Notra Trulock is the former director of intelligence at the U.S.
Department of Energy. He has been unusually open in his criticism of
senior Clinton appointees for ignoring security problems at the nation’s
nuclear labs. After telling Congress about problems in the
administration, Trulock was demoted and eventually resigned his position
with Energy last year. A long-time government employee, Trulock’s
knowledge of Energy Department security lapses is extraordinary.
WorldNetDaily staff writer and talk show host Geoff Metcalf recently
interviewed Trulock about his tenure in Clinton’s Energy Department.
Metcalf’s daily streaming radio show can be heard on
TalkNetDaily weekdays from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern time.
Question: For those readers who may not be fully up to speed on who you are, what happened to you, your dog and a bunch of un-translated Chinese documents, give us a brief history of how you earned the disrepute of the Clinton administration?
Answer: This goes back five years. For five years, we have known about espionage conducted by the Chinese against our nuclear weapons program. During the 20-year assault on the program, the Chinese have acquired information on just about every nuclear weapon that we own today — particularly those employed on our missile forces.
Q: I thought you were just a racist. That’s what they told me.
A: I think that’s what they want you to believe. Unfortunately, race or ethnicity had nothing to do with this case. It played no role whatsoever.
Q: The Wen Ho Lee episode brought this all to a head — but this wasn’t the first time he was looked at with concern, was it?
A: Apparently not. We didn’t know at the time — in 1995 and 1996 — that he had had a prior experience with the FBI back in the 1980s.
Q: What was your official government title?
A: I was the director of intelligence at the Department of Energy. As such, I was also the senior intelligence officer in the department. That meant that I was responsible for all the intelligence activities both at DOE headquarters in Washington and out in the field.
Q: Did you work directly for Bill Richardson or did you work for the CIA?
A: I worked for a succession of DOE secretaries starting with the now famous Hazel O’Leary, Frederico Pena and then, finally, Bill Richardson. He was in charge when I left the department.
Q: I have to interrupt with a sidebar question: What was your reaction when Hazel wanted to change the color of the security passes because she thought they were discriminatory?
A: It was astonishing! She believed persons of color probably did not have the same color badge that she assumed all the Caucasians had. So, the security people went off and did a study — on taxpayers money — to determine that, in fact, persons of color had more top-secret RD badges than did Caucasians. But that didn’t change her mind — she went ahead and changed the badge color anyway.
I don’t think anybody, frankly, thought it was a good idea — with the exception of Hazel, and she was the boss. So, off all the security people went and changed all the badges. I think it took about a year and a half to do it all. Imagine how much it cost.
Q: Tell us about the 13,000 pages that some Chinese defector turned over and what it led to.
A: This goes back again to the summer of ’95. We were provided one document that was maybe 30 or 40 pages. It wasn’t even the entire document. It is what has become known as the “walk-in” document. It is discussed in detail in “The Cox Report,” so anything I’m going to say comes right out of that report — in case the FBI is listening. It details some of what the Chinese have acquired. It was much later that we learned this was just one small portion of a massive Chinese document.
Q: Of the 13,000-something pages the entire document consists of, has it even been translated yet?
A: I’m told that there is an effort under way now to translate the document.
Q: This thing is 5 years old!
A: As of 1997, two years after we were provided the initial relatively small portion of it, the document had not yet been translated. The Department of Energy put some of its own money into supporting translation of something like two documents a month. Basically, the Central Intelligence Agency just sat on this stuff.
Q: How did you get your hands on the 76 pages that were translated?
A: As an intelligence organization, DOE is part of the intelligence community. We were doing a review of the intelligence information we had on what the Chinese had acquired in this 20-year assault on the laboratory. The people from the CIA, who provided the document to us, gave no indication that this was a very small sliver of a very large cake. I’m not even sure they knew, frankly.
Q: Tell us about the incident in which your home was burglarized and your dog assaulted.
A: This was bizarre. The FBI came in here on July 14 without a search warrant and took my computer, took all my bank records, my tax records, all the research that I had done on my son’s genetic syndrome. They just walked out with it and threatened prosecution, indictments and so forth.
Q: Did they accuse you of taking unauthorized security stuff out of the Department of Energy?
A: I don’t know what they have accused me of, frankly. I wrote a manuscript that was a private manuscript that I circulated around to a few friends. I guess they got a hold of it. It is very critical of the FBI and very critical of the Department of Energy.
Q: You’re not the Lone Ranger in your criticism.
A: Of course not, but I did not endear myself to the FBI with this particular manuscript. So, they used that as a pretext to come in and try to intimidate me. I finally hooked up with Larry Klayman and Judicial Watch. Two days after that, we came home and found that our dog — a golden retriever, a beautiful dog and sweet as he can be — had been attacked. He had a big gash on the top of his head. It looked as though somebody had taken a police baton and whacked him. We found papers kind of mussed and reshuffled, and it was pretty clear someone had come in looking for something.
