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"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Security at U.S. Weapons Laboratories

GAO Calls for Security Prioritization Changes

The Department of Energy should better prioritize which foreign sites with radioactive materials should be protected against terrorist theft, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). (Continue)

Scarlet Kim

The Department of Energy should better prioritize which foreign sites with radioactive materials should be protected against terrorist theft, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The GAO, which conducts studies for Congress, reviewed the Energy Department's International Radiological Threat Reduction Program at the request of Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii). Established in 2002 following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the program aims to implement security upgrades at foreign sites with radioactive materials and recover lost or abandoned high-risk radioactive sources.

Radioactive sources are devices that use radioactive materials for myriad purposes, including medical and industrial applications. Terrorists potentially could acquire these materials, such as cobalt-60, cesium-137, and strontium-90, to produce a radiological dispersion device, or a “dirty bomb,” which uses conventional explosives to spread radiation. Dirty bombs are not as lethal or destructive as nuclear weapons, but they are commonly referred to as weapons of mass disruption because their detonation could cause mass fear and panic.

The March 15 GAO report recommended that the Energy Department prioritize sites by concentrating efforts on those with the greatest amount of radioactive materials. Despite the Energy Department's success at improving the security of hundreds of sites in more than 40 countries, the report found that “many of the most dangerous sources remain unsecured, particularly in Russia .” Of particular concern are more than 700 Russian operational or abandoned radioisotope generators, which are electrical generators powered by radioactive decay, and 16 out of 20 waste storage sites in Russia and Ukraine.

The GAO asserts the program has focused a disproportionate amount of attention on securing material at medical facilities, which contain much smaller quantities of radioactive sources. One explanation is that upgrading the security at medical facility, compared with securing radioisotope generators, entails less scope and cost. As of September 2006, almost 70 percent of all sites secured were hospitals or oncology clinics.

In visits to Russia, Lithuania, Poland, and Georgia, the GAO also discovered that some sites were not properly maintaining earlier security enhancements. The report noted the absence of a plan to sustain such security upgrades.

As of January 2007, the Energy Department has spent $120 million on the program, but future funding is uncertain. According to a department official interviewed by the GAO, since 2003 the agency has steadily decreased funding on program implementation. It intends to redirect future funds to projects such as securing plutonium and highly enriched uranium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons.

New NNSA Head Appointed Amid Controversy

Ambassador Linton Brooks was installed May 16 as administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and undersecretary of energy for nuclear security after his confirmation...

Christine Kucia

Ambassador Linton Brooks was installed May 16 as administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and undersecretary of energy for nuclear security after his confirmation by the Senate May 1. Brooks, who has been acting director of the semi-autonomous Department of Energy (DOE) agency responsible for maintaining the U.S. nuclear stockpile for nearly one year, officially assumed leadership amid management controversies at New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory and as Congress moved toward granting approval for new nuclear weapons research.

The most recent controversy stirred at Los Alamos in late November 2002, when investigators discovered that the laboratory could not account for $2.7 million in computers and equipment and thousands of dollars in questionable credit card transactions. The problems subsequently led to the resignation of Los Alamos director John Browne in early January 2003.

Problems with the laboratory’s safety in handling radioactive materials, including piping contaminated with plutonium, emerged April 18 when DOE cited Los Alamos “for violations of nuclear safety rules and procedures” in September 2002. The Energy Department stated that Los Alamos failed “to ensure that previously identified work control problems were effectively identified, controlled and corrected.”

Recent dissatisfaction with the University of California’s management—which has run Los Alamos for the Energy Department since 1943—led DOE to decide April 30 to open competition for the laboratory’s management and operations. The university’s contract expires in September 2005.

During a May 1 House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing, members of Congress criticized the department for failing to properly supervise Los Alamos, whose scientists and programs are key to maintaining U.S. nuclear weapons security. Brooks and Deputy Secretary of Energy Kyle McSlarrow were taken to task for poor oversight of the laboratory as the problems unfolded over several months. Representative James Greenwood (R-PA) wanted to know whose “job it was to provide this oversight? And what consequences do they face?”

At the hearing, Brooks said, “I believe that the problem with the department oversight was not primarily failure of individuals, but failure of structure.” In reply, Greenwood stated, “But somebody has the responsibility to create that structure.”

After he was appointed acting director in July 2002, Brooks sought to improve accountability and oversight of NNSA facilities. Brooks noted in a December 18, 2002, announcement of an overall NNSA reorganization that the effort focused on “streamlining operations and oversight while clarifying roles and responsibilities. The new, more responsive organization will improve federal management of our nuclear weapons complex.”

The problems at Los Alamos are symptomatic of broader structural problems that Brooks will confront as head of NNSA. An April 2002 study by the Commission on Science and Security, a nongovernmental panel tasked by DOE to assess the challenges the department faces in managing its science facilities, reported that “DOE’s policies and practices risk undermining its security and compromising its science and technology programs.” A May 2003 report from the DOE Office of the Inspector General criticized the planning mechanism NNSA is employing to plan the rebuilding and improvement of the nuclear weapons complex’s physical infrastructure. The study emphasized that, without reliable site plans, “NNSA may be at risk of being unable to ensure the vitality and readiness of the nuclear weapons complex.”

In addition to existing challenges in the laboratories and NNSA management, Brooks will oversee work to develop new nuclear weapons capabilities and enhance the U.S. nuclear test posture. A three-year study on a robust nuclear earth-penetrating weapon is underway following congressional approval last year. (See ACT, December 2002.) In its fiscal year 2004 appropriations request, NNSA has asked for funding to shorten the preparation time for a nuclear test from as long as 36 months to just 18 months.

