Department of Energy:

DOE Needs to Improve Controls Over Foreign Visitors to Weapons Laboratories

RCED-97-229: Published: Sep 25, 1997. Publicly Released: Oct 31, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Department of Energy's (DOE) controls over foreign visitors to its three nuclear weapons laboratories, focusing on DOE's: (1) procedures for reviewing the backgrounds of foreign visitors and for controlling the dissemination of sensitive information to such visitors; (2) security controls for limiting foreign visitors' access to areas and information within its laboratories; and (3) counterintelligence programs for mitigating the potential threat posed by foreign visitors.

GAO noted that: (1) DOE's procedures for obtaining background checks and controlling the dissemination of sensitive information are not fully effective; (2) DOE has procedures that require obtaining background checks, but these procedures are not being enforced; (3) at two of the laboratories, background checks are conducted on only about 5 percent of the foreign visitors from countries that DOE views as sensitive; (4) GAO's review of available data from DOE and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) showed that some of the individuals without background checks have suspected foreign intelligence connections; (5) furthermore, DOE's procedures lack clear criteria for identifying visits that involve sensitive subjects and process controls to help ensure that these visits are identified; (6) as a result, sensitive subjects may have been discussed with foreign nationals without DOE's knowledge and approval; (7) DOE's security controls, such as access restrictions, in the areas most visited by foreign nationals do not preclude their obtaining access to sensitive information, and problems with the control of this information--such as sensitive information being left in an open hallway accessible to foreign visitors--have occurred at the laboratories; (8) furthermore, DOE has not evaluated the effectiveness of the security controls over this information in those areas most frequented by foreign visitors; (9) the DOE headquarters and laboratory counterintelligence programs are key activities for identifying and mitigating foreign intelligence efforts, but these programs have lacked comprehensive threat assessments, which identify likely facilities, technologies, and programs targeted by foreign intelligence; (10) such assessments are needed as a critical component of a more sophisticated security strategy that is consistent with the laboratories' more open missions; (11) furthermore, DOE could use these assessments to develop the performance measures needed to guide the laboratories' counterintelligence programs and to gauge their effectiveness; and (12) currently, DOE has not developed such performance measures or evaluated the effectiveness of its counterintelligence programs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has implemented this recommendation. On July 14, 1999, DOE issued a notice (DOE N 142.1) which supplements DOE policy on unclassified foreign visits and assignments to DOE and contractor organizations including the weapons laboratories. Among other things, the notice required background checks by the Office of Counterintelligence for all visits and assignments for foreign nationals that are citizens of, or are employed by a government or institution of, a sensitive country. According to counterintelligence officials at DOE, this notice has been implemented by the field and DOE.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should require that DOE and the weapons laboratories comply with the current foreign visitor order by obtaining background checks on all assignees from sensitive countries. Further, the Secretary should require the laboratories to inform headquarters of the names of all other proposed foreign visitors from sensitive countries so DOE's Counterintelligence Division can obtain additional background checks at its discretion.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE Notice 142.1 which addresses unclassified foreign visits and assignments was approved on July 14, 1999. This notice requires the Office of Nonproliferation and National Security will maintain and distribute the current list of sensitive subjects. This list was distributed on July 27, 1999. This list will be reviewed at least every 6 months. In addition, DOE facilities may append lists of their own comprising proprietary information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should revise DOE's foreign visitor order to: (1) clarify to all DOE and laboratory contractor personnel the specific types of unclassified, but sensitive, subjects that require protection from compromise by foreign nationals; and (2) require that the subjects of visits be independently reviewed by experts with appropriate technical backgrounds--such as laboratory individuals involved in export control issues--to verify that visits involving sensitive subjects are adequately identified for DOE's review.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE is in the process of revising its Counterintelligence order so that it establishes appropriate program performance measures and expectations for the laboratories' counterintelligence activities. This new order will be issued in late September/early October 2000. DOE has conducted one round of periodic performance reviews to help determine if laboratories' counterintelligence activities are effectively preventing foreign espionage. A second round of reviews is now starting. The specific performance measures that are being developed will be used as part of the annual performance reviews.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should establish appropriate program performance measures and expectations for the laboratories' counterintelligence activities and require periodic performance reviews to help determine if their activities are effectively preventing foreign espionage.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Two annual threat assessments have been prepared by the National Counterintelligence Center with support from the DOE. The details of these assessments are classified, but GAO can say that they will help in assessing the espionage threat to the laboratories.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should direct DOE's Counterintelligence Division to perform a comprehensive assessment of the espionage threat against DOE and the weapons laboratories to serve as the basis for determining appropriate countermeasures and resource levels for laboratory counterintelligence programs. To the extent possible, this assessment should include the laboratories as well as other agencies with appropriate expertise, such as the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE Notice 142.1 which addresses unclassified foreign visits and assignments was approved on July 14, 1999. In addition, DOE officials told us that they plan to assess security measures at the laboratory to ensure the DOE notice is being followed. They further told us that best practices will looked at to the extent feasible.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should require that security measures at each laboratory's controlled areas--those most accessible to foreign visitors--be assessed to ensure that the controls over persons and information in these areas are effective. This assessment should also identify the best practices at each laboratory to improve protection of sensitive information that may be exposed to foreign visitors.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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