1998 Congressional Hearings
Intelligence and Security


Testimony of John C. Browne
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Hearing of the Subcommittee on Military Procurement
Committee on National Security
United States House of Representatives

October 6, 1998


It is a pleasure for me to testify before this committee as the Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory. Our mission to enhance global nuclear security consists of four main elements: stockpile stewardship, nuclear materials management, nonproliferation and arms control, and cleanup of the environmental legacy of nuclear weapons activities. When the Cold War ended, our focus shifted from the design, development, and testing of nuclear weapons to ensuring the safety and reliability of the stockpile without nuclear testing.

To accomplish our mission in the past and still today, we have had to balance the need for access to the worldís best scientific talent with the need to protect secret and sensitive information. It is this challenge that is a fundamental issue for todayís hearing.

I appreciate the opportunity to address this subcommittee on the topic of the Foreign Visitor Program at Los Alamos National Laboratory. I will describe how our Laboratory responsibly manages visits by citizens of other countries.

I would like to make two points in this testimony:

  • I am personally committed to protecting the national security secrets of this nation.
    Since becoming Director, I have implemented a number of improvements in our programs to protect national security and sensitive information that I will discuss.
  • To perform the Labís national security mission, it is vital that the Lab interacts with the best scientists in the world in order to apply the best science to our activities. We can do this and still fully protect national security secrets as well as other sensitive information.

The Foreign National Issue

Several issues are raised by the presence of foreign nationals at the DOE Defense Program (DP) national laboratories. The key questions are what is the rationale, how extensive are the visits, and how is classified and sensitive information protected?


Science and technology are thoroughly internationalized. To thrive as a scientific and technical leader, our Laboratory must be part of the international science community, and to ensure success in our national security mission, we must have the best talent. Today, the credibility of the nuclear deterrent rests on science-based stockpile stewardship, and the credibility of that program depends more than ever on the quality of science and engineering at the DOE DP laboratories. Without a continuing participation in the international scientific community, the credibility of and talent in these labs will wither. With diminished credibility and talent, our ability to respond to changes in the nuclear stockpile or to new national security challenges will be lost.

Therefore, using controls, we accommodate access by foreign nationals to our Laboratory because they are important for the continuing success of our mission. Broadly speaking, the Laboratory benefits from their participation because they:

  • contribute to important international programs where their access to the Laboratory is required for success;
  • expand the base of scientific skills at the Laboratory; and
  • strengthen the Laboratoryís scientific capabilities and reputation.

Many of our Russian visitors are associated with our nonproliferation program and are participants in the joint U.S.-Russian program associated with the disposition of large amounts of U.S. and Russian nuclear materials. The goal of this effort is to improve U.S. confidence in Russiaís ability to control and dispose of their nuclear materials. Russian weapons plutonium will be much more secure when modern technology is installed in Russia to protect and control this material through the use of sensors, other protection technologies, and advanced accountability systems. The Russians also are learning about a new U.S. technology that will convert plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons into a form that can be put under international control and confidently monitored. This technique was developed at Los Alamos and is known as ARIES, the Advanced Recovery and Integrated Extraction System. These projects could not be successful without the work of the Russian scientists in the secure area where our nuclear technology is being developed. The Russian visitors are provided escorted entry to the secure area as described in the controls section below.

Many of our foreign national employees are completing their education, most often in postdoctoral positions. These individuals frequently have learned leading-edge scientific technology in their home institutions. For example, we presently host a postdoctoral fellow from the Peopleís Republic of China who is working on radiation-resistant materials. His work is unclassified and is of a fundamental nature in understanding how these materials accommodate energetic particle exposure. He is part of a small pool of experts available worldwide who can assist us with this type of work. The pool of foreign talent in certain fields is often more abundant than the domestic pool, and in some cases, a job advertisement will not elicit any U.S. applicants.