Meanwhile, Congress is poised to lift the decade-long ban on researching low-yield nuclear weapons. (See ACT, June 2003.) Brooks supports this initiative to allow scientists greater scope for their nuclear weapons work. Although Brooks testified at an April 8 Senate hearing that “we have no requirement to actually develop any new weapons at this time,” he claimed during a May 15 visit to California’s Lawrence Livermore Laboratory that such weapons would usefully act as a deterrent by persuading aggressor states that the U.S. nuclear threat is real.

 

 

 

Latest Los Alamos Security Debacle Prompts Hearings on DOE

Latest Los Alamos Security Debacle Prompts Hearings on DOE

July/August 2000

By Philipp C. Bleek

Following the loss of sensitive nuclear weapons information from a Los Alamos National Laboratory vault, Congress held a series of hearings in June on the Department of Energy's (DOE) security failings. After being lambasted in both the Senate and the House for his role in the debacle, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson tasked General John Gordon, recently confirmed as head of the new National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), to conduct a "top-to-bottom review" of the nation's nuclear laboratories. The current controversy is the latest in a string of security mishaps at the nuclear laboratories. Key lawmakers have indicated that if DOE's apparent security failings are not rectified, they may attempt to remove the nuclear weapons complex from DOE.

Legislated by Congress last fall after the Cox Report's allegations of widespread Chinese espionage at the nuclear labs, the NNSA is a semiautonomous agency within DOE responsible for the nuclear weapons complex and associated non-proliferation activities. President Bill Clinton signed the agency's implementing legislation in October, but arguing that the new organization could impede Richardson's ability to effectively manage the nuclear complex, Clinton authorized the energy secretary to "perform all duties and functions" of the NNSA director. The move angered congressional Republicans, who had intended to create a more autonomous organization. Although the NNSA formally began operating March 1, many legislators remain unsatisfied with DOE's implementation of the new agency, especially Richardson's insistence on dual-hatting"—cross-appointing senior DOE officials to parallel positions in the NNSA. (See ACT, April 2000.)

DOE's most recent security lapses surfaced at the beginning of June. Senior DOE officials were informed May 31 of the loss of hard drives containing technical information on U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, used by a national nuclear emergency response team, more than three weeks after the drives had been discovered missing from their vault. The drives were subsequently found behind a photocopier in the nuclear weapons design division at Los Alamos. The case remains under investigation by the FBI.

In committee and on the floor, senators and representatives of both parties criticized what Senator Richard Bryan (D-NV) characterized as an apparent "culture of indifference" to security at DOE. At a June 13 House Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing, Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI) remarked sarcastically that it was easier for an authorized scientist to walk off with sensitive weapons information than it was for the average citizen to check out Winnie the Pooh from the public library.

DOE officials took responsibility for the recent mishap but also attempted to justify the open scientific environment they argued is necessary to foster innovation and attract capable scientists to the nuclear labs. Richardson noted at a June 21 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that while security measures must be "stringent," they must also "not stifle the science that allows us to have [a] deterrent." Richardson argued, "We have to find a way to balance science and security."

DOE officials have taken a range of actions to deal with the security failure, including temporarily suspending six officials and commissioning an independent inquiry. DOE is also restructuring its contract with the University of California, which runs the labs, and is apparently considering transferring responsibility for security to an independent entity. When announcing the contract change on June 30, Richardson noted the university's contribution to the scientific vitality of the laboratories, but stated that its performance in the security arena had been "unacceptable."

Since DOE security lapses had served as the primary motivator for the creation of the new NNSA, the renewed security controversy intensified Senate calls for Gordon's confirmation as NNSA chief. After some delay following his May nomination for the position, the Senate confirmed Gordon June 14 as the new under secretary for nuclear security and administrator of the NNSA. Gordon began his tenure June 29, and Richardson will formally swear him in July 12.

As his first major task, the energy secretary asked Gordon to conduct a "top-to-bottom review" at DOE's Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia National Laboratories. According to a DOE spokesman, the review will be "security oriented," although the spokesman emphasized that it will also deal with project management and other issues. DOE officials appear to be giving Gordon broad latitude in conducting his review, which is expected to be completed within a few months.

The current furor over security at DOE has sparked a debate among lawmakers regarding the future location of the nuclear weapons complex, with some arguing that DOE is simply not capable of effectively managing the laboratories and related facilities. At a June 21 Armed Services hearing, Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), the so-called patron saint of the nuclear laboratories, said he has "been convinced for many years" that the energy secretary "has too much to do." As a result, the senator contended that DOE's handling of nuclear weapons and non-proliferation has "suffered."

Several key lawmakers have indicated that the semiautonomous agency may be only an interim step. Senator John Warner (R-VA) summed up the long-term options for the nuclear weapons complex at the conclusion of the June 21 hearing: "One, does it remain…in DOE? Two, is it to be set up as a separate entity, like the old AEC [Atomic Energy Commission]? Or, three, put it in the Department of Defense?" Warner announced at the end of the hearing that he was drafting a bill to form a commission to study the issue, and Richardson noted his support for such an effort.

New DOE Nuclear Security Organization Begins Work

The controversial National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) began operation...

Philipp C. Bleek


THE CONTROVERSIAL NATIONAL Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) began operation March 1, the congressionally mandated deadline for the organization's launch. The following day, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson announced that President Clinton will nominate Air Force General John Gordon, currently deputy director of the CIA, to serve in the dual capacity of NNSA director and undersecretary of energy for nuclear security. Under the terms of its implementing legislation, the NNSA will carry out the national security responsibilities of the Department of Energy (DOE), including oversight of the laboratories, factories, and test facilities that make up the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

Congress legislated the creation of the "semi-autonomous" NNSA last year in the wake of allegations of Chinese espionage at the nation's nuclear laboratories. (See ACT, September/October 1999.) Although DOE argued that the new organization would blur lines of authority, impede the energy secretary's ability to manage the nuclear complex, and complicate environmental and safety oversight, President Clinton approved the legislation October 5 after it was linked to the fiscal year 2000 defense appropriations bill. However, Clinton subsequently authorized Richardson to "perform all duties and functions" of the undersecretary of energy for nuclear security, the position created to head the NNSA, essentially subsuming the new organization into DOE and angering congressional Republicans, who had intended to create a more autonomous organization.

