Two Republican senators introduced legislation on July 29 to require the Department of Energy's (DOE) National Laboratories to administer intelligence-grade polygraph tests to all applicants from nations on the State Department's "Countries of Particular Concern" list and who lack green cards.
The 17 labs grew out of the original Oak Ridge, Tennessee, facility that was famously part of the Manhattan Project's research and development program that led to the atomic bombs used by the United States to end World War II in 1945.
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) hasn't been involved in nuclear weapons research since 1945, but it's now the largest of the 17 DOE National Labs, which also include such well-known institutions as the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The National Labs, according to the DOE, "tackle the critical scientific challenges of our time—from combating climate change to discovering the origins of our universe—and possess unique instruments and facilities, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. They address large scale, complex research and development challenges with a multidisciplinary approach that places an emphasis on translating basic science to innovation."
In addition to the resources and research areas that are of wide interest to scientists generally, some of the National Labs also conduct classified research, which is what makes the facilities such attractive targets for infiltration, especially by China, which, through its Thousand Talents Program (TTP) and other efforts, has systematically targeted U.S. government, academic, and corporate resources for decades in order to steal technology, sensitive information, and data.
"While employed at the National Lab, Individual N hosted dozens of other Chinese nationals, worked on numerous Energy funded projects, and visited multiple Energy labs," the report reads. "The individual hired at least four Chinese nationals and TTP participants, while at least eight others were known to be no-pay appointments paid for by other Chinese organizations.
"The investigation revealed a disproportionate collaboration with Chinese institutions, and the individual attempted to initiate official sharing agreements between the laboratory and a Chinese organization. Additionally, the investigation found that monitoring the group’s work was complicated by the language barrier, the revolving door of personnel, and the somewhat insular nature of the group. A later review identified at least six projects designated as sensitive."
“The polygraph program will serve as a deterrent to foreign nationals with malevolent intentions. It will also provide a tool to protect critical research and identify security threats.”
Barrasso is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Marshall also is a member of the panel, which is chaired by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
“The research being done at our National Laboratories is funded by American taxpayers, and it needs to be the American people reaping the rewards. Yet, we know that American innovation is constantly being stolen and smuggled overseas by our enemies, particularly China. This is simply unacceptable,” Marshall said in the same statement.
“We currently have thousands of Chinese and Russian foreign nationals working in the Department of Energy, and while I have no doubt that most are faithfully contributing to American progress, the war in Ukraine has shown it is more vital than ever that we do all we can to protect our technological advancements.
"I am proud to join Ranking Member Barrasso in introducing this legislation, which will establish the same polygraph procedures used by the intelligence community to separate those who want to work for American interests from those who may have split loyalties.”
Notable accomplishments of the labs, according to the DOE, include participating with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other laboratories in the Human Genome Project that first mapped DNA.
"Researchers at the National Labs helped to develop the field of nuclear medicine, producing radioisotopes to diagnose and treat disease, designing imaging technology to detect cancer and developing software to target tumors while sparing healthy tissue," the DOE website reads.
"The works of ancient mathematician Archimedes—written over by medieval monks and lost for millennia—were revealed to modern eyes thanks to the X-ray vision and light-source technology at National Labs. These studies also have revealed secrets of masterpiece paintings, ancient Greek vases, and other priceless cultural artifacts."