Talented foreign scientists visiting the Laboratory help engage and renew the nationís talent pool whether they stay and continue their work at the Lab or leave for employment elsewhere. A small fraction of our foreign national employees become U.S. citizens and continue working here. As an example, a LANL postdoctoral fellow who joined the Laboratory while a citizen of Taiwan helped develop and patent a revolutionary new process that enables the commercial fabrication of electrically conductive plastic fibers. These new materials have extremely promising commercial prospects, particularly in the area of artificial muscles for robotic and medical applications, and are being brought to the marketplace by a spin-off company in Santa Fe. In recognition of his outstanding skills and future potential, the postdoctoral fellow was hired as a staff member, after becoming a U.S. citizen.

Number of Visits and Assignments

During the fiscal year ending on September 30, 1998, Los Alamos National Laboratory hosted almost 3,000 foreign national visitors and assignees. These visits included everything from brief semi-public tours to regular paid employment. Approximately one-third of these visitors were from sensitive countries.

At the end of September, 468 foreign nationals were Laboratory employees, including 196 from sensitive countries. About half of the foreign national employees are in educational programs, mostly postdoctoral. More summary data are given in Table 1.

Table 1. FY98 Foreign Visitors and Assignments from Sensitive and Nonsensitive Countries

Sensitive Countries










Open 277 364 115 177 933 1,919 2,852
Secure 1 86 1 0 88 40 128
TOTAL 278 450 116 177 1,021 1,959 2,980

Foreign visitor entry to secure areas requires DOE/HQ approval and implementation of special controls, and does not imply access to classified information, as I will discuss below.

Numbers for total foreign visitors show an upward trend over the last four years. Table 2 provides a summary of this trend. I will address our response to this trend later in this testimony.

Table 2. FY95-98 Foreign Visitors by Year from Sensitive and Nonsensitive Countries


Sensitive Countries

Year China Russia India Other Total Total TOTAL
1998 278 450 116 177 1021 1,959 2,980
1997 259 424 148 139 970 2,047 3,017
1996 208 395 125 150 878 1,615 2,493
1995 220 287 114 114 735 1,396 2,131


Los Alamos National Laboratory occupies approximately 43 square miles containing over 2,200 structures. During the Manhattan Project, all of Los Alamos was a secure area. In February 1957, the city and some Laboratory areas were opened and made accessible to the public. Today, much of Los Alamos National Laboratory is relatively accessible for unclassified research; however, there are still many tightly controlled secure areas in the Laboratory where national security work is performed.

Simply stated, our basic policy, consistent with U.S. laws, is that access to classified information by foreign nationals is not allowed. Any exception requires DOE/HQ approval for an overriding programmatic requirement such as government-to-government agreements.

All foreign visits and assignments at the Laboratory are governed by DOE requirements. From these requirements, the Lab develops the protection methodology and procedures. Our methodology uses a multi-layer protection approach consisting of combinations of administrative and physical controls. The number of security layers is higher for foreign visitors from sensitive countries and foreign visitors to secure areas.

Visits to Open Areas

In the many square miles of Laboratory land and the hundreds of Laboratory buildings that have no classified materials, only administrative controls are used for visitor entries. The universal requirement is that the visitor has a responsible host, is positively identified, and is badged (with a photo badge for foreign visitors). If the visitor is from a sensitive country, a security plan is also required. The data on foreign visitors are collected in databases and are reported to the appropriate government agencies and Laboratory organizations.

Visits to Secure Areas

For visits to secure areas, additional layers of physical and administrative controls are employed to protect classified information. These layers include additional management review by both DOE and the Laboratory, site-specific and visitor-specific security plans, more stringent escort requirements, removal of classified materials before entry, ìuncleared visitorî signs, continuous physical control over the visitorís movements, and comprehensive counterintelligence briefings for all personnel involved in the visit. These requirements are in addition to the existing physical security controls (enclosures and armed protective forces) for classified materials.

