The White House Briefing Room

March 9, 1999


3:00 P.M. (L)

                                THE WHITE HOUSE

                         Office of the Press Secretary
                            (Tegucigalpa, Honduras)
For Immediate Release                                March 9, 1999

                                 PRESS BRIEFING
                                  JOE LOCKHART

                                   Hotel Maya
                             Tegucigalpa, Honduras

3:00 P.M. (L)

	MR. LOCKHART:  I've got to go quick because I guess the President is 
ahead of schedule.  But let me do one quick announcement, and then I'd be glad 
to take your questions.

	President Clinton will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 
Senator George Mitchell at the White House on March 17th, as part of the annual 
St. Patrick's Day observance.  The Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest 
civilian honor and is a fitting tribute to the extraordinary accomplishments of 
Senator Mitchell.

	Q	What is the President's reaction to the dismissal of the 
scientist at Los Alamos who is suspected of trading secrets to the Chinese?

	MR. LOCKHART:  I think the President supports Secretary Richardson's 
action of dismissing the employee.  The Secretary did it after conferring with 
the FBI on the status of the ongoing investigation.  As you all know from 
Secretary Richardson's comments yesterday, the Department of Energy had already 
taken steps in relation to this employee, including suspending security 
clearance and moving him from a classified work place to a nonclassified job.  
So I think the President supports the move 
that Secretary Richardson made.

     Q	  Well, Vice President Gore has now decided -- he said 
that he thinks it's George Bush's administration's fault and the

Reagan administration's fault for letting this kind of activity 
-- and then your administration has signed an executive order in 
January of '98 tightening procedures at Los Alamos.

     MR. LOCKHART:  Right.
     Q	  Did this happen on somebody else's watch?

     MR. LOCKHART:  Well, I think the case in question here, the 
alleged transferring question, was something that happened in the 
early 1980s.  I think the administration, in 1997, after having 
some concerns about the vulnerabilities that the labs brought to 
our attention proceeded to launch a vigorous assessment, using 
the CIA and other assets in our national security operation to 
look at ways to make sure that this alleged transfer would not be 
able to happen now.  

     They took a number of steps.  There was a presidential 
decision directive issued in February of 1998 that has taken a 
series of important steps to address any vulnerabilities in the 
DOE lab system.

     Q	  Joe, there are some people in Congress, though, who 
believe -- and are saying off the record or on background -- that 
the gentleman who was arrested, this Professor Lee, is apparently 
not considered to be, by the intelligence and law enforcement 
people, a major player -- that he is, in effect, perhaps even a 

     MR. LOCKHART:  Well, I don't have any information that would 
support that.  I think Secretary Richardson acted properly.  
There is an ongoing investigation into this issue, looking at how 
technology may have been transferred in the 1980s, but I'd have 
to refer you to the FBI for details on that investigation.

     Q	  Joe, does the President have any reaction to the 
sinking of the two boat loads of Haitian refugees, or Haitian -- 
and will there be any shift in the priority of using the Coast 
Guard to crack down on human smuggling, as opposed to drug 

     MR. LOCKHART:  Well, I'm not aware of any shift.  But, 
obviously, this was a tragic incident with the loss of life, I 
believe, of more than 40 people, but I'm not aware of any shift 
in our policy.
     Q	  Joe, back to the Chinese transfer issue.  Don Nickles 
says that it looks like he's going to need to hold an 
investigation because he believes there's a real concern the 
administration kept the information about this from Congress.

     MR. LOCKHART:  No, I don't think so.  I think the 
administration moved rapidly in 1997 when this came to our 
attention, took the steps we needed to, to develop safeguards 
against any illegal transfer, and Congress was kept fully 
informed.  There were a series of briefings from the Department 
of Energy, starting in 1996, going through 1998, where I think 
there were a half a dozen briefings on this issue to the relevant 
committees in Congress.

     Q	  Well, if you knew about this for so many years, how 
come he was fired only after it came out in The New York Times?

