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Energy Secretary Bill Richardson Testifies at Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Los Alamos Security Breaches

Aired June 21, 2000 - 10:06 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Bill Richardson now talking on Capitol Hill, Senate Armed Services Committee.


BILL RICHARDSON, ENERGY SECRETARY: In addition, the bureau also confirms finding blatant fingerprints at the crime scene and its vicinity, and on the external wrappings on the drives themselves. Now investigators are carrying out their fingerprint analysis of the actual drives.

I can also tell you that according to its latest findings, the FBI's working theory puts the loss of the drives at the tail end of March of this year, March 28th. So this, I think, should do away with some reports about six months or whatever. This time line will be further refined as the investigation continues.

The FBI continues to treat the area where the hard drives were found as a crime scene. Over the past five days, the FBI and Energy Department investigation has focused on a handful of X Division employees who have offered conflicting statements to investigators. They're also continuing to carry out fingerprinting and polygraphs to pinpoint problems or clear workers from suspicion of potential wrongdoing. I can also tell you this morning that a grand jury has been convened to examine issues related to the case.

Mr. Chairman, this new information helps clarify some details surrounding this case, and this is why I waited until this week to testify. We do not know everything, but we do know more about the case this morning.

Now, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I take a back seat to no one on issues of security. I'm outraged at what's taken place. There are no excuses. It's unacceptable and incomprehensible to me what happened. I will not rest until I know what happened, when, where, why and by whom. And while it appears that this situation evolved during a fire of catastrophic proportions, I am particularly angry at how long it took the lab to notify the department about this incident.

Per my own directive, the department is required to be informed of such problems within eight hours of its discovery. That is my policy. Instead, the contractor, the University of California, informed the department three weeks after the initial discovery. As you know, the department immediately brought in the FBI, informed the White House, advised others in the administration with a need-to-know, and shared what we know with relevant congressional committees.

I can assure you and every member of this committee that personnel will be held accountable and that disciplinary action will result from this incident, but I will not take action until I have all the facts before me. This could simply be a case of an individual who made a mistake and was terrified to come forward because they knew how seriously the department now takes security, but it doesn't matter. I will continue to deal with this incident in a very firm record.

Oddly enough, before this situation arose, some members of Congress and some in the scientific and academic communities have railed against me for being too tough on security. Obviously, too tough is what we need to be. When I assumed this job, I made security my top priority and have gone to new lengths to improve this agency's security and counterintelligence profile.

Mr. Chairman, we have implemented more than 21 major security initiatives. And by the way, I believe I have two of the best people in security and counterintelligence: Edward Curran on my left, FBI agent, breaker of the Aldrich Ames case, considered probably the best counterintelligence person in the country. On my right, my security tsar, General Gene Habiger, 4-star general, a former head of the Strategic Command.

We've implemented more than 21 major security initiatives, and I am going to go through them because I think the record needs to be put in perspective:

Requiring mandatory FBI background checks on foreign nationals from sensitive countries visiting or assigned to department facilities and all nonsensitive country foreign nationals who will have accessed and sensitive technology in areas.

Eliminating the reinvestigation backlog in security background checks for current employees and contractors holding clearances.

Developed air gaps between classified and unclassified cyber- systems to prevent classified materials downloading to unclassified systems.

Created the Office of Independent Oversight and Performance Assurance, which had been taken away by my predecessor, which consolidated the department's security-related independent oversight into one single office which reports directly to me.

We strengthened the cyber-security programs which purged departmental web sites of sensitive information, enforced new restrictions on remote access and enhanced the department's technical capability to protect its classified, sensitive and unclassified information systems from espionage and other foreign intelligence collection activity, and conducted comprehensive cyber-security appraisals and practices at all weapons labs and headquarters. In counterintelligence, we have completed 36 recommendations in the counterintelligence implementation plan. We've implemented a policy under which we're now polygraphing employees and contractors -- enormously controversial. But I did it; I did it. And we're doing it right. And I'll take the heat from everybody, including some in this room that didn't want me to do to it. We will continue doing that, polygraphing.

We hired a counterintelligence expert at each site in the complex, each who reports directly to Ed Curran, my director of counterintelligence.

We expanded the counterintelligence personnel to approximately 150 employees today. It was seven employees in 1998.

We dramatically boosted the department's counterintelligence budget to $39 million this year. In '96, the budget was $3 million.

