07/17/97 - 12:32 AM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Huang's security clearance questioned

WASHINGTON - Hidden behind a screen, former CIA officer John Dickerson testified Wednesday that John Huang got 37 classified briefings when he worked at the Commerce Department, even though a top Commerce official had said he should not get the briefings.

But Huang got the briefings without asking for them, Dickerson said.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee is investigating Huang's later role in Democratic fund-raising and whether he raised money illegally from foreign sources. Before his Commerce job, Huang worked for Lippo Group, an Indonesian company with business ties to China.

Republicans on the committee, trying to show that Huang had special access to information useful to Lippo, released a Jan. 31, 1994, memo asking for a high-level security clearance for Huang, bypassing normal channels. The memo said there was a "critical need for his expertise in the new administration for secretary Brown," referring to the late Ron Brown, then secretary of Commerce.

Another former top official at Commerce, Jeffrey Garten, testified that he ordered that Huang not receive classified briefings about China policy because he was "not qualified." He later learned the order was never transmitted to the intelligence officers who gave Huang the briefings.

During the briefings, Dickerson said, Huang was interested primarily in China and Taiwan. But Dickerson said he never witnessed anything that led him to believe Huang was a security risk.

Republicans on the Senate committee are investigating whether Huang passed on secrets to Chinese officials or to his former employer.

The committee has Commerce Department phone logs showing Huang made more than 400 phone calls to Lippo.

Democrats on the committee acknowledge there is classified evidence that China intended to influence U.S. congressional elections by making donations through Americans. It's unclear whether China also targeted the presidential campaign.

Huang raised more than $3 million for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 1996, but more than $1.5 million is being returned because the DNC could not verify where it came from. It is illegal to accept political donations from foreign individuals or companies.

Garten said he tried to block Huang, a deputy assistant secretary for international trade, from having any role on China policy because he was "totally unqualified."

"In my view he should not have been involved with China in any way at all," Garten said. Huang should stick to administrative work, he said.

By Judi Hasson, USA TODAY

Contributing: Susan Gvozdas and Robert Silvers

Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.