Index


Department of Energy: Problems in DOE's Foreign Visitor Program Persist
(Testimony, 10/06/98, GAO/T-RCED-99-19).

GAO discussed the Department of Energy's (DOE) controls over foreign
nationals who visit, or participate in unclassified activities at, DOE's
three nuclear weapons laboratories.

GAO noted that: (1) GAO found at two of the three laboratories, few
background checks were performed on visitors from countries DOE views as
sensitive; (2) as a result, visitors suspected of having foreign
intelligence connections obtained access to the laboratories without
DOE's or the laboratories' advance knowledge of these connections; (3)
visits involving sensitive subjects were not always identified; (4) some
sensitive subjects, such as the detection of unsanctioned nuclear
explosions, may have been discussed with foreign visitors without DOE's
knowledge or approval; (5) the security controls in areas most
frequently visited by foreign nationals do not preclude them from
obtaining sensitive information; (6) foreign nationals have been allowed
after-hours and unescorted access to buildings; (7) in some instances,
they have had access to sensitive and classified information; (8) DOE's
headquarters and laboratory counterintelligence programs may not be
fully effective in mitigating foreign intelligence efforts; (9) these
programs have lacked comprehensive threat assessments to focus their
efforts, as well as performance measures to evaluate their
effectiveness; (10) these problems could lead to the loss of sensitive
information to foreign countries regarded as posing a risk to our
national security or nuclear nonproliferation goals; (11) while DOE is
initiating actions to improve the management and oversight of foreign
visits to the weapons laboratories, DOE has not demonstrated a lasting
commitment to improving controls over foreign visitors; and (12) DOE's
plan to devolve the authority for approving foreign visits to the
laboratories may not be appropriate until significant recommendations
that GAO has made are addressed.

--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------

 REPORTNUM:  T-RCED-99-19
     TITLE:  Department of Energy: Problems in DOE's Foreign Visitor 
             Program Persist
      DATE:  10/06/98
   SUBJECT:  Security clearances
             Nuclear weapons plant security
             Domestic intelligence
             Aliens
             Weapons research
             Laboratories
             Foreign governments
             Atomic energy defense activities
             Classified information
             Information leaking

             
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Cover
================================================================ COVER


Before the Subcommittee on Military Procurement, Committee on
National Security, House of Representatives

For Release
on Delivery
Expected at
10 a.m.  EDT
Tuesday
October 6, 1998

DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY - PROBLEMS IN
DOE'S FOREIGN VISITOR PROGRAM
PERSIST

Statement of Keith O.  Fultz,
Assistant Comptroller General,
Resources, Community, and Economic
Development Division

GAO/T-RCED-99-19

GAO/RCED-99-19T


(141253)


Abbreviations
=============================================================== ABBREV

  DOE -

============================================================ Chapter 0

Mr.  Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

We appreciate the opportunity to discuss the Department of Energy's
(DOE) controls over foreign nationals who visit, and/or participate
in unclassified activities at, DOE's three nuclear weapons
laboratories.  These laboratories possess not only classified
information but also other sensitive information that, although
unclassified, could enhance nuclear weapons capability, lead to
nuclear proliferation, or reveal advanced technologies such as
computer systems designed for military applications.  Each year,
thousands of foreign nationals visit the weapons laboratories. 
Counterintelligence experts believe that the laboratories are targets
of foreign espionage efforts, and investigations have shown that
security has been jeopardized; however, details of these
investigations are classified. 

Concerns about security and the loss of sensitive information at the
weapons laboratories are not new, and in 1988 we reported a number of
specific problems associated with foreign visitors to these
laboratories.\1 Almost 10 years later, Mr.  Chairman, we reported
that DOE's control over foreign visitors is still ineffective, and
essentially the same problems we identified in 1988 were occurring. 
In 1997, we reported the following problems:\2

  -- At two of the three laboratories, few background checks were
     performed on visitors from countries DOE views as sensitive.  As
     a result, visitors suspected of having foreign intelligence
     connections obtained access to the laboratories without DOE's or
     the laboratories' advance knowledge of these connections. 

  -- Visits involving sensitive subjects were not always identified. 
     Some sensitive subjects, such as the detection of unsanctioned
     nuclear explosions, may have been discussed with foreign
     visitors without DOE's knowledge or approval. 