Sensitive Unclassified Information

There are several kinds of sensitive unclassified information for which we provide various levels of required administrative and physical protection. Limiting each visitorís access to specific buildings and to open computer systems provides additional protection of this information from unauthorized access by foreign nationals. Implementation of administrative controls is through the hostís supervision of the visitor, but can also include physical entry controls where required.

Cyber Security

Access to classified information on computers by foreign nationals is prevented by several methods. Our classified and unclassified computing environments are kept physically separate. Data transfer of classified information is both administratively and technically protected.

In the sensitive unclassified environment, both technical and administrative controls are placed on sensitive unclassified information residing on computers.

Network security is undergoing continuous evaluation, and necessary enhancements are implemented regularly. For example, in response to changing threats to Laboratory information resources from Internet users, we recently made a management decision to place the entire unclassified computing environment behind a restrictive firewall. This change means, for example, the replacement of static passwords with dynamic one-time passwords from a ìsmart cardî to provide another layer of protection. Other significant security enhancements are provided with this change as well, including enhanced hacker monitoring, and use of encryption. When a new Laboratory network server is installed, the institutional default will be that the system be behind this firewall to prevent unauthorized access unless the Laboratory owner can establish that the system will not handle sensitive information and is required to be truly ìopenî for programmatic reasons.


In recent years, Los Alamos National Laboratory has made a number of improvements in our handling of foreign visits. Let me highlight a few of the measures that the Laboratory has implemented to deal with the trend of increasing foreign visitors:

  • We have created a new Counterintelligence Office that reports directly to my office with full access to me. We have concluded the interviewing for a top-flight leader for our counterintelligence organization, and I will make a selection soon.
  • We have increased the counterintelligence staff and foreign visitor staff by 2.5 to 7 persons, and in the past four years the number of counterintelligence defensive briefings and debriefings to our employees has quadrupled to 382 in FY98.
  • We have initiated a policy whereby no sensitive country visits or assignments (excluding bilateral agreements) can occur in laboratory organizations whose principal mission is nuclear weapons. Exceptions require approval of my Associate Laboratory Director for Nuclear Weapons. There have been no exceptions since the policy was implemented in June, 1998.
  • Beginning in July 1998, several divisions (representing a couple of thousand employees) had all-day security standdowns. During this security awareness, employees received training and reviewed security policies and procedures with particular emphasis on counterintelligence.
  • The counterintelligence program has been made more accessible to employees. For example, local web sites are being developed to enhance employee access to information, and our employees are receiving more briefings on counterintelligence issues by the DOE, CIA, and NSA.

Concluding Remarks

I am extremely enthusiastic about the opportunity to lead our great Laboratory as we move into the next century. My personal goal as Director is to create an atmosphere of innovation and productivity that attracts and retains the best people and leads to the successful accomplishment of our mission while still protecting national security and other sensitive information. Success will leave a legacy that can serve as the basis for future contributions to the nation in the next century.

Visits by foreign scientists are an important part of creating the kind of Laboratory I believe is needed. I recognize, however, that a special responsibility is attached to hosting such visitors at a nuclear weapons laboratory.

The U.S. has led the world in science for many decades. In many areas, we still do. But we are a small fraction of the worldís population. Other nations are investing in science and technology and are producing excellent results. Our national security depends significantly on ensuring that U.S. technology is at the forefront. To do that, we must interact with the international scientific community to identify those advances that could impact national security. We must avoid technological surprises that might compromise our national security. We cannot do that if we work in isolation or under unnecessarily restricted interactions with other scientists.

While working with foreign scientists and engineers, we must protect classified and sensitive information. The GAO reports and the DOE reviews have sharpened our attention to the need for improvements in the way we handle foreign visitors. Although we have made many improvements, we see the need for more, and we are continuing to work on them.

In summary, Los Alamos National Laboratory will handle foreign visitors with controls that will allow us to receive the benefits of their visits while avoiding the problems that have been identified by the reviews of the GAO and DOE. Some of the steps planned will take increased resources, and we look forward to the support of the Congress as the DOE and Labs put in place the planned improvements.