Export Controls:

Sales of High Performance Computers to Russia's Nuclear Weapons Laboratories

T-NSIAD-97-128: Published: Apr 15, 1997. Publicly Released: Apr 15, 1997.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the sale of high performance computers to Russia's nuclear weapons laboratories, focusing on: (1) the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and its implications for high performance computer exports to Russian laboratories; (2) U.S. export regulations as they apply to the Russian nuclear weapons laboratories; (3) the Russian request for such computers during the summer of 1996; and (4) the executive branch's decision to return without action several export license applications for high performance computers to the Russian laboratories and the implications of that decision.

GAO noted that: (1) Russia has expressed a strong desire to obtain high performance computers from the United States for use at its nuclear weapons laboratories; (2) according to the Russian Minister of Atomic Energy, such computers are needed to help Russia maintain its nuclear stockpile, particularly in light of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty prohibiting future nuclear explosions; (3) Russia attempted to obtain high performance computers for its weapons laboratories for "civilian purposes" from two U.S. manufacturers; (4) the manufacturers, in compliance with the export control laws and regulations, sought an export license for the transaction but the applications were eventually returned by the Commerce Department without action; (5) the U.S. government said it needed more information about how the computers would be used; (6) subsequently, press reports began to circulate in Russia and the United States that Russia had obtained U.S. high performance computers from other sources, and according to officials from Russia's Ministry of Atomic Energy, the computers would be used for nuclear stockpile maintenance; and (7) if these press reports are correct, and information supplied by the Russian Minister of Atomic Energy indicates the reports are correct, such a sale would appear to be contrary to the policy underlying U.S export control regulations and to U.S. policy boundaries regarding cooperation with Russia's nuclear weapons program.

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