  -- The security controls in areas most frequently visited by
     foreign nationals do not preclude them from obtaining sensitive
     information.  Foreign nationals have been allowed after-hours
     and unescorted access to buildings.  In some instances, they
     have had access to sensitive and classified information. 

  -- DOE's headquarters and laboratory counterintelligence programs
     may not be fully effective in mitigating foreign intelligence
     efforts.  These programs have lacked comprehensive threat
     assessments to focus their efforts, as well as performance
     measures to evaluate their effectiveness. 

In our view, these problems could lead to the loss of sensitive
information to foreign countries regarded as posing a risk to our
national security or nuclear nonproliferation goals.  Our concerns
have been heightened by recent events in India and Pakistan.  It is
clear that these countries have successfully developed nuclear
weapons capabilities, and available evidence shows that others are
trying. 

Our reports in 1988 and 1997 made recommendations to strengthen
controls over foreign visitors.  While DOE is initiating actions to
improve the management and oversight of foreign visits to the weapons
laboratories, Mr.  Chairman, DOE has not demonstrated a lasting
commitment to improving controls over foreign visitors. 
Additionally, DOE's plan to devolve the authority for approving
foreign visits to the laboratories may not be appropriate until
significant recommendations that we have made are addressed. 

Before I discuss these issues in greater detail, I will briefly
provide some background on the activities conducted by the three
laboratories and DOE's controls over foreign visitors' access to
them. 


--------------------
\1 Nuclear Nonproliferation:  Major Weaknesses in Foreign Visitor
Controls at Weapons Laboratories (GAO/RCED-89-31, Oct.  11, 1988). 

\2 Department of Energy:  DOE Needs to Improve Controls Over Foreign
Visitors to Weapons Laboratories (GAO/RCED-97-229, Sept.  25, 1997). 


   BACKGROUND
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:1

Three DOE laboratories--the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in
California and the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Sandia
National Laboratories in New Mexico--have been the cornerstones of
the nation's nuclear weapons program for over 40 years.  These
laboratories have developed all nuclear weapons in the U.S. 
stockpile, and they continue to conduct research and development to
ensure the safety, security, and reliability of the nuclear weapons
stockpile.  Los Alamos and Sandia also have responsibilities for
producing certain weapons components.  In addition, the laboratories
conduct other defense-related activities for DOE and the Department
of Defense. 

In recent years, the laboratories have expanded their efforts to
include work that is not strictly related to defense or national
security.  They are now involved in such areas as high-performance
computing, lasers, and microelectronics.  In addition, they perform
research in such diverse areas as biomedicine, environmental
restoration, and global climate change, and they are working with
industry to develop new technologies for the commercial market. 

Because the laboratories perform such diverse activities and are
world leaders in many technologies and scientific disciplines, many
foreign scientists are attracted to them.  In addition, many foreign
scientists are invited to the laboratories to exchange information or
participate in research activities.  DOE's policy supports an active
program of unclassified visits to the laboratories.  This program
benefits DOE and the United States by stimulating the exchange of
ideas, promoting cooperation, and enhancing research efforts. 

However, allowing foreign nationals to visit the weapons laboratories
is not without risk.  These laboratories contain information that DOE
views as sensitive because it has the potential to enhance nuclear
weapons capability, lead to nuclear proliferation, or reveal other
advanced technologies.  Of particular concern is keeping this
information away from countries that DOE views as sensitive because
of concerns about national security, nuclear proliferation, regional
instability, or support for terrorism.  Accordingly, DOE has
established procedures to control unclassified visits to its
facilities.  These procedures include obtaining a national security
background check to determine if appropriate U.S.  government
agencies have information about an individual, such as an affiliation
with a foreign intelligence organization, that should be communicated
to DOE and the laboratories.  Furthermore, all visits involving
sensitive subjects or security facilities where classified work is
conducted must be reviewed and approved by DOE. 


   RESULTS OF GAO'S 1988 REVIEW OF
   THE FOREIGN VISITOR PROGRAM
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:2

Even though the Cold War was not yet over, thousands of foreign
nationals came to the weapons laboratories each year during the mid-
to late 1980s.  Between January 1986 and September 1987, an average
of over 3,800 foreign nationals visited these laboratories annually,
of whom over 500 were from countries considered to be sensitive, such
as China, India, and the Soviet Union.\3 (See app.  I.)

