Turmoil At A Nuclear Lab

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Scientists at Sandia National Laboratory in Albuqurque, New Mexico, one of three nuclear weapons labs run by the Department of Energy are in revolt, threatening not to take required lie detector tests, because they include personal questions which have nothing to do with protecting secrets, reports CBS News Correspondent David Martin.

"What has precipitated the crisis within the Department of Energy is that the polygraphers are asking individual subjects what medications they're taking despite their promises not to do so," explained Sandia employee Al Zelicoff.

According to Zelicoff, one of 20,000 people throughout the nuclear weapons complex now required to take periodic lie detector tests, some key technicians have already refused and are now barred from working on nuclear weapons.

"They cannot in fact lay hands on the nuclear weapons and repair any problems that might occur in the field," said Zelicoff.

The tests were ordered because of the Wen Ho Lee fiasco. Lee, a weapons scientist at Los Alamos, admitted removing large amounts of classified data. And so the Clinton administration vowed to tighten security at all the weapons labs.

"We have doubled the counterintelligence budget. We have instituted polygraphs for anybody with sensitive access," said former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.

The Department of Energy says it asks the same questions as other government agencies like the CIA and FBI, which also use lie detectors. And that it needs to know if the person being polygraphed is taking any medication that could affect the results of the test.

But Zelicoff says there's no scientific proof to back that up. "The truth of the polygraph is that it's an excuse to conduct an inquisition under physically, psychologically unpleasant circumstances."

This more than just the complaints of individual scientists. The president of Sandia has warned the Department of Energy the lab will refuse any more polygraphs unless the questions are changed.

Department of Energy spokeswoman Jeanne Lopatto says the department knows of the scientists' concern and will deal with it in a Washington meeting with a delegation from the Sandia laboratory.




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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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