DOE counterintelligence Richland office to close

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldApril 1, 2013 

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., is asking the Department of Energy for information on why it closed the DOE field office in Richland doing counterintelligence work for the Hanford nuclear reservation.

A Chicago office also is being closed. It and the Hanford office were among 18 DOE Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence field offices across the country.

Hanford counterintelligence work now will be done at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, which already does counterintelligence work, including protecting intellectual property at the lab. However, DOE declined to discuss whether PNNL would be given additional resources to do the work or how many PNNL employees do counterintelligence work there.

DOE officials in Washington, D.C., also declined to say why the Richland Field Office of Counterintelligence had been closed, other than that multiple factors were considered and that during the years DOE has opened and closed field offices as needed.

The closure follows mandatory federal budget cuts, called sequestration, but DOE would say only that every federal department is scrutinizing its budget.

The field office employed two employees under contract, who were laid off at the end of March, and four federal employees, who continue to be employed by DOE. Where they will work has not been released.

The Richland office worked to identify and deal with threats to cyber systems, critical science, technology, materials and workers, according to a DOE web page that was available to the public until recently.

The Hanford nuclear reservation has irradiated uranium fuel rods and radioactive waste left from the past production of nearly two-thirds of the plutonium for the nation's weapons program. However, weapons-grade plutonium left at Hanford after the Cold War ended has been shipped to South Carolina.

Many foreign governments have aggressively targeted DOE employees, according to the former website, and the office worked with DOE and DOE contractor employees to safeguard classified, proprietary and sensitive information.

Employees traveling out of the United States for business or vacations were briefed by office staff and advised not to take laptops with them that had work information.

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