Here's How 'Concerned' Democrats Have Been About Our National Security

Last week I noted just one example of the Democrats’ lack of seriousness when it comes to our national security, particularly our nuclear security, and that there is much more information out there about this issue. As if on cue, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, one of several Democrats going into conniptions over the nomination of John Bolton to be UN Ambassador, offered this criticism: “Mr. Bolton has overseen this Administration’s flawed proliferation policy that has seen North Korea quadruple its nuclear arsenal and seen Iran take dangerous steps toward the development of nuclear weapons.” It’s nice to know that the Democratic Leadership is showing concern for our nuclear security, but their concern was noticeably lacking just a few years ago. For example: The nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories are under the control of the Department of Energy (DOE), as they have been since the Department’s inception. The Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratories in New Mexico were the first of the nation’s nuclear weapons labs and were commissioned by the War Department in 1943 to house the Manhattan Project. Since then, those laboratories have been targets of espionage. The National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) was created in 1999 to ensure the security of U.S. national nuclear research and nuclear secrets. In the Cox Report that was declassified in 1999, Americans learned of a massive espionage program conducted by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that resulted in the theft of virtually all of the United States’ nuclear weapons secrets from the Los Alamos labs. In 1995, United States officials had evidence to suggest that the PRC had acquired W-88 technology, which is for the United States’ most advanced nuclear warhead. Even though the DOE’s then-chief of intelligence rang alarm bells about possible Chinese espionage, nobody in the senior management of the DOE or elsewhere in the Clinton Administration seemed to care. The DOE did not put in place any mechanisms other than spot checks to prevent the removal of classified material, nor did it bother to tell the FBI that its employee, Wen Ho Lee, whom the FBI suspected of spying for China, had signed a privacy waiver which would have allowed authorities to look at his computer. Rather, senior DOE officials allowed Wen Ho Lee to continue to have access to nuclear weapons secrets long after they knew he was the FBI’s prime suspect. Later that year, then-Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary and the Office of the Vice President were briefed on the Los Alamos espionage. Then, in March of 1996, CIA Director Deutch was briefed, as was National Security Advisor Berger in April of 1996, as to the theft of the W-88 warhead information. In November of that year, Deputy Secretary Charlie Curtis, who had investigated clear indications of serious security and counterintelligence problems at the DOE, drew up a list of initiatives and met with lab directors and the head of DOE field offices to review foreign visitors and counterintelligence programs — his recommendations were ignored by DOE laboratory bureaucrats and members of the Administration, and subsequent Secretaries of Energy were never even told about his plans. Intelligence officials continued their investigations, developed a short list of suspects, and recommended a series of measures to improve security. However, top Administration officials and President Clinton stone-walled their efforts as shown by the fact that security improvements were not even submitted until the fall of 1998. One of the most disturbing allegations came from Mr. Norta Trulock, who led the counterintelligence effort for the DOE in response to the PRC espionage. He testified before a House investigative committee that he had been ordered by the acting Secretary of Energy, Betsy Moler, not to give information to Congress on the espionage matter because she thought the information would be used to criticize the Administration’s China policy. The Clinton Administration, beyond any doubt, had information showing that China had stolen the United States’ most advanced nuclear secrets, but it did not make public that information, did not give Congress that information, and did not act on that information. Instead, during this period of time President Clinton was fighting congressional efforts to pressure China to enact human rights, political, military, and trade reforms he was advocating a policy of “constructive engagement” and calling China the United States’ “strategic partner.” Also, at the same time that he knew that China had very likely stolen the plans for the W-88, President Clinton was fighting, with strong opposition from many Members of Congress who had no idea of the espionage, to loosen export controls on satellite and super-computer sales to China. Thanks to those efforts by President Clinton, China was able to build advanced guidance systems for its missiles and to deploy multiple warheads on a single rocket. The Clinton Administration’s policy apparently was designed to pump American money and technology into China to create a huge new malignant communist superpower able to threaten the United States with annihilation. Threaten it has — including when it lobbed missiles over Taiwan and warned the U.S. not to interfere if it did not want to lose Los Angeles. During all of this trial and tribulation, did the DOE implement any of the security measures suggested by Curtis? No. In fact, between the time that Curtis conducted his review for increased security in 1996 and the time that a new counterintelligence action plan was eventually submitted by Secretary Richardson in November of 1998, there was nothing but turmoil:

