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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


19 January 2005

Energy's Abraham Discusses Security Changes at Nuclear Facilities

Outgoing energy secretary says department has made major improvements

The outgoing U.S. energy secretary says he takes personal pride in the enhancement of security programs and improvements in the overall performance of the security personnel and programs protecting nuclear assets vital to U.S. national defense.

Spencer Abraham, speaking to DOE security personnel in Washington January 18, discussed the state of security at Department of Energy (DOE) facilities as of September 11, 2001, and the changes made since that time.  Abraham said security failures at DOE nuclear weapons laboratories and production facilities have plagued the department for years.  Previous corrective actions, he said, led to the establishment of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in 2000.  The creation of NNSA was necessary, he said, but not sufficient, explaining that a change in the culture was needed.  “We had to bring a new attitude and mindset to how we think about security.”

Beginning with the department’s threat-assessment process, Abraham said he has directed that DOE’s design basis threat (DBT) statement be reviewed annually, and that he personally approved two enhancements to the document in 2003 and 2004.  These adjustments, he said, even though some are not yet fully implemented, are “significant increases in the level of protection afforded to our most sensitive national security assets.”

Abraham said he also established the Office of Security and Safety Performance Assurance (SSA) “to foster a more collegial relationship between the DOE Headquarters elements and the field offices that form the Department's safeguards and security program.”  He believed that DOE protection program improvements could be done faster and better by improving relationships and interactions between headquarters elements and the field.

Since making those changes, the energy secretary said he has focused on further needs he sees for DOE facilities security:

-- Enhancing cyber security programs to reduce the department's vulnerability to cyber threats and to improve classified data storage/use controls;

-- Consolidating sensitive national security assets to reduce the number of potential targets requiring enhanced protection;

-- Deploying contemporary advancements in security technologies to fortify DOE's "defense in depth" security posture and to implement more cost-effective security solutions;

-- Developing an "elite" protective force -– analogous to the military’s special operations forces -- to secure DOE assets effectively against a wider spectrum of hostile threats; and

-- Improving training programs and institutions in order to develop and maintain DOE's personnel within the security and safety disciplines.

The first of these initiatives centered on shoring up DOE defenses in the protection of the intellectual properties and sensitive data that the department possesses during the course of normal operations.  In an era in which massive strides in information retrieval, processing and storage occur on a weekly basis, it was necessary to give the information security program a 21st century focus, Abraham said.  The first step was to charter the SSA, through its Office of Cyber Security and Special Reviews, to conduct more stringent probes and attacks on U.S. information systems through enhanced performance testing, including the use of no-notice vulnerability scanning and penetration testing.

Abraham also discussed implementation of the DOE Cyber Security Initiative, and a consolidation program for special nuclear material within DOE sites around the United States, which he termed “by far the most effective measure that can be implemented to reduce the threat of a terrorist attack on the nuclear materials.”  He then mentioned specific facilities within sites that have been or will be closed because of the consolidation program, thereby lessening the number of facilities needing enhanced security.

The full text of Abraham’s speech is available at

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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