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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Eases Export Law For Supercomputers

WASHINGTON -- In a move that pits national security concerns against commercial interests, U.S. President George W. Bush has eased restrictions on the export of supercomputers to Russia, China, Pakistan and other nations.

Bush notified congressional leaders that his administration will more than double the amount of computing power allowed to be exported to so-called "tier 3" nations, a group of more than three dozen countries that pose nuclear proliferation concerns, including Israel and India.

The decision marks the second time computer export restrictions have been eased since 1999 and comes amid heightened national security concerns following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. It also comes nearly a month after Bush vowed to "toughen export controls."

The United States has restricted the sale of the nation's most powerful computing technology in an effort to thwart the spread of nuclear weapons.

Exports to U.S. allies such as Canada, Mexico and all of Western Europe do not face restrictions. On Wednesday, Bush added the Baltic nation of Latvia to that list. The United States will maintain its embargo on technology exports to North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Cuba, Sudan and Syria.

Under the relaxed standards, the government will restrict the export of computers that perform more than 190,000 millions of theoretical operations per second -- more than double the current limit of 85,000 MTOPS.

A computer that uses 36 Pentium 4 processors -- new home computers can run on just one of those processors -- could theoretically crank out about 191,988 MTOPS, according to the company.

The widespread availability of such powerful processors led some experts to say that it is futile to try to restrict supercomputers.

"Moore's Law has not been repealed," said John Pike, director of the Alexandria, Virginia, consulting firm Globalsecurity.org, referring to the industry maxim that computer power inexorably doubles every 18 months.

The White House conceded as much last week.

"These reforms are needed due to the rapid rate of technological change in the computer industry. Single microprocessors available today -- by mail order and the Internet -- perform at more than 25 times the speed of supercomputers built in the early 1990s," said White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan.

Part of the Export Administration Act, the computer regulations were enacted during the Cold War era, when most computers were much less powerful. The act expired in 1990, but has been given temporary extensions by Congress.

High-tech companies welcomed the move.

"We are pleased and we think it represents good progress," said Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy, a spokesman for Intel Corp. "It'll provide some headroom for export control for us over the next couple of years."

Bob Cohen, a vice president at the Information Technology Association of America, an industry group, said it would provide a much-needed sales boost. (LAT, Reuters)