Congress denies DOE computer security funds

Despite revelations about security vulnerabilities at the Energy Department's nuclear weapons laboratories, the Senate yesterday passed an appropriations bill that omitted the department's request for additional cybersecurity funding.

Lawmakers slashed the funding during a House/Senate conference session held to iron out differences between the two bodies' initial versions of the bill. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson had requested $35 million to beef up computer security throughout the department after a series of reports, including one by the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, uncovered what potentially could be the most serious case of espionage in history involving nuclear weapons secrets.

In an official statement on the conference report, Richardson said the cuts in cybersecurity funding as well as other areas threaten national security. "In the final legislation, Congress withheld important tools needed to implement security reform," Richardson said. "By denying $35 million in funds for cybersecurity upgrades, it will be impossible to provide real-time cyber intrusion detection and protection for all 70 DOE sites," he said.

Although the bill eliminates funding for cybersecurity hardware and software, the House and Senate approved more than $39 million for the department's counterintelligence program.

Passage of the bill comes just months after President Clinton ordered a comprehensive review of security failures that allowed Chinese spies to steal an unknown amount of the United States' most-sensitive nuclear weapons secrets from DOE research laboratories. That report concluded that midlevel managers throughout DOE have responded to the recent Chinese spy scandal with a "business as usual" attitude, while foreign nationals residing in "sensitive countries" continue to have unmonitored remote dial-up access to lab networks.

The report, "Science at its Best, Security at its Worst," was released in June and followed a similar study conducted under Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) and Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.), who headed the House select committee that investigated the Chinese espionage case.

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