After discussions between Richardson and key Republican leaders, Richardson submitted an implementation plan for the organization to Congress in January, and in March announced that he was recommending Gordon as the NNSA's first director. DOE officials expect the White House to formally announce Gordon's nomination in the next few months. Richardson has indicated that he will continue to perform "all duties and functions" of the NNSA director until Gordon's appointment is confirmed by the Senate. (After discussions with Richardson, Senator Pete Domenici [R-NM] introduced legislation March 2 that, if approved, will provide the first director of the NNSA with a three-year term of office.)

Although he ultimately supported the effort to appoint an independent director, Richardson has cross-appointed DOE officials in 18 key NNSA positions, including the general counsel, deputy counsel, chief of counterintelligence, and chief of defense nuclear security. Responding to congressional criticism that the cross-appointments violated the "semi-autonomous" status of the NNSA, Richardson argued at a March 2 House Armed Services Committee hearing that "the dual-hatting authority I have is legal and it's efficient. It's the best way to avoid duplication."

 

Controversy Continues

On March 14, amid congressional hearings on the new organization and the release of two government reports criticizing DOE's implementation of the NNSA legislation, House Commerce Committee Chairman Tom Bliley (R-VA) introduced a bill intended to "strengthen and clarify" DOE's existing internal oversight organization, the Office of Independent Oversight and Performance Assurance. The bill (H.R. 3906) requires the office to report directly to the secretary of energy and to submit annual reports to Congress. Bliley said his bill was "consistent" with the legislation that created the NNSA. Bliley also introduced legislation that would eventually shift oversight of DOE's health, safety, and environmental responsibilities to external agencies.

At a March 16 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee Special Oversight Panel on DOE Reorganization, members excoriated DOE officials for mishandling the formation of the NNSA. Both Republican and Democratic members of the committee, backed by Congressional Research Service testimony, criticized DOE's "dual-hatting" approach to NNSA implementation. The General Accounting Office also submitted testimony, arguing that "DOE's implementation plan simply transfers many of DOE's historic shortcomings to NNSA." Armed Services Committee members argued, however, that because there is not sufficient time for Congress to put together a bill this year, restructuring of the NNSA should be left to the next administration.

Congress Approves DOE Reorganization; Clinton Leaves Control With Energy Secretary

UNWILLING TO VETO the fiscal year 2000 defense authorization bill, President Clinton approved the partial separation of the nation's nuclear weapons complex from the Department of Energy (DOE) on October 5, but infuriated congressional advocates of the reorganization by transferring control of the new National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) back to Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. Proposed in the wake of allegations of Chinese espionage at U.S. nuclear weapons labs, the reorganization called for in the defense bill would have provided the new nuclear agency substantial independence from DOE in establishing its own safety, security, environmental and counterintelligence policies, contrary to the administration's preference. (Continue)

UNWILLING TO VETO the fiscal year 2000 defense authorization bill, President Clinton approved the partial separation of the nation's nuclear weapons complex from the Department of Energy (DOE) on October 5, but infuriated congressional advocates of the reorganization by transferring control of the new National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) back to Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. Proposed in the wake of allegations of Chinese espionage at U.S. nuclear weapons labs, the reorganization called for in the defense bill would have provided the new nuclear agency substantial independence from DOE in establishing its own safety, security, environmental and counterintelligence policies, contrary to the administration's preference.

Initially opposed to the plan, Secretary Richardson finally gave his support in July after negotiating with the Senate for greater DOE control of the agency, but a House-Senate conference later altered the bill to give the NNSA more independence. When the House and Senate both overwhelmingly passed the revised bill in September, Richardson threatened to recommend the president veto the bill, but reversed his position after the White House indicated that a veto was unlikely because of the legislation's strong bipartisan support and inclusion of a widely popular pay raise for military personnel.

But after signing the bill October 5, President Clinton stunned Congress when he ordered Richardson to "perform all duties and functions" of undersecretary for nuclear security, the position formed to lead the NNSA. In explaining his decision, Clinton warned that the new law would impair Richardson's ability to fulfill his obligations as Energy Secretary and jeopardize changes in security and counterintelligence functions that he had already made.

Richardson was further instructed to assign DOE employees to "a concurrent office within the NNSA" in order to "mitigate the risks to clear chain of command presented by the Act's establishment of other redundant functions by the NNSA." Finally, Richardson was ordered to operate the new NNSA in compliance with existing federal environmental laws and standards. The president's statement also made clear that no candidate for the undersecretary position would be offered for the Senate's approval until Congress had remedied the reorganization plan's "deficiencies."

The president's instructions outraged several members of Congress who had worked to draft the law. In a letter to the president, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Floyd Spence (R-SC) strongly protested the president's signing statement, warning that unless reversed, the president's decision would "certainly serve to strengthen already substantial support for creating an agency entirely independent of DOE to manage the nation's nuclear programs." (Emphasis in original.) Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) also made clear his anger at Richardson and the administration, describing the president's action as "an absolute frontal attack."

Science at Its Best, Security at Its Worst

Long the subject of reform proposals, the Department of Energy (DOE), which was created in 1977 by merging the Atomic Energy Commission with several other energy-related agencies, may finally be headed for reorganization in the wake of allegations of widespread nuclear espionage at U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories. According to a report released in May by a select congressional committee chaired by Representative Christopher Cox (R-CA), the Energy Department's security and counterintelligence apparatus is completely inadequate, making it possible for China to acquire classified information on seven types of U.S. nuclear warheads. (Continue)

Long the subject of reform proposals, the Department of Energy (DOE), which was created in 1977 by merging the Atomic Energy Commission with several other energy-related agencies, may finally be headed for reorganization in the wake of allegations of widespread nuclear espionage at U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories. According to a report released in May by a select congressional committee chaired by Representative Christopher Cox (R-CA), the Energy Department's security and counterintelligence apparatus is completely inadequate, making it possible for China to acquire classified information on seven types of U.S. nuclear warheads.

