Nuclear Nonproliferation:

Major Weaknesses in Foreign Visitor Controls at Weapons Laboratories

RCED-89-31: Published: Oct 11, 1988. Publicly Released: Oct 11, 1988.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the: (1) extent to which foreign nationals participated in activities at the Department of Energy's (DOE) weapons laboratories; and (2) effectiveness of DOE controls for identifying those that pose a security or proliferation risk.

GAO found that: (1) DOE generally did not follow its own requirements and obtain background information on foreign visitors from communist or sensitive countries; (2) although 176 of the 181 communist visitors that GAO reviewed required background checks, DOE did not obtain this data for 119 and completed only 6 checks before the visit; (3) DOE inadequately used other available information to prescreen visitors from foreign organizations suspected of nuclear-weapons-related activities; (4) DOE did not identify and review all visits that involved sensitive weapons-related subjects; (5) DOE did not enforce various internal control requirements for approving, monitoring, and reporting foreign visits; and (6) DOE did not have an integrated information system or conduct reviews of the foreign visitor program.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE concurred in part with this recommendation. For example, DOE: (1) requires that indices checks be completed for some foreign visits and assignments; (2) has provided the watch list to field offices and weapons laboratories to evaluate sensitive country visits; and (3) has expanded the sensitive subject list and will train personnel to identify these subjects.

    Recommendation: In order to prevent security breaches concerning nuclear-weapons-related information, DOE needs to improve its management of foreign visits and assignments to its weapons laboratories. The Secretary of Energy should revise the order controlling foreign visits and assignments to: (1) require that indices checks are completed prior to admitting a foreign national to a weapons laboratory; (2) require the use of additional criteria, such as the watch list, to identify potentially sensitive visitors that require additional scrutiny; and (3) expand the sensitive subjects list to include additional areas that could be useful to adversary or proliferant nations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE concurred with this recommendation and has actions underway to develop an integrated data collection and dissemination system.

    Recommendation: In order to prevent security breaches concerning nuclear-weapons-related information, DOE needs to improve its management of foreign visits and assignments to its weapons laboratories. The Secretary of Energy should establish an integrated data collection and dissemination system to provide DOE and the laboratories timely and pertinent information to use when approving foreign visits.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE concurred with this recommendation and tasked the Office of Security Evaluations to review foreign visit controls and plans to have its field offices conduct periodic assessments to ensure compliance with DOE Order 1240.2A.

    Recommendation: In order to prevent security breaches concerning nuclear-weapons-related information, DOE needs to improve its management of foreign visits and assignments to its weapons laboratories. The Secretary of Energy should require periodic evaluations of field office and laboratory compliance with the requirements of the DOE foreign visit and assignment order.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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