Department of Energy:

Problems in DOE's Foreign Visitor Program Persist

T-RCED-99-19: Published: Oct 6, 1998. Publicly Released: Oct 6, 1998.

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GAO discussed the Department of Energy's (DOE) controls over foreign nationals who visit, or participate in unclassified activities at, DOE's three nuclear weapons laboratories.

GAO noted that: (1) GAO found at two of the three laboratories, few background checks were performed on visitors from countries DOE views as sensitive; (2) as a result, visitors suspected of having foreign intelligence connections obtained access to the laboratories without DOE's or the laboratories' advance knowledge of these connections; (3) visits involving sensitive subjects were not always identified; (4) some sensitive subjects, such as the detection of unsanctioned nuclear explosions, may have been discussed with foreign visitors without DOE's knowledge or approval; (5) the security controls in areas most frequently visited by foreign nationals do not preclude them from obtaining sensitive information; (6) foreign nationals have been allowed after-hours and unescorted access to buildings; (7) in some instances, they have had access to sensitive and classified information; (8) DOE's headquarters and laboratory counterintelligence programs may not be fully effective in mitigating foreign intelligence efforts; (9) these programs have lacked comprehensive threat assessments to focus their efforts, as well as performance measures to evaluate their effectiveness; (10) these problems could lead to the loss of sensitive information to foreign countries regarded as posing a risk to U.S. national security or nuclear nonproliferation goals; (11) while DOE is initiating actions to improve the management and oversight of foreign visits to the weapons laboratories, DOE has not demonstrated a lasting commitment to improving controls over foreign visitors; and (12) DOE's plan to devolve the authority for approving foreign visits to the laboratories may not be appropriate until significant recommendations that GAO has made are addressed.

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