In response to the Cox Report, President Clinton asked former Senator Warren Rudman, chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, to convene a special investigative panel to assess the security at DOE's nuclear weapons labs and review the improvements made by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson under a February 1998 presidential order. The panel, which included Rudman, Ann Caracristi, Dr. Sidney Drell, and Stephen Friedman, worked for 90 days and presented its findings to the president and Richardson on June 13. Its 71-page report was made available to the public the next day.

The report, titled "Science at Its Best, Security at Its Worst," concluded that DOE suffers from a wealth of "cultural, structural and historical problems" that preclude proper security precautions. It also noted that past attempts at reform had failed and that recent attempts at reform have been resisted, even in the face of great political pressure. The report's central recommendation was therefore that the responsibility for nuclear weapons research and stockpile management be wholly vested in a new semi-autonomous organization. Since the release of his panel's report, Rudman has testified before several Congressional committees that are considering legislation to do just that. (See story.) The following is the unabridged text of the Rudman Report's "Findings."


On March 18, 1999, President Clinton tasked the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board to review the history of the security and counterintelligence threats to the nation's weapons labs and the effectiveness of the responses by the U.S. government. He also asked the Board to propose further improvements.

This report, based on reviews of hundreds of source documents and studies, analysis of intelligence reports, and scores of interviews with senior level officials from several administrations, was prepared over the past 90 days in fulfillment of the President's request.

 

Bottom Line

Our bottom line: DOE represents the best of America's scientific talent and achievement, but it has also been responsible for the worst security record on secrecy that the members of this panel have ever encountered.

The national labs of the Department of Energy are among the crown jewels of the world's government-sponsored scientific research and development organizations. With its record as the incubator for the work of many talented scientists and engineers—including many Nobel prize winners—it has provided the nation with far-reaching advantages. Its discoveries not only helped the United States to prevail in the Cold War, they will undoubtedly provide both technological benefits and inspiration for the progress of generations to come. Its vibrancy is derived to a great extent from its ability to attract talent from the widest possible pool, and it should continue to capitalize on the expertise of immigrant scientists and engineers. However, the Department has devoted far too little time, attention, and resources to the prosaic but grave responsibilities of security and counterintelligence in managing its weapons and other national security programs.

 

Findings

The preponderance of evidence accumulated by the Special Investigative Panel, spanning the past 25 years, has compelled the members to reach many definite conclusions—some very disturbing—about the security and well-being of the nation's weapons laboratories.

As the repository of America's most advanced know-how in nuclear and related armaments and the home of some of America's finest scientific minds, these labs have been and will continue to be a major target of foreign intelligence services, friendly as well as hostile. Two landmark events, the end of the Cold War and the overwhelming victory of the United States and its allies in the Persian Gulf War, markedly altered the security equations and outlooks of nations throughout the world. Friends and foes of the United States intensified their efforts to close the technological gap between their forces and those of America, and some redoubled their efforts in the race for weapons of mass destruction. Under the restraints imposed by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, powerful computers have replaced detonations as the best available means of testing the viability and performance capabilities of new nuclear weapons. So research done by U.S. weapons laboratories with high performance computers stands particularly high on the espionage hit list of other nations, many of which have used increasingly more sophisticated and diverse means to obtain the secrets necessary to join the nuclear club.

More than 25 years worth of reports, studies and formal inquiries—by executive branch agencies, Congress, independent panels, and even DOE itself—have identified a multitude of chronic security and counterintelligence problems at all of the weapons labs. These reviews produced scores of stern, almost pleading, entreaties for change. Critical security flaws—in management and planning, personnel assurance, some physical security areas, control of nuclear materials, protection of documents and computerized information, and counterintelligence—have been cited for immediate attention and resolution…over and over and over…ad nauseam.

The open-source information alone on the weapons laboratories overwhelmingly supports a troubling conclusion: their security and counterintelligence operations have been seriously hobbled and relegated to low-priority status for decades. The candid, closed-door testimony of current and former federal officials as well as the content of voluminous classified materials received by this panel in recent weeks reinforce this conclusion. When it comes to a genuine understanding of and appreciation for the value of security and counterintelligence programs, especially in the context of America's nuclear arsenal and secrets, the DOE and its weapons labs have been Pollyannaish. The predominant attitude toward security and counterintelligence among many DOE and lab managers has ranged from half-hearted, grudging accommodation to smug disregard. Thus the panel is convinced that the potential for major leaks and thefts of sensitive information and material has been substantial. Moreover, such security lapses would have occurred in bureaucratic environments that would have allowed them to go undetected with relative ease.

Organizational disarray, managerial neglect, and a culture of arrogance—both at DOE headquarters and the labs themselves—conspired to create an espionage scandal waiting to happen. The physical security efforts of the weapons labs (often called the "guns, guards, and gates") have had some isolated shortcomings, but on balance they have developed some of the most advanced security technology in the world. However, perpetually weak systems of personnel assurance, information security, and counterintelligence have invited attack by foreign intelligence services. Among the defects this panel found:

  • Inefficient personnel clearance programs, wherein haphazard background investigations could take years to complete and the backlogs numbered in the tens of thousands.
  • Loosely controlled and casually monitored programs for thousands of unauthorized foreign scientists and assignees—despite more than a decade of critical reports from the General Accounting Office, the DOE Inspector General, and the intelligence community. This practice occasionally created bizarre circumstances in which regular lab employees with security clearances were supervised by foreign nationals on temporary assignment.
  • Feckless systems for control of classified documents, which periodically resulted in thousands of documents being declared lost.
  • Counterintelligence programs with part-time CI officers, who often operated with little experience, minimal budgets, and employed little more than crude "awareness" briefings of foreign threats and perfunctory and sporadic debriefings of scientists travelling to foreign countries.
  • A lab security management reporting system that led everywhere but to responsible authority.
  • Computer security methods that were naive at best and dangerously irresponsible at worst.
  • Why were these problems so blatantly and repeatedly ignored? DOE has had a dysfunctional management structure and culture that only occasionally gave proper credence to the need for rigorous security and counterintelligence programs at the weapons labs. For starters, there has been a persisting lack of real leadership and effective management at DOE.

