|Unprecedented Joint Hearing Examines SecurityAt Doe Weapons Labs |
Unprecedented Joint Hearing Examines Security
At Doe Weapons Labs
Lawmakers discuss Rudman report on weapons labs security
Source: Washington File, USIA. Washington June 23, 1999.
Text: USIA Staff Writer
Washington -- The security situation at the U.S. Department of Energy's weapons labs is in bad shape. Or, if you prefer, things have been getting better since the new team took over.
Those were the conflicting messages given at a first-ever joint hearing of four Senate committees June 22 on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board's report on security problems at the Department of Energy. Thirty-two senators participated in the hearing.
Criticizing security at the labs was former U.S. Senator Warren Rudman, now chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
Members of the Governmental Affairs, Select Intelligence, Energy and Natural Resources, and Armed Services Committees listened carefully as he outlined security failures at the weapons labs in a report titled "Science at its Best, Security at its Worst."
Nothing is more important for America's long-term national security, said Rudman, than the security of its nuclear secrets. "And that security has been atrocious for a long time," he said.
"How can it be it took less than three years for this country to construct the first atomic bomb at Los Alamos, but it took in the last several years, four years, for someone to fix a lock on a door protecting nuclear secrets," Rudman told senators. "It's pathetic," he said.
One employee, Rudman noted, had said the DOE "was about as well organized as the Titanic in the eleventh hour."
The report, Rudman said, "finds that the Department of Energy is badly broken, and it's long past time for half-measures and patchwork solutions.
"It's time to fundamentally restructure the management of the nuclear weapons labs and establish a system that holds people accountable," he said.
"We found evidence and heard testimony that was appalling in six critical areas: security and counterintelligence management and planning, physical security, personnel security, information security, nuclear materials accounting and foreign visitors," Rudman said.
"We can, and we should, demand absolute accountability," Rudman said.
"I want to be clear," Rudman said, "nothing we say in this report is intended as criticism of the scientific research and development at the laboratories.
"Nor do we want to do anything to undermine their effectiveness," he stressed.
"We want to improve their security, their counterintelligence, and the accountability that allows them to continue to do their job," Rudman said, acknowledging that "maintaining security and strong counterintelligence at the weapons labs, even under ideal circumstances, is challenging."
Even in the current uproar over the Cox Committee Report, Rudman said, his board "found as late as last week business as usual at some level at the labs."
In spite of Secretary Richardson's best efforts, Rudman said, there was still "incomplete implementation of certain computer security measures, and we believe foot-dragging on implementation of a good polygraph program."
If the current scandal, Rudman said, "plus the best efforts of Bill Richardson are not enough, only a fundamental and lasting restructuring will be sufficient.
"I would agree, it is up to the Congress to decide what that restructuring is," Rudman said, adding, "it should be done carefully, and it should be a measured approach."
Rudman urged the senators "to decide first what you want to do.
"Do you want to have a departmental reorganization embodied by a statute, or do you want it semi-autonomous," he asked.
"Once you decide that it seems to me that there are enough knowledgeable staff and senators and members of the House," to draw up the necessary legislation, he said.
Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Bill Richardson gave the Clinton Administration's position to both skeptical and supportive lawmakers.
The Rudman report, Richardson acknowledged, "is good, it's thorough, it's hard-hitting, it outlines the problem.
"We are prepared to accept close to 90 percent of its recommendations right away," he said.
But, Richardson urged, "It is very important that we not build the Berlin Wall between our science and our defense and nuclear programs."
Senator Frank Murkowski (Republican of Alaska), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources, chaired the joint hearing, and, while sympathetic to Richardson, in an opening statement quoted from the Cox Report on Chinese nuclear espionage at the weapons labs, that "'organizational disarray, managerial neglect and a culture of arrogance, both at the DOE headquarters and the labs themselves, conspired to create an espionage scandal waiting to happen.'"
Never before, said Murkowski, "have the members of the special investigative panel witnessed a bureaucracy, a 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 and the design information relating to nuclear weapons," the Alaskan senator said.
"Particularly egregious have been the failures to enforce cyber security measures to protect and control important nuclear weapons design information," Murkowski emphasized.
"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," Murkowski charged.
Looking at the embattled Energy Secretary, Senator John Warner (Republican of Virginia) told Richardson, "I think that you have done as best you can given that you didn't create the problem -- you inherited it."
The problem was not so much China stealing America's state secrets, Warner said, rather the lack of effort to protect vital national security secrets.
"My own view," Warner said, "in the 21 years I have been in the Senate and served on the Intelligence Committee as former vice chairman, we are aware as a nation that all nations to one degree or another are involved in trying to determine the secrets of another.
"In this case it seems to me," the long-time defense advocate said, "that to the extent China was behind this, and the evidence is mounting, it is like the burglar that entered the house and there the jewelry and the cash were left out on the bureau. Little more than a flashlight was needed to remove it and to depart," Warner said.
"And that's what we have got to protect this nation from ever happening again, whether it's China or any other nation seeking to get our secrets" Warner said.
The government, said Senator Joseph Lieberman (Democrat of Connecticut), "cannot tolerate either a culture or an organizational framework that does not put appropriate emphasis on safeguarding the security of our nation's most precious secrets -- secrets that we have invested billions of dollars to develop and that are critical to our security."
While a generally bipartisan spirit informed the hearing, Senator James Inhofe (Republican of Oklahoma) made the point that it was during the Clinton Administration that the transfer, presumably to China, of the "legacy codes" containing data on "50 years of U.S. nuclear weapons development, including over 1,000 nuclear tests" occurred.
Inhofe scored the Administration for "the sale and diversion to military purposes of hundreds of high performance computers, enabling China to enhance its development of nuclear weapons ballistic missiles and advanced military aviation equipment."
He criticized the "compromise of nuclear warhead simulation technology, enhancing China's ability to perfect miniature nuclear warheads without actually testing.
"The compromise of advanced electromagnetic weapons technology useful in the development of anti-satellite and anti-missile systems," Inhofe said, "all these happened during the Administration."
"The transfer of missile nose-cone technology enabling China to substantially improve the reliability of its inter-continental ballistic missiles; the compromise of space-based radar technology, giving China the ability to detect our previously undetectable submerged submarines," Inhofe said, were the fault of the Clinton Administration, including "the transfer of the missile guidance technology that allows China to substantially improve the accuracy of its missiles."