- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2000

"Americans can be reassured," Bill Richardson said a year ago. "Our nation's nuclear secrets are today safe and secure." Well, the secretary of energy's secret is out: He and his employees apparently can't keep one, not even if Americans' lives depend on it.On Friday Mr. Richardson announced that investigators had found two computer hard drives said to contain information on nuclear weapons that experts describe as highly sensitive. Department of Energy (DOE) officials said further testing was necessary to confirm that they were the two devices missing since early May. Interestingly, searchers found them behind a copying machine in an area that the FBI had already searched twice. Their miraculous reappearance, not unlike that of Hillary Clinton's old billing records, suggests that whoever may have had the devices nervously returned them in the uproar of their disappearance.Whether their absence was a matter of espionage or of incompetence is not yet certain. What troubles lawmakers of both parties in the meantime is that there seems to have been no procedure in place to require immediate notification of top DOE officials of the problem. Nor was any system in place to track who went in and out of the secure area where the hard drives were stored. Complained Rep. Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan, "Most Americans would find it hard to believe that the public library has a more sophisticated tracking system for Winnie the Pooh than Los Alamos has for highly classified nuclear weapons data." Why have an express checkout line at a nuclear lab of all places?
Mr. Richardson says he's changed all that. Officials at Los Alamos will now have to keep track of who comes and goes in the secure area and with what. Why hadn't he foreseen the need for even library-level security? Mr. Richardson says that he failed to take into account something he refers to vaguely as the "human element," as in, "[A]ll I am saying is that what we haven't taken into account here, and this is a regret I have, is the human element, the human error."
Unless Mr. Richardson is suggesting that DOE is somehow at risk of alien espionage, the statement is almost meaningless. Most security measures are designed with "human" incompetence or espionage in mind. Try and imagine the outrage of people such as Mr. Richardson if a utility executive explained that information on the operation of a nuclear power plant had fallen into the hands of terrorists because he had failed to consider the "human element."
Mr. Richardson says he will explain himself in person to lawmakers as early as this week. He ducked an appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week, no doubt to get his "spin" straight and to avoid TV cameras. Given that America's nuclear secrets still aren't safe and secure a year after he promised they would be, one important question he should expect to answer is why he should keep his job.

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