  • a number of Energy Secretaries and Deputy Secretaries resigned;
  • Curtis left the DOE, his security initiatives ignored;
  • Wen Ho Lee, whom some in the FBI suspected of being a Chinese spy, was moved to another position in which he was responsible for updating a computerized archive of nuclear secrets;
  • President Clinton and Attorney General Reno were briefed by National Security Advisor Berger on W-88 technology theft and evidence of other Chinese espionage operations which included the theft of neutron bomb data;
  • President Clinton publicly denied being briefed on the espionage;
  • the Department of Justice (DoJ) denied two FBI search warrant requests to search Mr. Lee’s property and denied permission for wiretaps;
  • and the FBI conducted a botched sting operation involving Mr. Lee.

As I mentioned last week, following these events, two major actions were taken. The first was the creation of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), led by former Senator Rudman, to investigate the security needs at our nuclear laboratories. The Rudman Report, “Science at its Best; Security at its Worst,” stated that the Board had found numerous problems in security and overall safety of our nuclear secrets. Upon the conclusion of the Board’s investigation two major recommendations were made:

    1) The report said, “Specifically, we recommend that the Congress pass and the President sign legislation that: Creates a new, semi-autonomous Agency . . . [to] oversee all nuclear weapons-related matters previously housed in DOE”; 2) The report recommended streamlining the DOE weapons labs’ management structure by abolishing ties between the weapons labs and all DOE regional, field, and site offices, and all contractor intermediaries. The report specifically stated, “The Department of Energy is a dysfunctional bureaucracy that has proven it is incapable of reforming itself. . . . Reorganization is clearly warranted to resolve the many specific problems with security and counter intelligence in the weapons laboratories, but also to address the lack of accountability that has become endemic throughout the entire Department. . . . [R]eal and lasting security and counterintelligence reform at the weapons labs is simply unworkable within DOE’s current structure and culture.”