We instituted a rigorous, independent inspection program led by former senior law enforcement and intelligence community officials, all of who have extensive counterintelligence experience. This program will ensure the compliance of the president's counterintelligence order, PDD 61, and the counterintelligence implementation plan.

We created a strategic analysis program to focus on the production of foreign intelligence and economic espionage threat assessment. We established closer and more formalized relationships with counterintelligence personnel at the FBI, CIA, NSA, ensuring improved information sharing and improved investigative analytic cooperation.

In particular, Mr. Chairman, the relationship between my department and the FBI is excellent. And I especially want to commend the men and women of the FBI for their help in this effort, and the director.

We're currently revising an order to ensure that counterintelligence performance measures are incorporated into existing contracts, along with language and corresponding incentives and disincentives.

In other words, Mr. Chairman, I can categorically say -- and maybe this is not a boast of major proportions -- that in two years I've done more on security and counterintelligence than in the past 20 years. And I think there's a record there to prove it.

I'm also very pleased with the confirmation and arrival at the Energy Department of General John Gordon. I've asked the general to immediately conduct a top-to-bottom review of our facilities at Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia national labs.

Let me just state, Mr. Chairman, General Gordon was my choice, was the president's choice, and we convened a panel of Admiral Watkins (ph), of Admiral Chiles (ph), and we picked, I believe, the best person for the job. I'm very excited about him coming. He is going to be sworn in on Monday. And I believe that he will make tremendous contributions. He will have my full support.

Let me talk about the latest security actions since we discovered this breach.

When this breach came to our attention, we immediately implemented an elevated slate of security procedures to be followed in our highest security divisions.

Let me advise you of a number of new steps we've taken in the past week. The lab has been, one, placing serial numbers on sensitive materials such as those that went missing, changing combinations to vaults, and reviewing of vault access policy including a vault stand down to ensure procedures are followed.

And the following changes will be taking place: encryption for information similar to that included on the missing disks; the manning of all vaults, and when not manned, they will be locked and alarms will be set; increased security requirements for classified encyclopedic databases similar to those included on the missing disks. We're looking for ways to handle this material in a manner as close as possible to the procedure used for top secret material.

Mr. Chairman, I don't care what previous administrations did or when an order was changed. I am ready to deal with this problem of the enhanced security in a way that we've already tightened security in that area, although there is an inter-agency process that we go through. But I don't care when it was started, what year, under what administration, I think we need to tighten it.

Inventorying all disks which have the volume of information and also having my Office of Independent Oversight inspect our facilities and make additional recommendations. As I've said, Mr. Chairman, we've got encryption, we've got the manning of all vaults. We've got increased security requirements for classified encyclopedic databases. We have moved aggressively.

As you know and you mentioned, former Senator Howard Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton are also carrying out a thorough investigation and assessment into the circumstances surrounding the security incident. This expedited assessment is being carried out separate from the FBI investigation.

I met with Senator Baker and Congressman Hamilton yesterday. They're proceeding with their review and they will have full access and my full support.

We must now wait to see what the FBI finds in its continuing investigation.

Let me deal with a larger picture, Mr. Chairman. Ultimately, we must not miss the forest for the trees. We have a larger charge from the American people, and that's our overall nuclear security. And it is a task far more complex than can be described by me or debated to satisfy in conclusion here today. It is an issue larger than all of us. And I welcome your bipartisan approach to resolving this problem. We are responsible for sustaining America's nuclear deterrent, the cornerstone of our national defense.

We're responsible for securing nuclear weapons materials and know-how at home and abroad. At home we must ensure our security measures are stringent, but also that they do not stifle the science that allows us to have the deterrent and that underpins our national security decades into the future. Abroad, we continue our nonproliferation work in countries like Russia helping those nations through economic and political transitions, and helping ensure that four decades of nuclear materials do not fall into the wrong hands.

I've taken this responsibility seriously since I was named secretary. As I outlined earlier, I have worked aggressively to improve security in counterintelligence and the climate in which they operate. The challenges of the Department of Energy have crossed decades in administrations.

But I'm not here to point fingers at the past. I'm here to give you answers. I'm here to tell you that I will keep tackling the tough problems, doing my job to make the department a better, safer place to work. And I will keep working to improve the protection guarding America's nuclear secrets.

