Two former counterintelligence officials and the former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory received relatively mild administrative sanctions yesterday for failing to properly handle an investigation into suspected Chinese espionage at the nuclear weapons facility.

Officials at Los Alamos and the University of California, which manages the facility for the Department of Energy and directly employs lab officials and workers, announced the sanctions less than a month after Energy Secretary Bill Richardson recommended disciplinary action against Sig Hecker, the laboratory's former director; Robert S. Vrooman, its former counterintelligence chief; and Terry Craig, a counterintelligence team leader.

Richardson immediately responded that he "would have preferred the disciplinary action to be stronger," a DOE spokeswoman said. "Nevertheless, he believes the efforts undertaken by the University of California and Los Alamos have been thorough."

The three sanctioned employees were not identified by name in yesterday's announcement. But given their responsibilities during the espionage probe, the announcement made it clear that Craig, the official with the lowest rank, received the stiffest penalty, having his job assignment restricted and his salary frozen for at least five years.

Craig will also receive a letter of reprimand for failing to discover and inform the FBI in 1996 that physicist Wen Ho Lee, an espionage suspect fired from his post in March for security violations, had signed a waiver authorizing Los Alamos officials to search his computer.

Vrooman, who retired from Los Alamos earlier this year and has been serving as a consultant to the lab's director, has been stripped of consulting privileges for at least five years, the announcement said.

Richardson had recommended disciplinary action against Vrooman for failing to remove Lee from his sensitive post in the fall of 1997 after the FBI said it was no longer necessary to keep him there.

Hecker, who managed the laboratory from 1986 to 1997 and still works there as a senior scientist, will have, in his file, a letter from UC President Richard C. Atkinson "regarding his responsibilities at Los Alamos during the security investigation," the announcement said.