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Burden of Proof

Los Alamos Hard Drives Case: Have America's Nuclear Secrets Been Jeopardized?

Aired June 20, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET



KEVIN ROARKE, LOS ALAMOS LAB SPOKESMAN: We're obviously very relieved and pleased that the hard drives have been located, but at the same time, still very concerned that this incident happened at all.

REP. PORTER GOSS (R-FL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: This is not joking or laughing matter. This is serious stuff that could do serious damage to the United States of America, its allies, innocent bystanders, Americans home and abroad in the wrong hands, and there are lots of wrong hands out there.

BILL RICHARDSON, ENERGY SECRETARY: I want to assure the American public that we're going to get to the bottom of the incident. We're going to hold people accountable. It's going to be disciplinary action. We must continue to improve our security so that this never happens again.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: disappearing and reappearing hard drives at Los Alamos. Have America's nuclear secrets been jeopardized? New information indicates it could be difficult for investigators to assess the damage to national security.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

Two hard drives, which were the subject of an FBI search at Los Alamos, may have been missing for as long as six months. That's much longer than what was originally revealed by Energy Department officials.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Since their reappearance late last week, investigators have been trying to determine if top secret nuclear files were accessed and if national security was compromised. On Sunday, the two hard drives were transported from the Los Alamos laboratories in New Mexico for analysis in Washington. VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us today from Capitol Hill are Democratic Senator Richard Bryan of Nevada, and Republican Senator Wayne Allard of Colorado, both members of the Intelligence Committee. And here in our studio: Chris Biser (ph), Walter Pincus of "The Washington Post," and Amit Yoran (ph), a former computer security expert at the Pentagon.

COSSACK: And in the back, Julie Clark (ph) and Benjamin Crader (ph). And also joining us here in Washington is CNN justice correspondent Pierre Thomas.

Pierre, what's going on in this story? There's now some concern that perhaps these hard drives have been missing longer than we thought.


A lab employee said, originally, that he last saw these hard drives maybe as early as April 7, so that is six weeks from currently where we are. There is now reason to doubt what that lab employee says, according to my sources, and that the last time they had an official audit was in January. So there's a six-month period where these things could have been missing, it is not known for certain how long they were missing, but there is a six-month gap in which they could have been missing.

COSSACK: Pierre, why do they think that there's reason to doubt what this employee says?

THOMAS: Well, there have been a number of lie detector tests, polygraph tests, there has been some deception shown. One official told me that some of the answers that some the officials were giving indicated that they were perhaps, quote, "lying." So there is some reason to doubt what these officials have been saying, and again, if you don't believe what they are saying, there's this large window of time in which these things are unaccounted for, which is the very reason why the FBI analysis this week is going to be so critical. They need to know if anyone had access, downloaded or copied these particular hard drives.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Allard, obviously, the initial blame will go to the person who actually moved them, but it sort of goes up the chain of command, and may go as far as, at least in my view, to the Intelligence Committee, which oversees this. Where was your committee in the last six months that this went undiscovered?

SEN. WAYNE ALLARD (R-CO), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, we were personally concerned about what was happening out at Los Alamos because the Wen Ho Lee case, which happened to be in the X division, which is the same part of the lab where these tapes ended up missing. And you have to rely on the administrator in the lab itself, as well as people in the administration, to be doing their job. And unfortunately, the security measures out there were not in place. We had been assured that they were in place, and we didn't have anything to worry about. I was furious when I found out about the missing tapes, and after a lot of assurance from the administration that they were going to take care of the problem.

VAN SUSTEREN: Does that, in your view, then, the fact that you have to rely on the administration, the administrator to make sure that it is secure, does that, in your view, also let senator -- let Secretary Richardson off the hook under the same theory that you have Intelligence Committee off the hook on this?

ALLARD: Well, no, you know, he had made some promises to the Intelligence Committee that he was going to take care of the security problems out there after the Wen Ho Lee case. I went and visited Los Alamos personally, and they had a list of management objectives, security was at the bottom. I suggest they move it to the top. The administrator out there agreed, and obviously, you know, the security has not been moved to the top.

And, you know, Bill Richardson, who is secretary of energy, is ultimately responsible -- well, actually, the president is ultimately responsible, but Secretary of Energy Richardson is a little bit closer to the problem, and he's the one who gave all these assurances to members of Congress, and particularly the members of the Intelligence Committee, that he was going to take care of it after the Wen Ho Lee case.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Bryan -- excuse me, Roger, -- do you agree or disagree with Senator Allard?