I have sat here before you a number of times to defend my aggressive actions to increase security in counterintelligence across the Energy Department complex. I think I testified before this committee close to 10 times last year. I've never shirked my responsibility to testify before the Congress. We've changed policies. I've ordered new procedures. I've hired new experts like General Habiger, General Gordon and Ed Curran. So it's going to take time to ensure that our new measures take hold. It's a mistake to think that decades of inaction can be overcome by months of dramatic reform, but we are making progress.

Ultimately, security also will be and have to be an individual responsibility and must rely on the dedication, loyalty and patriotism of our weapon scientists, and these people must be accountable like anybody else. Individuals are, indeed, fallible and no amount of policy, no amount of legislation, will protect us from irresponsibility and human failings. We must remember that a successful security policy is one that allows you to uncover security violations. The worst security violations are the ones that go undetected.

Some have bridled at some of our new security measures. That is why we must continue to recognize the larger picture and seek to balance the best science and the best security.

Mr. Chairman, let me also say something about our nuclear weapon scientists. They're patriotic people, they're bright people, they're strong.

We have to find a way to balance science and security. We are having difficulty, because of some of these security measures, attracting the best scientists to come into our national labs. We have to be conscious of this. We have a work force, an aging work force, in our scientists, and competition from the private sector for new scientists is beating us to the best people. We have to have a balance between science and security.

But the majority of our national weapon scientists are doing their job, they're obeying the law, they're protecting the national defense, so we have to keep this issue in perspective. Those that violate the trust must be assured of swift action against them.

Mr. Chairman, we'll continue to keep you and other key congressional committees informed of further developments immediately as they become available. Now, Mr. Chairman, I'd like the lab -- John Browne, director of the lab, to proceed.

HEMMER: Opening statements from Bill Richardson. He said quite a bit there, including that a grand jury has been convened to look into the missing hard drives. In addition, saying there is no evidence of espionage at this point or evidence that the computer hard drives have been duplicated.

He said; We do know more and we are making progress, and he will not rest until the when, where and why and by whom is known.

He also talked about and described, in part, 21 new major security initiatives set in place as a result of what's happening at Los Alamos.

Bob Franken was in Los Alamos last week and over the weekend. He is on Capitol Hill listening today.

Bob, good morning to you. Opening statements one would assume senators are going to delve into a lot of questions about what was just stated there.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: One would assume, the headline perhaps out of what the secretary said was that, I'm quoting: "The FBI has now determined these are the authentic disk drives."

One of their concerns was is that somebody had copied them and left copies behind the copy machine. Of course, the operating theory here is they have not been behind the copying machine all this time, simply misplaced. They believe that they were removed.

The other thing he said that there was no evidence that the drives had ever left, I'm quoting now, "the Los Alamos X division." The X division is the high security area, the highest security area at Los Alamos on the second floor of the main building as a matter of fact, where these disk drives were kept. This highest security area, many people complain, must have been compromised somehow.

But the FBI is operating on the theory that the X division had not, in fact, ever lost those hard drives that they said there. They also went on to say they were operating on the theory that they were gone since the end of March, although there is no way of really knowing that, we're finding out, because there are no reports about the whereabouts of these hard drives since Y2K check at the end of the year, around January.

And that, of course, has been the subject of quite a bit of criticism. We are going to hear a lot more about that this morning. And as you pointed out, Bill, a grand jury is being formed. This is being treated as a crime.

HEMMER: One other issue, Bob, to follow up on all this. Bill Richardson seemed to indicate that it is possible, in his opinion, that one employee may have mistaken and put these hard drives in a place that wasn't warranted, and was just afraid simply to come forward. Is that going to fly?

FRANKEN: Well, as a matter of fact, one of the things he seemed to be suggesting is that they were protecting each other, that somebody made the kind of mistake you described, and then there was some sort of what amounts to a bureaucratic cover up, to try and keep the people out of trouble.

What he is saying is is that you can't do that. He went on to say that people have to, in fact, take care of the country, somebody had said that earlier, and not take care of each other first. And that seems to be an operating theory right now, that it might be as minor as that, except it has turned into quite a major thing of course, something that may in fact be considered a crime, which is indicated by the fact the grand jury is now investigating it.

HEMMER: All right, Bob, stand by there live on Capitol Hill. As Bill Richardson mentioned, his security adviser is now addressing that panel of senators. After that concludes the senators will have their chance at question and answer with Bill Richardson and others.



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