    The nature of the intelligence-gathering methods used by the People's Republic of China poses a special challenge to the U.S. in general and the weapons labs in particular. More sophisticated than some of the blatant methods employed by the former Soviet bloc espionage services, PRC intelligence operatives know their strong suits and play them extremely well. Increasingly more nimble, discreet and transparent in their spying methods, the Chinese services have become very proficient in the art of seemingly innocuous elicitations of information. This modus operandi has proved very effective against unwitting and ill-prepared DOE personnel.

    Despite widely publicized assertions of wholesale losses of nuclear weapons technology from specific laboratories to particular nations, the factual record in the majority of cases regarding the DOE weapons laboratories supports plausible inferences—but not irrefutable proof—about the source and scope of espionage and the channels through which recipient nations received information. The panel was not charged, nor was it empowered, to conduct a technical assessment regarding the extent to which alleged losses at the national weapons laboratories may have directly advanced the weapons development programs of other nations. However, the panel did find these allegations to be germane to issues regarding the structure and effectiveness of DOE security programs, particularly the counterintelligence functions.

    The classified and unclassified evidence available to the panel, while pointing out systemic security vulnerabilities, falls short of being conclusive. The actual damage done to U.S. security interests is, at the least, currently unknown; at worst, it may be unknowable. Numerous variables are inescapable. Analysis of indigenous technology development in foreign research laboratories is fraught with uncertainty. Moreover, a nation that is a recipient of classified information is not always the sponsor of the espionage by which it was obtained. However, the panel does concur, on balance, with the findings of the recent DCI-sponsored damage assessment. We also concur with the findings of the subsequent independent review, led by retired Admiral David Jeremiah, of that damage assessment.

    The Department of Energy is a dysfunctional bureaucracy that has proven it is incapable of reforming itself. Accountability at DOE has been spread so thinly and erratically that it is now almost impossible to find. The long traditional and effective method of entrenched DOE and lab bureaucrats is to defeat security reform initiatives by waiting them out. They have been helped in this regard by the frequent changes in leadership at the highest levels of DOE—nine Secretaries of Energy in 22 years. Eventually, the reform-minded management transitions out, either due to a change in administrations or as a result of the traditional "revolving door" management practices at DOE. Then the bureaucracy reverts to old priorities and predilections. Such was the case in December 1990 with the reform recommendations carefully crafted by a special task force commissioned by then-Energy Secretary Watkins. The report skewered DOE for unacceptable "direction, coordination, conduct, and oversight" of safeguards and security. Two years later, the new administration rolled in, redefined priorities, and the initiatives all but evaporated. Deputy Secretary Charles Curtis in late 1996 investigated clear indications of serious security and CI problems and drew up a list of initiatives in response. Those initiatives also were dropped after he left office.

    Reorganization is clearly warranted to resolve the many specific problems with security and counterintelligence in the weapons laboratories, but also to address the lack of accountability that has become endemic throughout the entire Department. Layer upon layer of bureaucracy, accumulated over the years, has diffused responsibility to the point where scores claim it, no one has enough to make a difference, and all fight for more. Convoluted, confusing, and often contradictory reporting channels make the relationship between DOE headquarters and the labs, in particular, tense, internecine, and chaotic. In between the headquarters and the laboratories are field offices, which the panel found to be a locus of much confusion. In background briefings of the panel, senior DOE officials often described them as redundant operations that function as a shadow headquarters, often using their political clout and large payrolls to push their own agendas and budget priorities in Congress. Even with the latest DOE restructuring, the weapons labs are reporting to far too many DOE masters.

    The criteria for the selection of Energy Secretaries have been inconsistent in the past. Regardless of the outcome of ongoing or contemplated reforms, the minimum qualifications for an Energy Secretary should include experience in not only energy and scientific issues, but national security and intelligence issues as well. The list of former Secretaries, Deputy Secretaries, and Under Secretaries meeting all of these criteria is very short. Despite having a large proportion of its budget (roughly 30 percent) devoted to functions related to nuclear weapons, the Department of Energy has often been led by men and women with little expertise and background in national security. The result has been predictable: security issues have been a low priority, and leaders unfamiliar with these issues have delegated decisionmaking to lesser-ranking officials who lacked the incentives and authority to address problems with dispatch and forcefulness. For a Department in desperate need of strong leadership on security issues, this has been a disastrous trend. The bar for future nominees at the upper levels of the Department needs to be raised significantly.

    DOE cannot be fixed with a single legislative act: management must follow mandate. The research functions of the labs are vital to the nation's long term interest, and instituting effective gates between weapons and nonweapons research functions will require both disinterested scientific expertise, judicious decisionmaking, and considerable political finesse. Thus both Congress and the executive branch—whether along the lines suggested by the Special Investigative Panel or others—should be prepared to monitor the progress of the Department's reforms for years to come. This panel has no illusions about the future of security and counterintelligence at DOE. There is little reason to believe future DOE Secretaries will necessarily share the resolve of Secretary Richardson, or even his interest. When the next Secretary of Energy is sworn in, perhaps in the spring of 2001, the DOE and lab bureaucracies will still have advantages that could give them the upper hand: time and proven skills at artful dodging and passive intransigence.

