The Senate yesterday passed an energy appropriations bill that omits $35 million requested by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson for increased computer security. The money was eliminated despite months of heated debate over suspected Chinese espionage, during which leading Republicans accused the Clinton administration of foot-dragging on security.
Richardson, traveling overseas, issued a statement charging that Congress was withholding "important tools needed to implement security reform" that Congress itself had demanded.
Without the $35 million, Richardson said, "it will be impossible to provide real-time cyber intrusion detection and protection for 70 Energy Department sites."
The money was eliminated by a House-Senate conference reconciling differences between the initial versions of the bill passed by the two chambers. A member of the conference committee, who requested anonymity, said the $35 million was eliminated because lawmakers "want to see management reform" before they approve a huge funding increase.
The committee member noted that Richardson is developing a $450 million cyber security proposal for fiscal 2001. It would include money to replace all personal computers used in classified programs with machines that do not have floppy disk drives, and thus cannot easily be downloaded.
Congress's action leaves the department with the $2 million it originally sought for computer security before suspected Chinese espionage came to dominate political debate in Washington last spring.
Cyber security, in particular, became a major concern after it was discovered that the government's prime espionage suspect at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Chinese American physicist Wen Ho Lee, had downloaded classified information to his unclassified computer. Lee, who denies passing secrets to China, was fired but has not been charged with any crime.
Meanwhile, the Energy Department's director of counterintelligence, Edward J. Curran, acknowledged yesterday that he recommended his brother, a retired police detective, for a $70-an-hour temporary job reviewing counterintelligence operations at the department's three nuclear weapons laboratories.
But he said the department's inspector general determined that his recommendation did not violate federal conflict-of-interest statutes. "I recommended my brother, yes, but he does not work directly for me," Curran said.
Michael Curran, a veteran of 27 years as a detective for the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, has participated in a two-week counterintelligence inspection at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and is now part of a nine-member team reviewing security at the Los Alamos lab in New Mexico.
All told, he will work about six weeks this fall, Edward Curran said, and will participate in additional counterintelligence inspections at Energy Department facilities next year.