Jewish World Review June 20, 2000 / 23 Sivan, 5760
Thomas H. Lipscomb
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson assumed “full responsibility” for cleaning up the security mess at Los Alamos a few months ago and refused a presidential advisory committee’s recommendations that a National Nuclear Security Administration was needed to assist him. Now that Los Alamos lost two hard disks for weeks containing information that would be extremely valuable to rogue terrorists or foreign powers, without reporting their loss, Richardson seems to have difficulty understanding what to do.
Presumably he expected the disks to turn up on their own on a table in Hillary Clinton’s living quarters in the White House, express his relief, reflect upon the “mystery of it all,” and run for vice president on Al Gore’s ticket. Unfortunately, the disks were suddenly “found” behind a copier machine in the same security area in which they were lost, after the room had been searched several times And that left them squarely in Richardson’s purview.
It’s not that Richardson doesn’t take his responsibilities seriously --- when he understands them. As Ambassador to the United Nations, he was quick to rearrange his priorities so that he could meet and hire one of Clinton’s least attractive fellatio artists blackmailing the President for a job in New York. It’s just that, like most of his fellow Clintonians, he not only hasn’t a clue about his national security responsibilities, he shares their active contempt for them.
“National security” in their opinion is an obsolete hangover from the Cold War deserving the same deferential treatment as civil defense signs and bombshelters. The Clinton White House staff was notorious for avoiding routine FBI security clearances for years. Dozens of staffers could have turned the litmus paper in a drug test blue just by walking into the same room with it. And the Administration’s vigorous fundraising efforts with Chinese espionage agents only enhanced their operations against formerly “hardened” U.S. National Laboratory facilities like Los Alamos.
This Administration had secret orders for the war against Yugoslavia “disappear” off a desk in Madeline Albright’s office, laptops “disappear” from her State Department, and radiotaps installed by a foreign power to monitor secret meetings there. A former director of its CIA walked out with the high level sensitive material on his laptop, hundreds of sensitive FBI personnel files magically appeared in the White House and somehow got transferred into Democratic party databases. Officers of every department feel free to give out any damaging information they may have available for political purposes, invalidating the entire background security structure the United States has used since the Second World War. And no incident has yet been regarded as serious enough to merit a firing or a letter of reprimand.
A security officer verified the identity of the person and the validity of his access on a “need to know basis” for this kind of material. If satisfied, the security officer noted what was checked out, to whom, where it would be used, and for how long. In short, the existence of any mystery about what happened to these disks is in itself proof of terminal incompetence. This is not rocket science. Any kindergarten librarian or Blockbuster checkout clerk would have run this system more responsibly than Secretary Bill Richardson.
But now the Cold War is over, maybe these national security systems are obsolete? Let’s consider what is on those two hard disks in the light of a post-Cold War world. It is a reasonable assumption today that various terrorists and rogue states are in possession of missile components sold to them by traitors of the former Soviet bloc and the West as well. But even, for example, an old Soviet artillery rocket with a small 10 kiloton warhead is a cumbersome delivery system. What any intelligent terrorist wants to be able to do is move around the highly portable warheads and set them off without the excessive burden of the whole system to which they were originally attached. But that’s not so easy.
There was no reason to have a detailed manual in the possession of the Soviet rocket forces issued the missile explaining how to manipulate the warhead on its own and about a million good reasons why no one would ever want field troops to have it. So whoever sold the terrorists the original weapon didn’t have the manual to sell as well. If they had, they could have gotten a higher price for it than for 100 missiles.
To further discourage the field troops (much less terrorists or enemy forces who capture it) from trying to make any use of the warhead outside of its assigned use under the command and control of a national nuclear command authority, the warhead’s operation are almost always integrated into the avionics, guidance, and delivery systems of the total weapons system. On its own the warhead might be a useful pile of highly toxic radioactive material, but it was likely to have a few unpleasant surprises for tinkerers, and was almost impossible to set off properly.
To do that requires the highest level schematic details which would enable the identification of each modification of the functioning of each of the many models of warheads in the world arsenal and provide an intelligent basis for reprogramming them into easily portable self-contained nukes. And even if one could get the manuals, this would require a storage library the size of an airplane hanger that would make a lot more conspicuous satellite target than Ben Ladin’s headquarters in Afghanistan. Of course if it was available digitally, it would be worth many millions of dollars. The material might fit on a storage disk and its information could be instantly imported into CAD-CAM formats that would save years of hard work altering the warheads… . Guess what was on the two missing hard disks in the X Division at Los Alamos?
No administration of either political party has ever had an easy time running a secure national weapons lab. Roosevelt's head of the Manhattan Project, General Leslie Groves, nearly went nuts trying to herd the brilliant cats that made up the research team at Los Alamos that developed the atomic bomb during World War II. Scientists love to believe that there is a far more important dialogue in science than the petty nationalistic concerns of governments they have little use for -- except for their ability to fund their research.
The high-minded blatherings with Nazi scientists by Nobelist Niels Bohr in Nazi-occupied Denmark had the Allies organize a special operations initiative to either get him out, or kill him, before he jump-started an atomic bomb out of the faltering Nazi heavy water operation run by his former students. And the Soviets had the same problem with some of its best scientists. There will always be tension between the government guys with the money and the prima donna scientists with the talent. What’s made the system work has been that the government guys also had the responsibility for running a secure operation. But that responsibility has been shattered by the mindboggling incompetence and willful malfeasance of this Administration.
After Secretary Richardson’s slimy evasions on Sunday’s Meet the Press, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss (Republican, FL) was duly appalled and noted “a culture of disdain for security in the Clinton-Gore Administration.” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (Republican, AL) called for his resignation and muttered darkly about a “malignancy” at the heart of the Clinton Administration. But as Senator Orin Hatch constantly reminds us, congressional talk is cheap and a few indignant words alone can be just another way of avoiding responsibility by the Congress for its own failure to enforce the law.
Richardson has had his chance to “assume full responsibility” and
resign. It doesn’t matter what lies or truth we are told in the course
of the inevitably long investigation of the disappearance of these disks
to come. This is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. The fact of
this failure itself requires an immediate bipartisan demand from
Congress that Richardson be summarily fired and serious steps taken to
restore security to American nuclear secrets that threaten not only the
United States, but the peace of the world as
Thomas H. Lipscomb is the director of the Center for the Digital Future in New York. An an editor and publisher for many years, most recently as head of Times Books, he is also the founder of two public companies in digital technology. To comment, click here.