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Jewish World Review June 19, 2000 /16 Sivan, 5760

David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh
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Consumer Reports

"Outrage" just doesn't quite cut it anymore! -- WHEN DISCUSSING the Clinton administration’s record on national security we need to come up with a new word. “Outrage” just doesn’t quite cover it anymore.

The inexplicable disappearance of hard drives at Los Alamos National Laboratory containing highly sensitive data about our nuclear weapons and those of France, China and Russia is the logical consequence of this administration’s deliberate laxity toward our nuclear secrets. I’m quite serious.

Through his statements, policies and appointments, Bill Clinton has made it clear that he has never discarded the peace-protesting mentality that characterized his college years. That mindset included a contemptuous disdain for those who viewed the Soviet Union and other communist states, as evil empires. It also demonized nuclear weapons (even in the hands of the United States) and viewed them as a threat, rather than an asset to world peace.

Early in his first term, Clinton’s Energy Secretary, Hazel O’Leary, distributed a memorandum ordering certain nuclear research information to be declassified. In her press conference explaining her action, O’Leary stated that the disclosure was an attempt “to lift the veil of Cold War secrecy and move the Department of Energy into a new era of openness.” Her goal was to expose secrets from “an unresponsive bureaucracy wedded to a bomb-building culture.”

Well, my friends, ideas have consequences and recklessly irresponsible ideas have recklessly irresponsible consequences. Listen to this startling admission from Los Alamos Lab Director John Browne. “Throughout the government, secret data is no longer accounted for in this country, period. I don’t care what agency you go into, there is no accountability for secret data.” Indeed.

This unaccountability trickled right down into our nuclear labs. Under the Clinton-O’Leary easing of security standards of the early 1990s, the now-missing computer drives were classified as “secret”, rather than “top secret”, over the stringent objections of lab officials. As a result, those using these drives were not required to sign them out. And 83 people were approved to enter the vault where the drives were stored, including 26 who could go inside without an escort. You heard me correctly. How could these hard drives be downgraded in classification when Eugene Habiger, the Energy Department’s security chief, described them as containing some of the most sensitive information the Department of Energy possesses? Doesn't this blow your mind?


There’s more. The team that discovered the missing drives on May 7 deliberately failed to report the breach until May 31, despite regulations that call for notification of a security breach within eight hours of discovery. And it wasn’t until June 12 that they bothered to tell the Pentagon. The reason? Habiger said the employees delayed reporting the loss in hopes of finding them and avoiding the report. This is the kind of childishness we’ve come to expect from all corners of this administration. The emphasis is always on covering up bad publicity and scandals rather than getting to the bottom of them.

And please don’t tell me the reporting delay is irrelevant. Edward Curran, the Energy Department’s counterintelligence director conceded, “If it had been reported sooner, we’d be in a lot better position.”

Director Browne tells us that we shouldn’t overreact. Please! We’ve heard that tune one too many times, Mr. Brown. He and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson have been continually downplaying these urgent matters. For months they have been declaring the labs secure. Richardson has purposely obstructed a congressional effort to overhaul his department to bolster its security. He has been blocking the start-up of the National Nuclear Security Administration, a new agency Congress established eight months ago.

And what is Richardson doing now? Instead of appearing before Congress to aid their inquiry on Wednesday he chose instead to appear at a conference on energy efficiency to accept an award for his work in increasing oil production, reducing greenhouse gases and get this: safeguarding nuclear technologies.

In this increasingly surreal saga Bill Clinton expressed “his full confidence in Secretary Richardson and his ability to get to the bottom of this.”

If this is the kind of job performance that inspires President Clinton’s confidence then it is difficult to imagine what might cause his disapproval. In an earlier column I suggested rather optimistically that this administration probably couldn’t do that much more damage in its remaining year in office. Please accept my apology for my lapse in judgment.

JWR contributor David Limbaugh is an attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a political analyst and commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.



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