    The Foreign Visitors' and Assignments Program has been and should continue to be a valuable contribution to the scientific and technological progress of the nation. Foreign nationals working under the auspices of U.S. weapons labs have achieved remarkable scientific advances and contributed immensely to a wide array of America's national security interests, including nonproliferation. Some have made contributions so unique that they are all but irreplaceable. The value of these contacts to the nation should not be lost amid the attempt to address deep, well-founded concerns about security lapses. That said, DOE clearly requires measures to ensure that legitimate use of the research laboratories for scientific collaboration is not an open door to foreign espionage agents. Losing national security secrets should never be accepted as an inevitable cost of obtaining scientific knowledge.

    In commenting on security issues at DOE, we believe that both Congressional and Executive Branch leaders have resorted to simplification and hyperbole in the past few months. The panel found neither the dramatic damage assessments nor the categorical reassurances of the Department's advocates to be wholly substantiated. We concur with and encourage many of Secretary Richardson's recent initiatives to address the security problems at the Department, and we are heartened by his aggressive approach and command of the issues. He has recognized the organizational dysfunction and cultural vagaries at DOE and taken strong, positive steps to try to reverse the legacy of more than 20 years of security mismanagement. However, the Board is extremely skeptical that any reform effort, no matter how well-intentioned, well-designed, and effectively applied, will gain more than a toehold at DOE, given its labyrinthine management structure, fractious and arrogant culture, and the fast-approaching reality of another transition in DOE leadership. Thus we believe that he has overstated the case when he asserts, as he did several weeks ago, that "Americans can be reassured: our nation's nuclear secrets are, today, safe and secure."

    Similarly, the evidence indicating widespread security vulnerabilities at the weapons laboratories has been ignored for far too long, and the work of the Cox Committee and intelligence officials at the Department has been invaluable in gaining the attention of the American public and in helping focus the political will necessary to resolve these problems. Nonetheless, there have been many attempts to take the valuable coin of damaging new information and decrease its value by manufacturing its counterfeit, innuendo; possible damage has been minted as probable disaster; workaday delay and bureaucratic confusion have been cast as diabolical conspiracies. Enough is enough.

    Fundamental change in DOE's institutional culture—including the ingrained attitudes toward security among personnel of the weapons laboratories—will be just as important as organizational redesign. Never have the members of the Special Investigative Panel witnessed a bureaucratic culture so thoroughly saturated with cynicism and disregard for authority. Never before has this panel found such a cavalier attitude toward one of the most serious responsibilities in the federal government—control of the design information relating to nuclear weapons. Particularly egregious have been the failures to enforce cyber-security measures to protect and control important nuclear weapons design information. Never before has the panel found an agency with the bureaucratic insolence to dispute, delay, and resist implementation of a Presidential directive on security, as DOE's bureaucracy tried to do to the Presidential Decision Directive No. 61 in February 1998.

    The best nuclear weapons expertise in the U.S. government resides at the national weapons labs, and this asset should be better used by the intelligence community. For years, the PFIAB has been keen on honing the intelligence community's analytic effectiveness on a wide array of nonproliferation areas, including nuclear weapons. We believe that the DOE Office of Intelligence, particularly its analytic component, has historically been an impediment to this goal because of its ineffective attempts to manage the labs' analysis. The office's mission and size (about 70 people) is totally out of step with the Department's intelligence needs. A streamlined intelligence liaison body, much like Department of Treasury's Office of Intelligence Support—which numbers about 20 people, including a 24-hour watch team—would be far more appropriate. It should concentrate on making the intelligence community, which has the preponderance of overall analytic experience, more effective in fulfilling the DOE's analysis and collection requirements.

    'Rudman Report' Adds Fuel to DOE Reorganization Fire

    SPURRED BY THE COX Report's allegations of Chinese espionage at U.S. nuclear weapons labs and a blistering report by a high-level investigative panel that concluded the Department of Energy (DOE) is incapable of reforming itself, both the House of Representatives and the Senate are considering legislation that would create a semi-autonomous agency within DOE to manage the nation's nuclear weapons complex. As of late June, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson continued to express strong opposition to any restructuring plan that called for the creation of a separate entity either within or outside his department. (Continue)

    Howard Diamond

    SPURRED BY THE COX Report's allegations of Chinese espionage at U.S. nuclear weapons labs and a blistering report by a high-level investigative panel that concluded the Department of Energy (DOE) is incapable of reforming itself, both the House of Representatives and the Senate are considering legislation that would create a semi-autonomous agency within DOE to manage the nation's nuclear weapons complex. As of late June, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson continued to express strong opposition to any restructuring plan that called for the creation of a separate entity either within or outside his department.

    The two similar bills—one sponsored by Representative Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and the other by Republican Senators Pete Domenici (NM), Jon Kyl (AZ) and Frank Murkowski (AK)—would establish a new agency to take control of DOE's nuclear weapons production facilities, laboratories and related operations offices. The administrator of the new agency would be "dual-hatted" as an undersecretary of energy, reporting directly to the secretary of energy.

    Secretary Richardson's objections to the reorganization plan have focused on whether the new agency would be bound by policies established by other DOE offices. Both the House and the Senate proposals would give the agency administrator autonomy from the department in establishing counterintelligence, security and safety policies.

    In response to espionage at the weapons labs, Richardson gave new authority to DOE's Office of Counterintelligence, and in May announced the establishment of two new high-level offices for Security and Emergency Operations and for Independent Oversight and Performance Assurance. He has objected that those reforms, meant to increase the department's control over the weapons complex, would be undermined if the new agency were allowed to set its own policies.

    Rudman Panel Reports

    The move to reform DOE was bolstered by the report of a special investigative panel of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, led by former Senator Warren Rudman. (See feature.) The Rudman Report, requested in March by President Clinton to examine security at the weapons laboratories and released on June 15, describes DOE as a "dysfunctional bureaucracy that has proven it is incapable of reforming itself" and calls for the creation of an autonomous or semi-autonomous Agency for Nuclear Stewardship. Similar to proposals now being considered by Congress, the Rudman panel urges the new agency head be made an undersecretary of energy and report directly to the secretary of energy.

