Export Controls: Information on the Decision to Revise High Performance Computer Controls

NSIAD-98-196 Published: Sep 16, 1998. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 1998.
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Pursuant to a legislative requirement and a congressional request, GAO reviewed concerns that U.S. national security interests may have been compromised by sales of unlicensed high performance computers (HPC) to China and Russia, focusing on: (1) the basis for the executive branch's revision of HPC export controls; (2) changes in licensing activities and the implementation of certain U.S. licensing and export enforcement requirements since the revision; and (3) the current foreign availability of HPCs, particularly for certain countries of national security concern.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense To complement the studies undertaken by the Departments of Defense and Energy for the House Committee on National Security, the Secretary of Defense should assess and report on the national security threat and proliferation impact of U.S. exports of HPCs to countries of national security and proliferation concern. This assessment, at a minimum, should address: (1) how and at what performance levels countries of concern use HPCs for military modernization and proliferation activities; (2) the threat of such uses to U.S. national security interests; and (3) the extent to which such HPCs are controllable.
Closed – Not Implemented
DOD stated that the action was not necessary because it "considered" national security before the regulatory changes were made. DOD provided no evidence that the specific elements in the recommendation have ever been addressed.
Department of Commerce The Secretary of Commerce, with the support of the Secretaries of Defense, Energy, and State, and the Director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, should jointly evaluate and report on options to safeguard U.S. national security interests regarding HPCs. Such options should include, but not be limited to: (1) requiring government review and control of the export of computers at their highest scalable MTOPS performance levels and (2) requiring that HPCs destined for tier 3 countries be physically modified to prevent upgrades beyond the allowed levels.
Closed – Implemented
The Commerce and Defense Departments have studied a limited number of options to replace the current export control measure of computer performance but did not examine the options suggested in the recommendation or other potential options suggested in subsequent GAO reports. The agencies plan no further action on this issue.

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