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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 44, March 2000

US National Nuclear Security Administration Begins Operation

The recent established National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous body within the US Energy Department responsible for the security dimension of the Department's nuclear weapons programmes and facilities, began operations on March 1. The NNSA is already proving doubly controversial, with Department wariness that it will impede the successful and coordinating operation of the nuclear weapons programme more than matched by Congressional concern that the Department is seeking to control, rather than be supervised by, the body.

On March 2, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson named General John A. Gordon as his nominee to serve as the NNSA's first Director and Under Secretary for Nuclear Security. According to a Department press release, General Gordon, whose nomination was generally welcomed in Congress, "has a long and distinguished career in the national security arena from weapons development to long range planning, from stockpile management to arms control, from working as a physicist at Sandia National Laboratories to serving as the second ranking official in the entire intelligence community."

The same day, Richardson set out his view of how the NNSA can best be made to operate in testimony to a House Armed Services Committee largely dubious about his motivations. Dealing with an area of especial concern, Richardson was bluntly unapologetic about his commitment to 'double hatting', or giving senior officials dual posts in the both the Department and NNSA:

"While we are implementing the law, you should know that I still have concerns about how the NNSA was designed in last year's legislation. My main focus this year will be seeking new language which allows the Secretary of Energy to manage all personnel within the NNSA. This power was provided in the Senate-passed version of the bill, but dropped in conference. The President and Congress hold the Secretary of Energy accountable for his or her actions. At the very least the law should allow the Secretary to manage personnel in the NNSA in the fashion he determines necessary. Otherwise, we will end up exacerbating…institutional isolation and arrogance…

I understand the Committee has concerns about…the dual hatting of officials… [T]he positions that have been dual hatted are relatively few - the January 1, 2000 report to the Congress identified a total of nine positions… Over the past two months, as our Implementation Task Force has gotten into the fine detail..., we have identified an additional 7 to 10 positions that needed to be dual hatted as of March 1.

Six of those officials perform quasi-judicial roles within the Department - the Board of Contract Appeals, the Office of Hearings and Appeals, the Department's Ethics Officer, and the Civil Rights Officer. … Rather than appoint a whole new set of individuals to perform these functions within the NNSA, these officials are 'dual hatted' so that they can continue to serve the entire Department. …

Other issues involving environmental, health and worker safety oversight, security and counterintelligence may arise as the NNSA matures as an organization. … Let me be clear: I will not implement the NNSA law in a way that undermines the tremendous progress the Department has made in these areas."

On March 15, Deputy Energy Secretary T. J. Glauthier told the Committee simply: "This legislation was not ideal, in our opinion… We want to make the best of what we have." With reference to dual hatting, Cliff Stearns (Republican - Florida) angrily asked Glauthier: "The Department appears to be violating the semi-autonomous intent of the law in order to comply with its implementation. You're not breaking the law, are you?" Glauthier replied by describing dual hatting as "well within the statute."

Also on March 15, the Chair of the House Commerce Committee, Tom Bliley (Republican - Virginia) introduced legislation aimed at consolidating independent supervision and administration of the nuclear weapons programme national security dimension. According to Bliley: "The bill that I am introducing today will help to change the oversight mission within DOE. It establishes…an Office of Independent Security Oversight, which reports directly to the Secretary of Energy, and whose Director may not be subordinated to any other Department official. To ensure independence, the bill will prohibit the Secretary from directing or interfering with the work of this Office."

The political context for the establishment of the NNSA was the scandal over alleged Chinese espionage in the Department's nuclear laboratories. The only arrest made so far, on charges not including espionage, is that of Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, a Taiwanese-born US citizen currently remanded in custody pending a trial set to open on November 6. On February 29, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver denied Dr. Lee's request for bail on the grounds that seven computer tapes which remain unaccounted for. In the dramatic words of the Court's ruling: "Experts testified that if these tapes fell into the wrong hands, it would 'change the strategic global balance.'" In an earlier (February 23) submission to the Court, Dr. Lee's defence lawyers stated: "Dr. Lee expects to establish at trial…that the computer codes and other information in the files and on the tapes, far from being carefully protected 'crown jewels', as the Government contends, were readily available in open literature, much of it published with the knowledge and approval of the national laboratories and the federal Government."

Note: a NNSA website is now in operation at http://www.nnsa.doe.gov/

Reports: Fired US scientist to argue data was public, Reuters, February 23; Scientist's no-bail ruling upheld, Associated Press (AP), February 29; Prepared testimony, Secretary Bill Richardson, House Armed Services Committee, March 2, 2000, see http://www.doe.gov/news/testimon/nnsatestnice.htm ; General John A. Gordon selected to head National Nuclear Security Administration, US DoE Press Release R-00-056, March 2; CIA official tapped for nuke agency, AP, March 3; Bliley introduces bill to increase security at DOE, PR Newswire, March 15; Few satisfied with nuclear changes, AP, March 15.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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