     MR. LOCKHART:  I think as Secretary Richardson pointed out, 
as I think some people at the FBI have pointed out, this was part 
of an ongoing investigation and they, in their judgment, thought 
it was better to move forward in this way and to try to gather 
information with this gentleman in his job.

     Q	  Joe, Congressional critics are also saying that even 
after two GAO reports and the heightened security initiatives 
that you spoke about, there's still a serious security problem at 
that laboratory because of hundreds of thousands of e-mails, for 
various other reasons, there's still a big problem.  Do you 
recognize that as the risk?

     MR. LOCKHART:  We have instituted a series of very new and 
very tough counterintelligence operations to try to look at the 
vulnerability of the DOE labs.  We're certainly willing to work 
with Congress, with the Cox committee to see if there to see if 
there are other steps that need to be taken.  We have taken this 
very seriously over the last two years.  We've taken important 
steps to tighten security at the Department of Energy labs.  But 
if there's more that needs to be done, we'll do more.
     Q	  Joe, if there is enough evidence to fire this guy, why 
isn't there enough yet to arrest him, and what's the difference 
in standards?

     MR. LOCKHART:  I would refer you to the FBI on their ongoing 
investigation.  My understanding from Secretary Richardson is the 
reason he was fired was lack of cooperation with the 
     Q	  What about the $900 million for the emergency relief 
down here?  Do you think, or does the President think that his 
trip will free up that money?  And he has refrained from making 
the same political comments you have about what's holding it up.

     MR. LOCKHART:  I think as people become aware of some of the 
things that we've seen, that the President has seen, some of the 
stories, some of the devastation that we've witnessed over the 
last two days, it's certainly our hope that we can work through 
some of these issues that have bogged down the debate on moving 
the supplemental emergency bill forward.

     Q	  But, Joe, it's not about the merits of the aid, it's 
about how to pay for it.

     MR. LOCKHART:  This, what we've seen in the last two days, 
is the textbook case for emergency spending.  This is something 
that could not have been foreseen.  And we don't think we should 
pit one program against another program when we have a clear 
emergency here.  This aid is needed; it's an urgent situation.  
The stories are heartbreaking that we've heard over the last few 
days, and we believe that it's in the best interest of our 
partners down here, our friends down here, that we move forward 
     Q	  Joe, the House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young today 
said the Republicans would require outlines for the possibility 
of a deal to get it passed.  And you said that it would require 
that money would be put into a special U.S. controlled fund so 
that the State Department and AID would have direct pull over how 
it got spent.  Is that acceptable to you?

     MR. LOCKHART:  I haven't seen that proposal.  But I can 
assure members of Congress on these issues that we take extra 
care and work with the governments in question in these countries 
to make sure that the money is used appropriately and spent 
wisely.  That has been the case, I believe, with the money we 
already sent down here.  I think you saw today some of the 
results.  We crossed a bridge today because of what the Marines 
were able to do here.  And we're going to make sure that the 
money is spent wisely.

     I think, more importantly, is we need to move forward and 
get this process done with.  We need to get the money freed up 
and we need to get it down here where it can be used.

     Q	  Hey, Joe, if you all want this to move quickly and the 
price of moving quickly is offsets, are you all prepared to look 
at other offsets?  Or is it just offsets in general that --

     MR. LOCKHART:  Well, I don't have the latest of what's going 
on back in Washington on this.  We think, particularly on the 
Central American money, this meets directly the definition of 
emergency funding.  And what we don't want to do is start pitting 
programs against it when there's an emergency down here.  And I 
think the President believes very strongly and it's only been 
reinforced by what he's seen over the last two days, that we need 
to move forward quickly.

     And I think, as he said yesterday, he's looking forward to 
when he returns to Washington, getting with the leadership and 
trying to get this issue worked out.

     Q	  Where is Secretary Richardson?  Is he with the 

     MR. LOCKHART:  He will be here this afternoon or this 

     MR. LEAVY:  I think he got snowed in, because of the snow in 
Washington.  He may not come down until tomorrow.


             END                      3:10 P.M. (L)