SEN. RICHARD BRYAN (D-NV), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, I agree, in part, that security out there is a mess. I mean, the circumstances under which these hard drives are now fine utterly bizarre, because presumably the vault had been searched thoroughly turned upside down, to quote one official, and then mysteriously they surface on Friday. I think that's highly suspect.

VAN SUSTEREN: But who is responsible? Is it Secretary Richardson? Is it someone down the trail? or is it even your committee as overseeing this whole security issue?

BRYAN: Let me say that all us bear responsibility, the president, the Secretary Richardson, those of us in the Congress, particularly those of us on the oversight committees. I think, however, it is fair to point the fingers at those who have on-line responsibilities, that is, in my judgment, Secretary Richardson's subordinates failed him badly.

For example, he was not notified for 25 days after the hard drives were conclusively determined to be missing, that date, as you will recall, was May 7. Now, I think, in judging Secretary Richardson, one criteria is what action he takes.

I think one of the most frustrating things that I have found in my years of public service is that there is oftentimes a failure of accountability. Someone, it seems to me, ought to be fired, and there ought to be people who failed to notify both the lab director was not notified for 24 days, indeed the committee on which Senator Allard and I serve was not notified until June 9. So notice is clearly a factor.

And those who, for whatever reason, just don't get it. And there is a culture, which we've all talked about, the scientific, the academic people from the University of California, down to the scientists who work in the lab, somehow don't place a great deal of significance or priority to security, and so there's that constant clash between the two that's been part of the lab, not just at Los Alamos, but the system nationally, for more than 20 years that I'm aware of.

ALLARD: I would add on top of that, you know, it's been the secretary of energy, Bill Richardson, who has been promising that he was going to take care of the security issues after there -- after the Wen Ho Lee case. That's the thing that holds him out so much separately from everybody else, is that he's gone back and assured us, and as policymakers we have to be able to rely on the people in the administration to -- when they give us a promise they are going to carry forward that they go ahead and carry forward with those promises, and where Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson fell short is he didn't carry through with the promises, commitments he made to the committee.

COSSACK: Senator, isn't this something, though, that is sort of systemic? this isn't just something that's popped up with Secretary Richardson.

BRYAN: I think that's correct.

COSSACK: The problems that have been going on at Los Alamos are legion, and cut across administrations, and cut across, you know, years.

BRYAN: Let me just respond to that, if I may. I think that's true. I mean, it is systemic, there's a cultural clash. I don't think it is helpful for us to look at these incidents through a partisan lens. When you go back to 1992, then President Bush, and I believe motivated by clearly what he thought was the proper course of action, issued a presidential executive order in January of 1993, in which he relaxed the handling procedures for secret, not top secret information, and what we are talking about here is secret, not top secret information.

Again, I'm not pointing a finger of criticism at President Bush, but that was the thinking at the time, that all of these procedures are very expensive to comply with, the cold war had come to an end, and I think frankly the pendulum swung too far in that direction. Add to it, this cultural clash, this deeply rooted attitude of the academic community that security really isn't a priority, we are here to pursue pure science. And you've got the kind of a situation which ultimately resulted, in my judgment, the Wen Ho Lee case, and more recently these hard drives.

ALLARD: I think there's one thing that we all have to agree on is that we are having more problems with security in the last few years, and for whatever cause...

VAN SUSTEREN: Or at least we found out about it.

ALLARD: I'm not saying that we haven't had any problems in other administrations, but I'm saying lately we have had a lot more problems. We even got a computer that is missing out of the State Department with code names on it, in addition to a number of security issues that come up throughout the agencies. It has just happen lately. We need to get on to it, and we need to do something about it. And we have to start at the top.

COSSACK: Senator, let's take a break. Pierre Thomas, thank you for joining us today.

Up next, assessing this damage: How can investigators determine if classified material has fallen into the wrong hands? Stay with us.


A family court in New York has ordered Mick Jagger to reveal his financial worth by August 1 to determine how much he should pay in child support to a Brazilian model. Luciana Morad is seeking $35,000 a month from the Rolling Stone.



VAN SUSTEREN: We're going to take you to Frank Sesno here in Washington.




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