The second major action was Congress’ creation of the NNSA, which was later adapted to comply directly with the PFIAB’s recommendations, but it did not happen without delays from the Clinton White House and Democratic Congressmen. Despite the fact that our most sensitive nuclear secrets were stolen by the PRC, that continued espionage was still very possible, and that the need for a new security entity was specifically called for by the President’s own advisory board, Democrats refused to support it. In May of 1999 Republicans introduced an amendment that would have reorganized the DOE to fix its security problems. Democrats filibustered that amendment. At the time, they seemed to be more concerned with deflecting blame from the Clinton team than they were with fixing the problems. They were also intent upon trying to get concessions on a few items in the Defense Authorization bill; in other words, they attempted to barter with our nation’s security. Thankfully, in June of 1999, Republicans were finally able to convince Democrats to stop making excuses and enact the needed structural reforms necessary to protect our national nuclear secrets. Under that legislation, the NNSA was created with clear lines of authority and accountability, with the overarching goal being the establishment of a clear chain of command for the Department’s nuclear security. In early June 2000, Americans learned of another massive breach of nuclear security at Los Alamos. On Monday, June 12, it was reported that two computer hard drives containing valuable nuclear weapons data and other highly sensitive information were missing from the Los Alamos National Laboratories. In total, 26 people had access to those hard drives. Press reports indicated that those hard drives contained American nuclear weapons data that the Nuclear Emergency Search Team needs to disarm nuclear devices during emergencies and intelligence information on the Russian nuclear weapons program. In early May, a giant fire was moving toward the laboratories. The DOE employees who had access to the hard drives were told to remove them so that if the laboratories were to fall victim to the fire, the information would not be lost. On May 7, those employees entered the secured area to remove the two hard drives, which were supposed to be stored in locked containers in a vault at the X-Division at the laboratories. The containers were found but the hard drives were gone and had likely been missing for months. What the 26 members of this team did after their discovery is rather interesting. They chose not notify senior officials. They simply moved to another shelf where duplicates of these hard drives were available, and they took those. To make matters worse, they did not even begin an intensive search until May 24, and, on June 11, DOE headquarters was finally informed of the missing data. The law requires that any such incident must be reported to the DOE within 8 hours, but these people waited for three and a half weeks. Would authorities ever have been notified had these people had the opportunity to make replacements? The major problem with security was the fact that the Clinton Administration was less concerned with accountability than with covering up the damage that was caused and passing the buck. Not only were there delays from Democrats in Congress, but also the Clinton White House, with a great deal of begging by Secretary Richardson, seriously delayed actions. When Congress created the NNSA Secretary Richardson did not like the idea of a new semi-autonomous agency to monitor and enforce security or the plan to streamline the DOE weapons labs management structure. In fact, he tried to get the President to veto the Defense Authorization bill which contained the NNSA language, but to no avail. Frankly, what the Secretary or the Preisdent liked or didn’t like should have become moot when the President signed the bill, but the Secretary continued to fight it, maintaining that he should keep jurisdiction over the nuclear weapons program. The President supported him by failing to nominate anyone to serve as Under Secretary of the new agency, and Secretary Richardson did virtually nothing to see that the new law was put into place. He kept asserting that he was in charge and that the President would hold him accountable for any lapses in security until an Under Secretary was nominated and confirmed. Republicans urged Secretary Richardson to cooperate and to allow Congress to put someone else in charge of setting up the new agency, but he adamantly refused because he wanted to do things his way. Well, America saw where his way led. Finally, in May 2000, President Clinton sent up the name of General Gordon to become Under Secretary for Nuclear Security, but the Senate could not vote to confirm him until mid-June. Why the additional delay? Because Senate Democrats, at the request of Secretary Richardson, were still trying to change the underlying law. They were trying to get Congress to agree to make changes in the law that were acceptable to the Energy Secretary so that he could retain overall authority. It was not until the embarrassment of the theft at Los Alamos that they at last agreed to vote on the nomination. Sadly, the incident at the Los Alamos laboratories was only part of an all-too-familiar pattern with the Clinton Administration:

  • On April 7, 1995, President Clinton declassified all nuclear information that was 25 years old or older and, in the rush to take this action, gave away a great deal of information that should not have been released.
  • On July 31, 1995, it was found that the Clinton Administration had leaked classified information on the W-87 warhead to the media.
  • The Administration overturned DOE security decisions, including by reinstating staff who had lost security clearances for compromising classified material.
  • It repeatedly harassed whistle-blowers who tried to prevent security breaches.
  • It barred the use of color-coded security badges, claiming that they are demeaning because they are discriminatory.
  • During the investigation of Chinese espionage in the Los Alamos labs, President Clinton and the DoJ rejected FBI-requested wiretaps on select espionage suspects.
  • The White House granted waivers to allow advanced missile technology to be given to China, which China then used to develop multiple warhead guided missiles — technology that was owned by the Loral Corporation, one of the largest contributors to the Clinton campaign.
  • President Clinton also ended the Coordinating Committee for Multinational Export Controls which had been set up so that the U.S. and our allies could make determinations as to what should and should not be shipped to potential adversaries.
  • In December 1999, a Russian diplomat was ordered to leave after a microphone transmitter was discovered on the seventh floor of the State Department, and a number of laptops were stolen from the State Department.
  • Former CIA Director John Deutch took classified material home on his computer, while numerous people in the White House accessed classified material without clearances.
  • Felons, including a murderer, received security clearances because one of the first things the Clinton Administration did when it came to town in 1993 was to put a hold on all FBI background checks.

The Clinton White House, in short, had a continuing disregard for protecting classified information from its inception. The Rudman Report noted, “Never have the members of the special investigative panel witnessed a bureaucratic culture so thoroughly saturated with cynicism and disregard for authority.” That, dear readers, is how concerned Democrats have been in the past about our national security. [This piece is adapted from a paper I wrote for the Senate Republican Policy Committee in June 2000.]


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