Science at Its Best, Security at Its Worst

Arms Control Today, June 1999 | Go to article overview

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.

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 page 21.) 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 farreaching 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.


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. …

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