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Project on Government Oversight




Bush Administration Stonewalls Congressional Investigation Representative Christopher Shays Demands into Nuclear Security Counter-Terrorism Records

April 1, 2003 


A Congressional counter-terrorism investigation is facing "substantial and continued difficulty" getting information from the Department of Energy (DOE), according to Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT). The records are being sought by Shays in order to assess whether the nation's nuclear weapons facilities could defend against potential terrorist attacks.

In a March 20th letter to Energy Secretary Abraham, Shays, who is Chairman of the House National Security Subcommittee, demanded that DOE hand over the records (see the letter). The letter was reported on today by The Hill newspaper.

The disputed records concern assumptions DOE makes about how many and how well-armed terrorists would be if they attacked a facility, otherwise known as the Design Basis Threat (DBT). DOE reformers have asserted that the DBT underestimates the true capabilities of terrorists by failing to plan for the potential use of weapons such as armor piercing ammunition and grenades. Improvements to the DBT have reportedly been made since September 11th, although Congress has not yet been able to evaluate whether these upgrades are sufficient.

Shays initiated the General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation into physical security at nuclear weapons facilities in response to a report published by the Project On Government Oversight in October, 2001. The report, titled U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Security at Risk, found that DOE is failing to adequately protect the American public from the possibility of a terrorist attack on its nuclear facilities which house more than 1,000 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium and uranium. The report was co-authored by more than one dozen current and former DOE officials and security experts.

"The Department of Energy has a troubled history of hiding its failures from Congress and the public. But the agency's overreaching secrecy can no longer be tolerated in light of new terrorist threats against the American people," said Danielle Brian Executive Director of POGO.

According to The Hill, "GAO officials have been worried that the executive branch will limit access to critical information." The article goes on to quote former House of Representatives Deputy Counsel Charles Tiefer: "The [Energy Department's] stonewalling fits the apparent administration view that, after their victory in Walker v. Cheney, they don't have to let the GAO see anything anymore that doesn't make them look like heroes."

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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