- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2000

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson's performance on the Sunday morning television talk shows reminded one of a man sentenced to death and pleading for his life. In the wake of the furor unleashed by the latest security meltdown at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the former congressman and U.N. ambassador whined, blustered, admitted errors, promised to reform and begged for a stay of political execution.

While the White House professes its full confidence in him, Mr. Richardson clearly no longer enjoys that of his former colleagues on Capitol Hill several of whom publicly called over the weekend for his resignation. More importantly, the secretary does not deserve the confidence of the American people.

To be sure, Mr. Richardson can rightly claim to have implemented various initiatives to tighten up security in the DOE nuclear weapons complex. These were long-overdue and obviously needed, even before the allegations that Los Alamos physicist Wen Ho Lee may have compromised the nation's nuclear "legacy codes."

The trouble is that these steps have been wholly inadequate to correct what is increasingly being seen as a "culture" under the present administration a phenomenon that might be called the Clinton-Gore insecurity complex characterized by inattention to, if not actual hostility toward, the most fundamental principles regarding personnel, information and physical security.

In particular, Mr. Richardson has done very little to undo the "denuclearization" and "openness" agenda embraced by President Clinton's first energy secretary, Hazel O'Leary. And he has repeatedly allowed job actions to be taken against those in his department who have had the temerity to oppose them.

Mrs. O'Leary made no secret of her hostility to her department's most important function maintaining the nation's strategic deterrent and the thermonuclear weaponry that underpins it. She recruited a gaggle of anti-nuclear activists to staff senior DOE positions, some of whom remain in place today; others, like Assistant Secretary Rose Gottemoeller, have been brought in under her successors Federico Pena and Bill Richardson.

Consider a few illustrative examples of the troubling O'Leary-Pena-Richardson record at DOE:

• On April 17, 1995, President Clinton lent his authority to an "openness" initiative championed by Mrs. O'Leary, the current White House chief of staff, John Podesta, and then-National Security Council staffer Morton Halperin, with his signature of Executive Order 12958. This order called for the automatic declassification by April 17, 2000, of all documents containing historical information that are 25 years or older.

To be sure, Mr. Clinton's directive did not try explicitly to override the 1954 Atomic Energy Act, a statute designed permanently to protect nuclear weapons-relevant or "restricted" data. The practical effect of Executive Order 12958, however, has been greatly to abbreviate the time and necessarily to diminish the care with which classified documents are scrutinized prior to their release to the public.

Leading senators were horrified to learn in 1998 that Restricted Data (and "Formerly Restricted Data") governed by the Atomic Energy Act were being hastily thrown out with the bath water as officials were not being given the time or resources to declassify sensitive documents on a page-by-page basis. Instead, it had to be done by the box, if not by the shelf. Mr. Podesta, apparently infuriated at any interference with the declassification initiative, instructed Secretary Richardson to have Miss Gottemoeller reprimand a senior DOE bureaucrat, Joseph Mahaley, for encouraging Congress to intervene.

• Mrs. O'Leary banned personnel badges that clearly indicated whether the bearer had a security clearance and, if so, how high. Her reasoning: Such badges were discriminatory. She also ended the practice of requiring reports to DOE headquarters about foreign nationals from "sensitive countries" who visited the unclassified areas of the nation's nuclear weapons laboratories.

Among those who had the unenviable task of dealing with the deleterious consequences of this sort of security malpractice was Notra Trulock. Until the Cox committee's findings about Chinese espionage at Los Alamos came to light, Mr. Trulock was chief of intelligence at DOE. When his years of warning about the penetration of some of the United States' most sensitive facilities warnings that were suppressed by, among other superiors, Rose Gottemoeller, to whom the intelligence office reported until a reorganization in 1998 were publicly vindicated, Mr. Trulock was demoted and ultimately driven to leave the department.

• Then in 1999, Assistant Secretary Gottemoeller took another personnel action, this time against Edward McCallum, a retired Army colonel who headed DOE's Office of Security and Safeguards. In that capacity, he worked tirelessly to call attention, including in unclassified official reports, to the dangerous decline in the security of critical sites in the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

Apparently panicked at the mounting evidence that Mr. McCallum's heretofore unheeded alarms were becoming a serious embarrassment to the Department of Energy, Miss Gottemoeller effectively fired him in April of last year. On the basis of transparently trumped-up charges that Col. McCallum, of all people, was handling classified information indiscreetly, Miss Gottemoeller placed him in the bureaucratic equivalent of limbo on indefinite, unappealable administrative leave with pay.

• Secretary Richardson has allowed the same thing to be done to another champion of improved security practices, the Associate Director for National Security Programs at Los Alamos, Stephen Younger. By placing Mr. Younger on leave in the wake of the hard drive debacle, Mr. Richardson has falsely implied this widely respected physicist bears responsibility for the repeated failure of department officials to implement his recommended changes at the lab and for the sensitive hard drives going missing.

Removing Bill Richardson from office will not, in and of itself, bring an end to one of the most dangerous of Bill Clinton's legacies his administration's systematic misfeasance, if not malfeasance, with respect to security procedures throughout the U.S. government. It would, however, begin to establish accountability for this "insecurity complex" and set the stage for what had better be wholesale improvements under the next president.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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