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Albuquerque Tribune
July 11, 2000

Top nuclear labs officials agree
security openness has gone too far

by Lawrence Spohn

The heads of the nation's three nuclear weapons laboratories today told Congress that recent security lapses are partly the result of a decade-long relaxation of security procedures, part of the Department of Energy's openness initiative.

After committee witnesses from the General Accounting Office detailed an extensive list of modified DOE security rules over the past 10 years, DOE witnesses and the lab officials acknowledged that the declassification movement had gone too far and that rules governing accountability and the control of documents have to be reinstated.

Testifying before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Commerce Committee, the lab directors, including two from New Mexico, detailed a series of DOE and lab steps that began in 1990 to reduce or even eliminate specific accountability and control of secret documents within the labs.

In the wake of a series of security problems at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the lab directors said they are in agreement that pre-1990 security rules need to be reinstated immediately, and they detailed ongoing efforts at the labs to do that in recent weeks.

But openness advocate Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists suggested to the committee that the "great mass" of secret information is the problem.

He warned lawmakers about the possibility of a backlash against declassification of information that no longer needs to be secret, and questioned how well the pre-1990 rules were followed.

He cited a 1990 government investigative report, issued well before DOE began relaxing security rules, that found "over 5,000 secret documents were missing and could not be accounted for."

"Declassification is not the problem, but part of the solution," he said, arguing that classified information needs to be whittled down to "a manageable level."

Referring specifically to the recent revelation that two classified computer hard drives were temporarily missing at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Director John Brown said that the lab, management contractor the University of California and the DOE are responsible for ensuring that classified information is uniformly protected according to detailed procedures and controls.

In extensive written testimony submitted to the committee, he detailed a long, twisted history of security rules changes instituted by the DOE since 1990 that have sent the wrong message to nuclear weapons scientists.

He said history is not an excuse for the lab and its employees not taking their security obligations seriously, but he asked the committee not to hold all of the lab's employees accountable for the lax actions of a few.

There is plenty of blame to go around for security problems at the nation's three nuclear weapons laboratories, said Paul Robinson, president of Sandia National Laboratories. That nuclear weapons engineering lab was recently singled out by DOE's security czar as the most improved and best lab at addressing computer security problems.

In his testimony, Robinson said, "We are all culpable across the government" for the relaxation of "security standards since the end of the Cold War."

He commended Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, who has been hammered by members of Congress in recent weeks for continuing security lapses, particularly at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Robinson noted that he had been in the nuclear weapons security realm for 32 years and said he could "validate" that Richardson has done more than any previous secretary to tighten and improve security within DOE and at the nuclear weapons labs.

Security in depth is needed because of the likelihood of human error, including "mental lapses," Robinson said, adding that computer or "cyber security" is particularly challenging and represents a new and continuing threat.

Copyright 2000 Albuquerque Tribune

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