    The presidential panel strongly advised against giving control of the nuclear weapons complex to the Defense Department and affirmed the validity of the "government-owned, contractor-operated" system used by the nuclear labs. The panel also recommended that the laboratories' Foreign Visitors' and Assignments Program continue, though with a greater emphasis on security.

    The Rudman Report praised the national laboratories for their "brilliant scientific breakthroughs," but concluded that their lackadaisical approach to security and their ongoing resistance to reform could only be addressed by legislative reorganization of DOE. Referring to the administration's February 1998 order to improve security in the Energy Department, the panel reported that it had never encountered "an agency with the bureaucratic insolence to dispute, delay, and resist implementation of a Presidential directive on security, as DOE's bureaucracy tried to do to the Presidential Decision Directive No. 61...."

    The Rudman panel also took issue with the Cox Report and with Secretary Richardson's response to it. (See ACT, April/May 1999.) Agreeing with damage assessments made by the Intelligence Community and a review panel led by retired Admiral David Jeremiah, the Rudman Report criticized the Cox panel's work, observing "many attempts to take the valuable coin of damaging new information and decrease its value by manufacturing its counterfeit, innuendo; possible damage has been minted as probable disaster; workaday delay and bureaucratic confusion have been cast as diabolical conspiracies." Richardson, while receiving praise for his energetic approach to reform of DOE, was criticized for overstating his success in improving security when he asserted after the Cox Report's release in May that "our nation's nuclear secrets are, today, safe and secure."

    Hyping Chinese Espionage

    Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

    With little evidence and flawed logic, the Cox Report has concluded that China, exploiting purloined U.S. nuclear weapons design information, can now match U.S. nuclear weapons technology and emerge as a major nuclear threat to the United States. The report, presented in three lavishly illustrated volumes suitable for coffee table display, is clearly designed to hype a new Chinese nuclear missile threat rather than objectively examine the extent and implications of alleged Chinese nuclear espionage. Whatever the truth about the extent of the espionage, this extreme worst-case assessment is grossly misleading and threatens rational U.S. diplomatic and defense policy toward Beijing.

    The report's case rests primarily on a reference in a classified Chinese document to certain aspects of the design of the Trident D-5 missile's W-88 thermonuclear warhead, which indicates Chinese access to classified information from an unidentified source. However, Cox Committee member Representative John Spratt (D-SC), in an act of considerable political courage, has revealed the paucity of evidence supporting the report's stark conclusions and pointed out that the Cox Committee had no evidence that the Chinese had actually obtained any blueprints or detailed engineering specifications on the W-88 or any other U.S. thermonuclear weapon. This important conclusion was also reached by the intelligence community in its damage assessment of the material presented in the classified version of the report.

    While China would undoubtedly profit from the details of the W-88, Beijing would pay a steep price to make a "Chinese copy" of the sophisticated W-88, which does not match China's strategic requirements or its existing technology infrastructure. The W-88 is carefully designed to fit inside the D-5's slender reentry vehicle, which is necessary to achieve extremely high accuracy against hard targets. The Chinese ICBM force, numbering only 20 missiles, is clearly intended as a minimal deterrent against city targets where high accuracy is irrelevant. The report fails to recognize that China, with a substantial nuclear weapons program and 35 years' experience since its first test in 1964, already has the ability to develop small thermonuclear warheads based on its own technology. Such weapons would be suitable for China's anticipated, more survivable mobile ICBM or for future MIRVed missiles if it decides to develop them. Consequently, even if Beijing did obtain the detailed blueprints for the W-88, which is pure speculation, this would not change the limited Chinese nuclear threat to the United States that has existed for almost 20 years.

    The report's feigned outrage with China's alleged efforts to steal U.S. nuclear secrets is an exercise in naivete or hypocrisy by members of Congress, who approve some $30 billion annually for U.S. intelligence activities and press for the increased use of spies. At the same time, while recognizing the pandemic nature of espionage, one cannot tolerate violations of trust by persons in sensitive positions or inadequate security practices that facilitate such actions. The report has created a cottage industry of recommendations on how to solve this difficult problem. But the answer certainly does not lie in creating insulated, Soviet-style nuclear cities where many of the brightest U.S. scientists would not work.

    U.S.-Chinese relations have been dealt a serious blow by the report's implicit message that the United States should not do business with a country that presents a serious nuclear threat to U.S. security and engages in espionage against the U.S. nuclear establishment. However, there is no reason to believe China is any more of a threat today, or will be in the foreseeable future, than it has been for many years; and the charges of espionage, if true, are only the latest manifestation of an international environment where gentlemen read each other's mail whenever possible. Since President Nixon's opening of relations with China, every U.S. president has sought to improve U.S.-Chinese relations. In the interests of U.S. security, this policy should continue to be pursued on its own merits and not be undercut by hyped assessments of the Chinese nuclear threat or espionage activities.

    If the Cox Committee is as concerned about Chinese espionage as it professes, it is puzzling that it chose to reject Spratt's proposal to recommend ratification of the CTB Treaty, which would prevent future Chinese tests from exploiting alleged purloined information. Experts agree that no rational state would risk producing thermonuclear weapons based on information, including even blueprints and full technical specifications, obtained from another state without tests, and would not rely on another country's computer codes to simulate the detonation of a device as a surrogate for actual testing. The U.S. Senate now has the opportunity and responsibility to correct this glaring omission by promptly ratifying the test ban treaty, which Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms has held hostage—to advance his own agenda—for nearly two years.

