WASHINGTON, D.C.--A former intelligence chief will help ensure that foreign scientists don't steal secrets from U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories. Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson yesterday named John Deutch, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency from 1995 to 1997, to lead a security review of the Department of Energy's foreign visitor program. The move comes a day after a prominent Republican lawmaker, investigating allegations of Chinese spying at the labs in the 1980s, called for temporarily shutting down the exchange program.
The foreign visitor program brings thousands of scientists to the United States every year. On Tuesday, during a Senate intelligence committee hearing on the spying allegations, panel chair Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) asked Richardson to ban visits to the weapons labs by scientists from "sensitive" nuclear nations--including China, Russia, India, and Pakistan--until security at the agency's three atom bomb labs in New Mexico and California is improved. Shelby charged that lax controls had increased the risk that visitors, who are confined to nonclassified parts of the sprawling labs and are often involved in collaborations aimed at preventing nuclear accidents, could steal secrets.
Richardson rejected the idea, arguing that "the visitor program is not the problem" in the ongoing spy controversy; the Chinese-American computer scientist at the center of the flap had worked on the staff of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico for more than 20 years. Yesterday, however, Richardson asked Deutch, now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, to make sure the exchange program was indeed secure. He also warned the program's critics not to "get hysterical and overreach."
Deutch's selection is drawing good reviews from scientists supportive of the exchange program. "I think he understands the need to balance security with the importance of not isolating the scientists at the laboratories from their international colleagues," says Sidney Drell of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in California, who advises several labs on security issues. "I am a great believer in open scientific exchanges," says Deutch, who will meet with Richardson tomorrow to work out the details of the review. "There are reasonable things that can be done to protect security without interfering with science," Deutch says. Whether his work will satisfy Shelby and others calling for a moratorium remains to be seen.