Department of Energy:

National Security Controls Over Contractors Traveling to Foreign Countries Need Strengthening

RCED-00-140: Published: Jun 26, 2000. Publicly Released: Jun 26, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Department of Energy's (DOE) national security controls for its contractor employees' foreign travel, focusing on: (1) the types of foreign intelligence-gathering incidents that have occurred during foreign travel by contractor employees; (2) the DOE controls that apply to foreign travel by contractor employees; and (3) areas where these controls can be strengthened.

GAO noted that: (1) the threat of foreign intelligence interests' targeting laboratory travellers is well founded; (2) during fiscal years 1995 through 1999, DOE counterintelligence officials and records identified over 75 incidents of attempted espionage by foreign nationals against travellers from the four laboratories GAO reviewed; (3) these foreign nationals used a variety of methods, including the elicitation of information from travellers, offers of sexual favors to travellers, surveillance of travellers' movements, searches of travellers' hotel rooms and belongings, electronic interception of telecommunication systems, eavesdropping on or the recording of travellers' activities, and the monitoring of travellers' conversations and behavior through interpreters; (4) for example, a number of laboratory travellers' computers were tampered with or broken into while left in hotel rooms in foreign countries; (5) in other cases, eavesdropping equipment was observed in conference rooms; (6) DOE and its laboratories have instituted several national security controls over official foreign travel by laboratory employees; (7) they include threat assessment and analysis provided by DOE's Office of Counterintelligence, security and counterintelligence awareness training, a review and approval process for foreign travel requests, face-to-face or written pretravel briefings, a classification review of publications or presentations, face-to-face or written post-travel debriefings, and trip reports prepared by the traveller; (8) all official contractor travel is subject to these controls; (9) GAO identified several areas where existing controls over foreign travel can be strengthened; (10) for example, some travellers may not be receiving the necessary preparation to recognize and thwart espionage efforts; (11) foreign travel controls generally focus on travel to "sensitive" countries--those countries considered by DOE to be a risk to national security like Russia and China; (12) GAO found that travellers to nonsensitive countries often confront similar types of incidents as travellers to "sensitive" countries because foreign intelligence entities can operate worldwide; (13) only one laboratory of the four GAO reviewed requires foreign travel requests to be reviewed and approved by counterintelligence officials, and only two require foreign travel requests to undergo an independent subject-matter review for sensitive information; and (14) these reviews add value because, as a result, some trips were cancelled or modified to avoid problematic situations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On August 19, 2003, DOE approved Order 551.1B, which superseded Order 551.1A. The August 2003 Order tightened DOE's oversight of foreign travel by requiring that official foreign travel requests are submitted to the responsible program Secretarial Officer or Deputy Administrator, NNSA, funding the travel for final approval, or if there is no DOE funding, submitted to the official having programmatic responsibilities associated with the requested travel. Order 551.1B also tightened DOE's oversight of official foreign travel by requiring that appropriate prebriefings are provided for all employees 30 calendar days before the start of official foreign travel and debriefings are provided upon return.

    Recommendation: In order for DOE to strengthen its national security controls over foreign travel, the Secretary of Energy should establish procedures to ensure that DOE and the laboratories apply their resources to the oversight of travel to nonsensitive countries commensurate with the risks associated with such travel.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE concurs that actions must be taken to ensure counter-intelligence involvement in the review and approval process of foreign travel. In the aftermath of September 11, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the nuclear weapons operations of DOE, has undertaken an extensive review of all security regulations. This was completed in early 2003. According to DOE officials, requirements are in place at the weapons laboratories which require review and approval of all foreign travel by counter-intelligence officials.

    Recommendation: In order for DOE to strengthen its national security controls over foreign travel, the Secretary of Energy should require review and approval by counterintelligence officials at all of the laboratories as part of the foreign travel review and approval process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE concurs that an independent subject-matter review of foreign travel requests has value in preventing potentially compromising situations and could mitigate the risks associated with foreign travel. DOE supports this type of review. The National Nuclear Security Administration, the weapons operation part of DOE, will be responsible for implementing this recommendation. The Administration has initiated a review of all security regulations. This review has been completed. According to DOE officials, requirements are in place to ensure that subject-matter reviews of foreign travel requests are occurring.

    Recommendation: In order for DOE to strengthen its national security controls over foreign travel, the Secretary of Energy should institute a subject-matter review for sensitive information and information of proliferation-related concern by independent technical experts at all of the laboratories as part of the foreign travel review and approval process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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