    Cox Panel Charges China With Extensive Nuclear Espionage

    THE UNITED STATES has been the victim of a sustained Chinese espionage campaign alleged to have acquired classified information on seven types of U.S. thermonuclear weapons, a bipartisan select committee from the House of Representatives reported May 25. Led by Representative Christopher Cox (R-CA), the panel of five Republicans and four Democrats released a 900-plus page declassified version of its report charging extensive—and probably ongoing—penetration of U.S. nuclear weapons labs by Chinese agents, indications that U.S. weapons technology may be used in China's strategic modernization plans, and widespread Chinese efforts to acquire U.S. dual-use technology through legal and illegal means. (Continue)

    Howard Diamond

    THE UNITED STATES has been the victim of a sustained Chinese espionage campaign alleged to have acquired classified information on seven types of U.S. thermonuclear weapons, a bipartisan select committee from the House of Representatives reported May 25. Led by Representative Christopher Cox (R-CA), the panel of five Republicans and four Democrats released a 900-plus page declassified version of its report charging extensive—and probably ongoing—penetration of U.S. nuclear weapons labs by Chinese agents, indications that U.S. weapons technology may be used in China's strategic modernization plans, and widespread Chinese efforts to acquire U.S. dual-use technology through legal and illegal means.

    The Cox Report has been subject to criticism both from members of the select committee and outside experts who have questioned the report's charges and conclusions. Beijing has vigorously denied that it engaged in any nuclear espionage and has argued that ample information on U.S. nuclear weapons is available from open sources. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said on May 27, "We have no policy of stealing from other nations and China has never stolen any nuclear secrets from any country, including America."

    Initially created in July 1998 to investigate charges that two U.S. space companies had illicitly provided technical assistance to China's ballistic missile program, the Cox panel's focus on Chinese spying in U.S. weapons labs has heightened the political significance of its report, and may lead to changes in U.S. export controls and restructuring of the Department of Energy's control over U.S. nuclear weapons labs. The Cox panel blamed the Clinton administration for responding too slowly to signs of Chinese spying, failing to disseminate information about the espionage to either Congress or the cabinet secretaries responsible for implenting U.S. export controls, and going too far in liberalizing U.S. export controls in order to help U.S. business interests.

    The three-volume Cox Report, which was unanimously approved by the select committee, addresses both legal and illegal Chinese technology acquisition programs, including nuclear espionage, purchases of U.S. high-performance computers and commercial satellites, and efforts to take advantage of gaps in U.S. export controls. Among its 38 recommendations, the Cox panel called for bolstering the Energy Department's security and counterintelligence functions, heightening the national security focus in U.S. licensing decisions for dual-use technologies to China, improving U.S. monitoring of dual-use technologies exported to China, and strengthening the multilateral Wassenaar Arrangement on dual-use exports to more closely match the level of control exercised by its predecessor, the Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM).

    Much of the public focus on the Cox Report has focused on the question of Chinese nuclear espionage and its effect on U.S. national security. When asked how the Chinese spying described in the report differed from previous instances of espionage, Cox told NBC News on May 21, "No other country has succeeded in stealing so much from the United States. And no other country having stolen such secrets has used it to design weapons that will threaten the United States."

    President Clinton thanked the Cox panel for its work on May 25, and said he agreed with "the overwhelming majority" of the report's recommendations. The president insisted that despite Chinese spying, "I strongly believe that our continuing engagement with China has produced benefits for our national security." The Clinton administration received the classified version of the Cox Report on January 2 and published its response to the panel's recommendations on February 2. Aside from pointing out that most of the alleged espionage occurred during previous administrations, the White House has limited its public dissent to the question of whether it responded with sufficient dispatch upon learning of potential Chinese spying.

    Addressing reporters May 24, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said the administration had moved quickly to deal with the question of spying at the weapons labs but said that despite all the government's investigations, "I can't point to a case where we know something was stolen, we know who did it, and we know where it went to, and we know where it came from." Lockhart said no rebuttal to the Cox Report would be forthcoming. On the question of improving security at the weapons labs, Lockhart said "there were some things in [the Cox Report] that we were already doing, but there are certainly ideas in there of how to shore up security that we have embraced and we're implementing."

    With many of the Cox Report's most serious charges directed at his department, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson asserted that well before the Cox panel was even formed, the administration was already tackling the issue of security at U.S. nuclear weapons labs. Referring to Presidential Decision Directive-61 (PDD-61), which was issued in February 1998, Richardson said, "We have taken enormously aggressive action to deal with the problem. We are fixing the problem. I can assure the American people that their nuclear secrets are safe at the labs." Richardson also cautioned against "oversensationalizing" the allegations of Chinese nuclear espionage. "There is no evidence of a 'wholesale' loss of information," Richardson said.

    Since the adoption of PDD-61, the Energy Department has adopted a 46-point security improvement plan in November 1998, a seven-point counterintelligence initiative in March, and an additional 10-part security reform package on May 11. In April, Richardson also instituted a two-week shut-down of the classified computer system in the three nuclear weapons labs to implement a new cyber-security program.

    How damaging Chinese spying was to U.S. national security remains unclear. The Cox report has been criticized by two of the panel's Democratic members, Representative Norman Dicks (WA) and Representative John Spratt (NC), as being overly dependent on conditional statements and conclusions based on worst-case scenarios. According to Spratt, "there are statements in the report that will not bear scrutiny" and that despite his objections "not all were deleted or revised, and some of the revisions are still inadequate." Dicks added, "I am certain that academics and experts in and out of government will challenge some of our worst-case conclusions."

    At the urging of the Cox panel, an assessment of the damage done by Chinese nuclear espionage was made by the U.S. intelligence community, which was subsequently reviewed by an independent panel led by retired Admiral David Jeremiah. Released on April 21, the intelligence community's "damage assessment," which the Jeremiah panel concurred with, concluded that classified information obtained by China "probably accelerated its program to develop future nuclear weapons." But the assessment concluded that, so far, Chinese nuclear espionage "has not resulted in any apparent modernization of their deployed strategic force or any new nuclear weapons deployment." While China had acquired "classified U.S. nuclear weapons information," the intelligence community assessment noted that "we do not know whether any weapon design documentation or blueprints were acquired."

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