Spy plane crew failed to disable sensitive equipment

Friday, April 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Crewmen aboard the U.S. spy plane forced down in China used hammers and other measures to try to disable intelligence equipment but some secrets still fell into Chinese hands, defense officials say.

Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, said the loss occurred despite the best efforts of the 24-member crew, whose Navy aircraft made an emergency landing on China's Hainan island after colliding with a Chinese fighter plane over the South China Sea.

Quigley declined to describe the extent of the loss from the April 1 incident that strained U.S.-Chinese relations. China has yet to surrender the plane despite U.S. insistence that it be returned.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: ``We've lost some ground, but I don't think it's irreparable. That's the chance you take when you have a reconnaissance plane like that that's gathering data.''

``Is it devastating?'' said Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. ``No, I don't think so. But yes, I think it's significant.''

Goss called for a resumption of the flights but not before some procedural changes are instituted.

One military official said the crew smashed some hardware with hammers and changed ``key codes'' for computerized information. The 24 Americans were released after 11 days.

Meanwhile, Beijing accused President Bush on Thursday of taking the United States down a ``dangerous road'' with pronouncements about American resolve to defend Taiwan.

On Wednesday, Bush vowed to used whatever force is necessary to defend Taiwan in the event of an attack by China.

The statement drew strong support Thursday from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C.

``With China relentlessly building up its military while placing a higher priority than ever before on absorbing Taiwan, it is dangerous to continue to send mere ambiguous signals about the resolve of the U.S. to defend Taiwan,'' Helms said.

But Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said he believes U.S. ambiguity is called for in the China-Taiwan conflict.

Historically, he said, the United States has retained the ``right to use force to defend Taiwan, while reserving ... all the decision-making authority about the circumstances in which we might, or might not, commit U.S. forces.

``Otherwise, the United States might find itself dragged into a conflict between China and Taiwan even in the event of a unilateral Taiwanese declaration of independence, something the president said yesterday he would not support.''

Meanwhile, Taiwan's top diplomat in Washington, C.J. Chen, praised Bush's remarks and the president's decision this week to approve the sale to Taiwan of Kidd-class destroyers, up to eight diesel submarines and 12 anti-submarine aircraft.

``We do look at this new government with a very positive perspective,'' Chen told reporters on Thursday. ``I think we are definitely in a better situation with those newly acquired weapons.''

More than 100 House members joined in support of Rep. David Bonior of Michigan, the Democratic whip, who drafted a letter to Chinese President Jiang Zemin demanding the release of a Chinese bishop who was arrested two weeks ago.

Bishop Shi Enxiang, 79, was arrested ``because he is a Catholic and practices his religion. ... This is a disgrace and China should not be allowed to get away with it,'' Bonior wrote.