Washington U.S. nuclear scientists traveling abroad have reported being targeted by foreign agents who tried to obtain secrets by bugging hotel rooms, rifling briefcases and computers, or offering sexual favors, a congressional investigator says.
A report based on information gathered by the Energy Department's counterintelligence office identified at least 75 such cases in recent years involving trips by scientists from federal weapons labs.
The Energy Department said Sunday it agreed with the findings, which were largely based on data the department provided. The scientists' names and countries involved were deleted.
"What they (the scientists) were reporting is that they were approached by someone," Deputy Energy Secretary T.J. Glauthier said in an interview Sunday.
He said there is no evidence that secrets were compromised in any of the incidents cited by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
Glauthier acknowledged the incidents demonstrate the degree to which research scientists from the weapons labs are targets of foreign intelligence operatives.
He said thousands of trips are made abroad annually by scientists working in a wide variety of disciplines at the labs, including many involved in nuclear weapons research.
Glauthier said that in 1998, the Energy Department increased efforts to make scientists more aware of the potential risks when traveling abroad. The agency agreed with most of the report and recommendations, including the need to "sensitize" scientists about the risk, he said.
The report covered incidents reported between late 1995 to late 1998 by scientists from nuclear weapons facilities at Los Alamos and Sandia in New Mexico, Lawrence Livermore in California, and Oak Ridge in Tennessee.
Foreign intelligence operatives "used a variety of methods" from bugging hotel and conference rooms to breaking into scientists' computers and personal belonging, and casually eavesdropping on conversations, the GAO said. It said the incidents involved trips not only to "sensitive" countries Russia, China and Pakistan, for example but also other nations.
As a result, the GAO urged the Energy Department to establish procedures to more closely monitor and advise scientists of the risks involving all foreign travel and not only those to sensitive nations.