WASHINGTON (06/15/2000) - Republican senators told U.S. Department of Energy officials yesterday that their explanations about the disappearance of two computer hard drives containing nuclear secrets was not good enough.
At a contentious hearing, the lawmakers repeatedly berated the department witnesses for a three-week delay in reporting the missing material and their failure to impose tight controls over classified information at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
"Some of their most sensitive nuclear information seems to have walked out the door," said Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
"I seriously question whether we have better security at our Wal-Marts than at our labs," said Sen. Wayne Allard, a Republican from Colorado.
Lawmakers were also angered because Energy Secretary Bill Richardson declined to appear at the hearing. As the nation's chief energy official, he is responsible for overall security at DOE's nuclear facilities.
John Browne, the director of the lab, testified at the hearing that he had not been informed about the missing material until June 1, three weeks after employees discovered they were not in a vault for classified material.
But T. J. Glauthier, deputy secretary at DOE, told the hearing: "Frankly, if one of these people had discovered that his car was stolen from a garage, they would not have waited one day."
The FBI has opened a criminal investigation into the disappearance of the material. Law enforcement officials intend to administer polygraph tests to 28 people who had access to the computer drives and did not have to sign in to get to the material.