Q: Is the dog OK?
A: The dog is fine. It’s all healed over now, but we took pictures of it.
Q: You testified before the Cox committee despite your bosses not wanting you to. Why did your superiors have a problem with that?
A: They thought the Republican-controlled Congress at that point was only interested in hurting the president on China. And that’s just about a direct quote from the woman who had been running this whole operation out of the Department of Energy.
Q: I must have missed it somewhere, but I didn’t realize departments had the option of choosing which congressional committees they could or could not respond to.
A: Theoretically, they don’t. But I think that this administration, coupled with some friends on Capitol Hill, have pretty much gutted the oversight function of Congress. Committee after committee has been stonewalled, held off, denied documents. There’s a battle going on right now.
Q: But you testified anyway. Why did you choose the path you did?
A: The Cox Committee not only came to the Department of Energy but also went to the CIA — and I think the CIA put it to the department that we really had no choice. So, the department relented and allowed me to go up and testify. They weren’t happy about it — that’s true. And there was a whole series of recriminations and retaliations that went on after that.
Q: Is that what precipitated your departure?
A: Yes. The reaction to the Cox Committee was one thing. The other was the inspector general having been tasked by Bill Richardson to look into a whole series of illegalities of the various policies that governs intelligence. They wrote two reports. The first report was apparently fairly accurate and named names. Bill Richardson didn’t like that report, so he sent it back to them. The second report came forward as a whitewash. In the intelligence business, if you can’t rely on the inspector general, who is supposed to be neutral, then there is no hope. So I decided to move on.
Q: This 13,000 pages — why do they call it a “walk-in” document?
A: That’s kind of a shorthand euphemistic way to describe the document. The document was provided to the U.S. intelligence community. I really don’t know that much about it. That’s sort of “on the other side of the river” here.
Q: Does anyone know how they got that information?
A: The knowledge is not really out there in the public domain. There’s a fair amount of disinformation around — and a fair amount of it spread around by DOE, I think, for the purpose of trying to discredit what I think is a very important clue at how successful the Chinese have been.
Q: Walter Pincus (of the Washington Post) says you got the 76 pages before it was officially circulated and that you used it to draft an official administrative inquiry calling on the investigation of all the Chinese stuff. Is that true?
A: For Walter Pincus, that’s pretty close. What happened, in fact, is we were already looking into suspicions of espionage. The walk-in document solidified those suspicions and, at that point, the FBI asked us to conduct what is called an “administrative inquiry” at the labs. It was really nothing more than a records check — a review of travel records, security files and so forth. That was done from approximately November 1995 and we finished it up late in May 1996.
Q: I still don’t know what happened with Wen Ho Lee. Can you edify us a little bit?
A: I wish I could. I don’t really know. They had a 59-count indictment. They walked away from it with breathtaking speed.
A: The FBI and the Justice Department really did a miserable job in prosecuting the case. I’ve talked to reporters and others who witnessed what went on down there. It was just complete bumbling. The FBI agents lied to the judge and I’m sure no federal judge likes to be lied to by FBI people. They changed horses in midstream in terms of the prosecution and brought in a prosecutor who apparently has a good track record in prosecuting Mafia bosses, but had never done an espionage case before. There was a
WorldNetDaily.com by Paul Sperry that the Commerce secretary had met with Dr. Lee’s daughter in late July and promised her that as long as the contributions kept coming from the Asian-American community, things would work out alright. I’m sure there is a multitude of factors at play here.
Q: Your buddy Walter says they have redirected the investigation to the Department of Defense and not the DOE contractors.
A: I don’t know that that is the case. I think there are a couple of things here. Clearly, there are problems in the Department of Defense. And I think it is probably true that the Chinese acquired a lot of information on a lot of our missile technology. We’re still left with the fact of this one particular piece of information that seems to have come out of the Department of Energy. I don’t think we’ve closed the door on that yet.
Q: A recurring theme here is that the Department of Energy has been plagued with problems back to Hazel O’Leary.
A: Actually, much further back than Hazel. Hazel was just kind of the worst of a bad lot.
Q: Are the problems institutional within the Department of Energy, or is it more a function of the bad leadership the administration keeps throwing in there?
A: I think there are endemic, systemic problems in the Department of Energy that were certainly there before the Clintons came into office. The Clintons and Hazel and her successors certainly exacerbated those problems — probably to a point where, in my judgment, they can’t be fixed. My solution for this whole mess is just to abolish the Department of Energy.
Q: And you’re not alone in that assessment.
A: No, I’m not. So, hopefully, if things work out with the election, people can start looking at that option seriously again.
Q: Will there be those who won’t want to do that for institutional-territorial reasons?
