Espionage happens — so play it SAFE

Feb. 2, 2002

Espionage happens — so play it SAFE

The Bay Area and LLNL are wonderfully diversified, with many people from many countries enriching our professional and personal lives. The environment in which we work, live and play puts us in frequent contract with people from other countries. This is a good thing.

It’s such a good thing that we routinely and consistently travel to other countries and invite people from other countries to come to LLNL to share ideas and, in many cases, to become scientific collaborators. LLNL not only believes in the concept of “the global community,” but truly lives it.

While I’m not a scientist (you will easily detect this as time goes by), I realize that many of the basic scientific concepts at the foundation of our research were developed in foreign countries. I am told that many years ago an apple fell on the head of an English scientist. After he screeched, “Eureka!” he came up with the concept that for every action there is an opposite but equal reaction, and we’ve understood how ships float ever since. This all goes to show that while Sir Isaac Newton put his head to good use, Archimedes was a man of principle.

OK, I’ve proven that I’m not a scientist, or even a good historian. But I think I have a point to make here regarding Newton’s “equal but opposite reaction,” and it is this: Our personal, social and collective growth and survival as a scientific R&D laboratory depend upon our interactions with people who are not U.S. citizens. However, there is a force pulling the other way, and that is the effort many foreign countries, including those we call our allies, exert to gain access to knowledge that has an effect on U.S. national and economic security. Additional concerns, particularly with DOE’s list of “sensitive” countries, are proliferation and terrorism.

I have always been an optimist, looking at the bright side. But the Lab doesn’t pay me to be eternally optimistic. As the Laboratory’s senior counterintelligence officer, I need to remind you that Lab employees are potential targets of foreign intelligence — simply because we work at a national laboratory. We have access to information, or to the people who have information, that other people and other countries want. We may be potential targets if others simply think that we have access.

This can be true when we travel abroad, when we bring foreign visitors in to our work areas, and even when we socialize. We need to tune our antennae so that when the conversation is directed toward the parts of the job that we can’t talk about, those antennae start to twitch. That’s what security awareness is all about. Knowing where to draw the line is part of our jobs. It’s the reason we have security clearances, and it’s part of working in such a special place with such special people

People routinely tell SAFE staff members that they’ve traveled extensively to “sensitive” foreign countries and had frequent contact with scientists and others from those countries, and that they have never had a problem. I believe that. However, according to a General Accounting Office (GAO) report published in June 2000, scientists from four national laboratories reported at least 75 incidents in which DOE personnel were targeted by a foreign intelligence service in efforts to obtain sensitive information and proprietary knowledge. Espionage happens.

What can we do to protect ourselves?
The foundation of the Security Awareness For Employees (SAFE) program is awareness. SAFE offers pre-travel briefings and post-travel debriefings to Laboratory employees who travel to sensitive countries. Pre-travel briefings give you “heads up” information relevant to your destination. Post-travel debriefings, on the other hand, are your opportunity to provide a heads-up to Laboratory travelers who will follow your flight path.

Both briefings and debriefings are concerned with methods that foreign intelligence services use as well as with counterterrorism and other general information that may help you to protect yourself.

SAFE also offers briefings to Laboratory employees who host foreign national visitors and assignees.

SAFE provides key support to LLNL program initiatives to bring global talent into the Laboratory by ensuring that required background, or indices, checks have been completed. SAFE understands many of the pressures that foreign nationals working here on visits and assignments may encounter. We’re available to help everyone who feels he or she has been targeted for elicitation of sensitive information. SAFE maintains the confidentiality of all reports.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or a nuclear scientist, or a Newton or an Archimedes to realize the effect that one bad apple can have on our concerted efforts to keep LLNL’s scientific programs afloat. But it does take more than 8,500 sets of alert eyes and ears.

Terry Turchie is director of the Lab’s SAFE Program.