Berger: I won't quit over security flap
March 11, 1999 - AP
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Clinton's top adviser on
national security, rejecting suggestions by some
Republicans that he resign, says the administration
reacted properly and swiftly to security concerns at
federal nuclear weapons labs in the mid-1990s.
"The actions that we took as a government, I believe
were appropriate," Sandy Berger said Wednesday. "They
were in the national interest, and I believe we acted
Earlier in the day there were calls from GOP
presidential aspirants for Berger to resign because,
they said, he had not moved quickly enough to recognize
serious security breaches at the national labs when he
learned of an investigation in 1996 that China may have
obtained top-secret nuclear warhead information from Los
Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico in the 1980s.
"I have no intention of resigning," Berger told
reporters in Guatemala City, where he was accompanying
Clinton on a tour of Latin America.
The fallout continued Wednesday from the firing earlier
in the week of a scientist at Los Alamos, one of more
than a dozen labs scattered around the country, after
the scientist had been the target of three-year FBI
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said he was
to be briefed soon by the FBI on the Los Alamos
investigation. Several congressional hearings on the
subject were scheduled for next week.
And the controversy also became entwined in early
presidential campaign politics.
While the suspected espionage at Los Alamos occurred
during the Republican administration of Ronald Reagan,
GOP presidential aspirants lashed out at the Clinton
White House for not moving fast enough to investigate it
and address security problems at the labs when the
suspected espionage became known in the mid-1990s.
The prime target was Berger, who then was deputy
national security adviser.
"If the information is accurate then Sandy Berger
should not have time to resign. He should be fired,"
declared Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., who is a presidential
aspirant. Smith, chairman of a Senate Armed Services
subcommittee, also said he would raise the Los Alamos
issue at a hearing next week.
Commentator Pat Buchanan, who also is running for
president, said Berger "ought to explain his actions to
the country or resign," and fellow GOP presidential
hopefuls Lamar Alexander and Steve Forbes also called
for Berger's resignation.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart dismissed it all as
"Republican attack politics."
"I reject the notion there was any dragging of feet"
in administration response to the Los Alamos
investigation, Berger said.
Berger said he had first learned of the FBI
investigation in a routine intelligence briefing in
1996. "This was very preliminary. The FBI had just
begun investigating," he said.
It would be nearly another year, in July 1997, before a
more detailed Energy Department briefing on the
investigation would prompt him to conclude there was a
serious security problem at the labs.
"The July 1997 briefing was troubling and raised
serious questions and warranted a significant
response," Berger said. He said it was "absolutely
not" true that U.S policy of engaging China in trade
and other matters in any way influenced the response to
the Los Alamos investigation.
Berger said he asked that the CIA evaluate what security
damage might have occurred and that an interagency task
force reviewed how security could be improved at the
labs. Six months later, in February 1998, Clinton issued
a formal presidential directive imposing new safeguards
on the labs.
It directed tighter security checks on foreign visitors
to labs and called for additional counterintelligence
personnel at the Energy Department. The department
brought in a former FBI agent, Edward J. Curran, to head
a new counterintelligence office and doubled the
Law enforcement and security officials said Wednesday
they were frustrated for some time about weapons lab
security and what they viewed as a lack of emphasis on
counterintelligence. With the arrival of Bill
Richardson, the former U.N. ambassador, as energy
secretary last year, they said new emphasis was put on
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