A: There’s a powerful constituency in this town — and it’s not just Democrats. There are senators on the Hill like Pete Dominici and other people who are really the protectors of the Department of Energy. In Domininci’s case, for example, he’s a Republican senator from New Mexico. Two-thirds of the work force in northern New Mexico is at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Q: It seems that in the Department of Energy, there is more than enough blame to go around. This China penetration — this is not unique to the Clinton administration. It’s been going on for decades, hasn’t it?
A: Yes, decades. China, Russia and others. This is not just about China. Our experience with the Chinese kind of sticks out but we knew, and simply had our hands tied, that the Russians, the Indians and others were really feeding on the laboratory.
Q: Hillary Clinton says that “Wen Ho Lee is a victim of racial discrimination and stereotyping,” but simultaneously you have Janet Reno and Louis Freeh saying Wen Ho Lee is a “dangerous criminal.” Bill Clinton says he’s “troubled” by the case. Bill Richardson one day says the thing isn’t over, the next day he’s spinning. What’s going on?
A: They’re all running for cover. It’s the same thing that happens when you flick on a light in a cockroach-infested apartment. They’re all scurrying around trying to figure out how to play this. I’m reasonably certain that Clinton’s pander button went off in his brain and he saw an opportunity to pander to the Asian-American community. There’s no doubt that’s what Hillary was up to. That article of Sperry’s demonstrates that they were very concerned that the Asian-American community was going to shut off the money.
Q: It seems, frankly, that everybody is guilty of something here.
A: Pretty much so. In ’96, we turned this case over to the FBI. It was their case from that day forward. From probably July 1996 forward, they did nothing — and I mean nothing — until after the election. I always suspected they were holding off for fear of embarrassing the administration. But then ’96 turned into ’97. They still did nothing. Janet Reno turned down a request for technical surveillance of Dr. Lee.
Q: Let’s not just skim over that. I remember when that happened. There were something like over 2,800 requests for wiretaps that were pretty much slammed dunked. Lee’s was unique in that it was denied. Was any explanation ever given for that?
A: There are a variety of explanations but none of them are very convincing. When the warrant went forward from the FBI, there was something on the order of 25 items on the bill of particulars. I recall vividly sitting in a closed testimony with the FBI presenting this information and Sen. Thompson and others shaking their heads and asking, “Who in this room thinks that there is not probable cause in that list there to at least grant technical surveillance?” And everyone in the room thought there was except the representatives from Justice who were, of course, covering up for what their boss had done two years previous to that.
Q: Some people are still suffering under the misconception that the Department of Justice is apolitical and their objective is to merely seek out the truth and find out who, what, where, when, and that they don’t get their strings pulled by politicians.
A: Then they haven’t been watching very closely the last eight years, have they? I don’t know anyone who can believe that after the experience that we’ve had. I just came into possession of the LaBella memorandum the other day. It’s just floating around out there.
A: It is just astonishing to read that stuff. There are recommendations to go forward and somehow [Reno] finds a way to deflect them.
Q: It seems that any effort by anybody to get to anything of substance gets covered up, obfuscated, or we bomb some aspirin factory in Afghanistan.
A: If we get a change of administration and we get some people who are interested in really getting to the bottom of this, things may change. But I’m frankly not real optimistic about either party on that count.
Q: This is a non-partisan thing. Republicans are just as likely to do bad stuff as Democrats when it comes to abuse of power under the color of authority. But can you recall, in your experience, any time when it was this bad?
A: No. And I also talk to other people who have been in the federal system a lot longer than I have, and I asked them the same question. Has it ever been this bad? The answer is always, “Nope.” It’s never been this bad. The corruption in the bureaucracies in Washington is so deep now — federal employees being corrupted by their political masters. It’s like, “Look, you do it my way and you get a $10,000 bonus. If you don’t do it my way, you get run out of the government.” It’s pretty tough on a guy that has a mortgage and kids to send to college and stuff. It’s really an awful situation.
Q: Several readers and listeners have expressed concern about how bad things have gotten and, frankly, there are some folks who are anticipating real bad things for the future.
A: I share the skepticism about what has gone on on the Hill. Of all the disappointments I have encountered, the greatest has been the relative inactivity and lack of vigor in Congress in pursuing their oversight responsibility. The Congress has two functions beyond spending your money and that is conducting oversight and writing legislation to fix problems. On both functions, it has pretty much failed the test.
Q: Have you heard anything from a potential new Bush administration about joining them to help fix some of what is broken?
A: I have had some conversations with some people who might be in play and they have assured me that the problems with the FBI will go away — and they do think they need to get the right people in place. If Gov. Bush gets in, I’m sure they will focus on getting the right people in the right jobs. I feel pretty comfortable with Colin Powell and Dick Cheney and I don’t think you’d see the kind of abuses that have gone on for the last eight years here.
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news archive for previous “Sunday Q&A”