In 1988, we reported three significant areas of weaknesses in DOE's
controls over foreign visitors.  First, background checks were
performed for only a limited number of foreign visitors prior to
their visits.  DOE was obtaining the required background information
in advance for fewer than 10 percent of the visitors from communist
and sensitive countries.  As a result, visitors with questionable
backgrounds--including suspected foreign agents--and individuals from
foreign facilities suspected of conducting nuclear weapons activities
obtained access to the laboratories without DOE's knowledge. 

Second, DOE and the laboratories were not always aware of visits at
which sensitive subjects would be discussed.  Visits were occurring
that involved subjects, such as isotope separation and inertial
confinement fusion, that DOE specifically identified as sensitive. 
Furthermore, other visits were occurring that involved subjects that
were not specifically identified as sensitive but were nevertheless
related to nuclear weapons, such as high explosives and special
cameras to record detonations.  Consequently, information useful to
weapons programs may have been provided to foreign nationals without
DOE's knowledge. 

Third, the internal controls over the foreign visitor program were
ineffective.  For example, visits were approved by laboratory
officials without appropriate authority, the laboratories failed to
notify DOE of some visits, and security plans and postvisit reports
were not prepared.  Furthermore, DOE had no integrated systems to
collect or disseminate information on foreign visitors, and its
foreign visitor database--used to help determine trends in foreign
information-gathering activities--was incomplete. 

At an October 1988 hearing on this subject, DOE acknowledged problems
with its controls over the foreign visitor program and subsequently
set out to resolve the problems.  DOE revised its foreign visitor
order in 1989--and again in 1992--to clarify the controls,
responsibilities, and duties of all parties involved in initiating,
reviewing, and approving foreign visits to DOE facilities.  In
addition, DOE established an Office of Counterintelligence at DOE
headquarters with responsibility for, among other things, analyzing
the foreign intelligence threat and implementing appropriate policies
and procedures to meet this threat.  DOE also created an integrated
computer network for obtaining and disseminating data on foreign
visitors. 


--------------------
\3 At the time of our 1988 report, DOE made a distinction between
communist and sensitive countries.  Currently, DOE designates all
communist countries and the countries that were part of the former
Soviet Union as sensitive. 


   RESULTS OF GAO'S 1997 REVIEW OF
   THE FOREIGN VISITOR PROGRAM
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:3

With the easing of global tensions since the end of the Cold War, the
number of foreign visits to the laboratories has increased
significantly.  From 1994 through 1996, the average annual number of
foreign visitors was about 6,400.  Moreover, the average annual
number of visits by foreign nationals from sensitive countries
increased to over 1,800 during this period--an increase of more than
250 percent over the level of the late 1980s.  This increase is
attributable primarily to visitors from China, India, and former
Soviet states.  (See app.  II.)

In 1997, we reported to the full Committee on the controls over
foreign visits to the three weapons laboratories.  We found that
despite changes made by DOE since 1988, most of the problems with
controls over foreign visitors persist.  First, we found that revised
procedures for obtaining background checks had not been effectively
implemented.  In 1994, because of processing costs and backlogs, DOE
granted the Los Alamos and Sandia laboratories a partial exception to
DOE's foreign visitor order that largely avoided the requirement for
background checks for those laboratories.  Since then, background
checks have been obtained for only 5 percent of the visitors from
sensitive countries to these two facilities.  Our review of available
data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation on some foreign
visitors who were not checked by DOE showed that, as in 1988,
visitors with connections to foreign intelligence organizations were
gaining access to the laboratories without DOE and/or laboratory
officials' advance knowledge of the visitors' connections. 

Second, we found, as in 1988, that procedures for identifying
sensitive subjects lack clear criteria and controls to ensure that
visits potentially involving such subjects are reviewed by DOE. 
Although the laboratories identified 72 visits involving sensitive
subjects during the period from 1994 through 1996, other visits
occurred without DOE's review and approval that might have involved
sensitive subjects.  For example, we found that a laboratory did not
obtain DOE's approval to assign an Indian citizen from a
defense-related facility in India to a long-term project involving
the structure of beryllium compounds.  Beryllium metal is used in
nuclear weapons. 

