Nuclear Nonproliferation:

Better Controls Needed Over Weapons-Related Information and Technology

RCED-89-116: Published: Jun 19, 1989. Publicly Released: Jul 21, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the Department of Energy's (DOE) controls over unclassified nuclear weapons information and technology developed by its three weapons laboratories.

GAO found that: (1) of the 39,000 reports DOE produced in 1986 and 1987, 60 percent were available to the public; (2) 68 percent of recipients of 30 randomly selected reports were from overseas; (3) between October 1985 and December 1987, the laboratories recorded over 2,000 data requests and honored about 1,700; (4) DOE did not require laboratories to track the number of requests or the information provided and had no systematic method to determine the information that proliferation-risk countries obtained from the laboratories; (5) one of the laboratories developed a system to track direct requests, but only one of the other two laboratories provided such information; (6) the laboratories lacked DOE guidance for identifying whether specific technological or programmatic material met criteria as unclassified controlled nuclear information under a 1981 legislative mandate; (7) DOE was exempt from most controls that effectively regulated the private sector's export of nuclear-related technology and information; (8) DOE questioned its authority to restrict dissemination of unclassified information without specific legislation exempting export-controlled information from Freedom of Information Act requests; (9) proliferation-risk countries routinely obtained U.S. hardware that had both nuclear weapons and commercial applications; and (10) foreign countries circumvented U.S. export controls over materials, including sensitive computer codes, by obtaining them through other foreign countries which did not adequately control export of U.S. material.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE is developing a new system, the Sensitive Country Information Logging System, for the weapons laboratories to collect data on the information provided to foreign sources. The system will not, however, contain information on all foreign requests or the disposition of them.

    Recommendation: To help minimize the risks associated with the free dissemination of unclassified but sensitive nuclear-related information and better protect national security, the Secretary of Energy should require the laboratories to track foreign requests for information and institute an effective oversight measure to ensure that they do so.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has developed several internal UCNI guidelines and is near completion of several topical guidelines. According to a DOE official, this will be an ongoing activity because periodically DOE will review and revise the guidelines as needed.

    Recommendation: To help minimize the risks associated with the free dissemination of unclassified but sensitive nuclear-related information and better protect national security, the Secretary of Energy should complete and issue guidance to the weapons laboratories for use in identifying and limiting the dissemination of unclassified controlled nuclear information (UCNI) in accordance with the 1981 congressional mandate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has instructed the laboratories to provide all unclassified, weapons-related computer codes to the National Energy Software Center in accordance with DOE Order 1360.4A.

    Recommendation: To help minimize the risks associated with the free dissemination of unclassified but sensitive nuclear-related information and better protect national security, the Secretary of Energy should require the laboratories to send, and refer requests for, all computer codes to the National Energy Software Center.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE agrees that a legislative exemption could be an effective tool to control information dissemination. The DOE Office of the General Counsel is considering this matter.

    Recommendation: To help minimize the risks associated with the free dissemination of unclassified but sensitive nuclear-related information and better protect national security, the Secretary of Energy should seek a legislative exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for unclassified data categorized by DOE as export-controlled information.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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