the 1998 Defense Intelligence Agency briefing (pdf) regarding Tsien, which was declassified in response to a request from the Federation of American Scientists.

See "Is a Secret a Lie if it Just Isn't True?", January 21:

Former CIA analyst Allen Thomson told Secrecy News that he recalled receiving another DIA briefing a decade ago in which it was asserted that Tsien had worked on Titan penetration aids.

"I have the impression that Tsien just became a convenient boogeyman and nobody checked up on the facts, or much cared about them," Mr. Thomson said.

Tsien was named "2007 person of the year" by Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine (01/06/08) as a way of acknowledging China's recent advances in space.

But at a celebration in Beijing in honor of his 96th birthday on December 11, his secretary Tu Yuanji said that Tsien had "stayed at home" most of the past year, "reading something every day while leading a peaceful life." (Xinhua, 12/10/07).


"The CIA requires all current and former Agency employees and contractors, and others who are obligated by CIA secrecy agreement, to submit for prepublication review to the CIA's Publications Review Board (PRB) all intelligence-related materials intended for publication or public dissemination," according to a 2007 regulation on the subject.

The scope of the requirement, according to CIA, is expansive. It "includes, but is not limited to, works of fiction; books; newspaper columns; academic journal articles; magazine articles;... letters to the editor;... scripts; screenplays; internet blogs, emails, or other writings;" and so forth.

A redacted version of the latest version of the CIA regulation was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the James Madison Project, a non-profit advocacy organization. The Project's director, attorney Mark S. Zaid, frequently litigates pre-publication review disputes against the CIA.

The text of the regulation, "Agency Prepublication Review of Certain Material Prepared for Public Dissemination," 30 May 2007, is here:

Related background on CIA prepublication review policy, including a (redacted) handbook for agency reviewers, can be found on this page:


Last week, Malaysia ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), bringing the total number of Treaty ratifications to 143, according to a CTBT Organization news release.

Among Southeast Asian nations, "Cambodia, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam have now ratified the CTBT, whereas Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand have yet to ratify it."

To enter into force, the Treaty must be ratified by ten additional states with nuclear programs, including the United States, North Korea, Israel, China, Pakistan and Iran.

If and when that happens, the technical capability to verify compliance with the Treaty will be well in hand, according to a recent statement from the American Geophysical Union.

"When implemented, the American Geophysical Union and the Seismological Society of America are confident that the combined worldwide monitoring resources will meet the verification goals of the CTBT," the AGU reaffirmed last month.


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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