Third, security controls, such as access restrictions, in the areas
most often visited by foreign nationals do not preclude their
obtaining access to sensitive information, and problems with the
control of this information have occurred.  We found several
instances in which sensitive and classified information was
improperly released to foreign nationals, as well as other instances
in which laboratory personnel did not follow security requirements
and controls.  For example, at one laboratory, six boxes of papers
marked "sensitive material" in red letters on the outside were left
in an open hallway accessible to foreign visitors.  Furthermore,
foreign nationals have been allowed after-hours and unescorted access
to buildings.  Finally, DOE has not evaluated the effectiveness of
the security controls over this information in those areas most
frequented by foreign visitors. 

Lastly, DOE's and the laboratories' counterintelligence programs have
lacked comprehensive threat assessments that identify facilities,
technologies, and programs likely to be targeted by foreign
intelligence.  Such assessments are needed to examine the nature and
extent of foreign espionage activities.  Furthermore, DOE has not
developed performance measures needed to guide the laboratories'
counterintelligence programs or to gauge their effectiveness. 

A number of actions have occurred since we issued our 1997 report. 
In that report, we made five recommendations intended to strengthen
DOE's controls over foreign visitors and protect sensitive
information at the laboratories.  DOE concurred with these
recommendations and is taking specific actions to implement them. 
Among other things, DOE is developing a comprehensive assessment of
the foreign intelligence threat to its laboratories and other
facilities, strictly adhering to its background check requirements,
and initiating efforts to revise its foreign visitor order to better
identify visits involving sensitive subjects and improve the
collection and reporting of data on foreign visitors.  In addition,
DOE plans to devolve to the directors of the various laboratories the
authority to approve visits by foreign nationals from sensitive
countries or visits involving sensitive subjects because
headquarters' approval has been slow and cumbersome. 

In addition, the President, in March 1998, directed DOE and others to
improve their controls over foreign visitors and the
counterintelligence program.  While most of the details of the
directive are classified, some of the unclassified actions include
placing control of the counterintelligence program under a senior
official of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and giving that
individual access to the highest levels of management in DOE and the
intelligence community.  In addition, the President directed that
goals, objectives, and performance measures be established for the
counterintelligence program and included in existing laboratory
contracts. 


   CONCLUSIONS
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:4

In 1988, and again in 1997, we identified significant weaknesses in
this program and made a number of recommendations.  They were aimed
at strengthening the controls over foreign visitors to the weapons
laboratories to prevent security breaches concerning nuclear
weapons-related information or other sensitive technologies.  The
President's directive and DOE's recent actions to improve controls
over foreign visitors appear responsive to the weaknesses we have
identified, and, if implemented, should help alleviate them. 
However, Mr.  Chairman, it is important to note that DOE agreed with
our recommendations in 1988 but never fully implemented them. 
Consequently, DOE has not demonstrated an ability to maintain a
long-term commitment to improving its controls over foreign visitors. 
Periodic congressional oversight will likely be needed to monitor
DOE's progress in, and lasting commitment to, fully implementing our
recommendations. 

Also, DOE's plan to devolve the authority for approving foreign
visitors to the laboratories in order to expedite the slow and
cumbersome approval process may not be appropriate at this time.  In
the past, when DOE gave the laboratories additional responsibilities
in controlling foreign visitors, the results were not successful.  In
our view, the solution is not necessarily to devolve responsibility
to the laboratories.  Any important action such as devolution should
be made after DOE has addressed the significant recommendations we
have made, particularly those for improving the counterintelligence
program.  Only then can DOE devise a control strategy, including the
role of the laboratories in approving foreign visitors, that will be
effective. 


-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:4.1

This concludes our testimony.  We would be pleased to respond to any
questions that you or Members of the Subcommittee may have. 


1988 GAO REPORT:  AVERAGE ANNUAL
VISITS TO WEAPONS LABORATORIES
(3,807 TOTAL)
=========================================================== Appendix I



   (See figure in printed
   edition.)

Note:  The 1988 GAO report included data on visits from January 1986
through September 1987. 

Source:  GAO/RCED-89-31. 


1997 GAO REPORT:  AVERAGE ANNUAL
VISITS TO WEAPONS LABORATORIES
(6,398 TOTAL)
========================================================== Appendix II



   (See figure in printed
   edition.)

Note:  The 1997 GAO report included data on visits from 1994 through
1996. 

Source:  GAO/RCED-97-229. 


*** End of document. ***