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N-lab workers want chief to join in polygraph tests

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) -- Amid the uproar over Chinese espionage, scientists at the Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory are being told their loyalty is not in question, but still many of them will soon be subject to lie detector tests.

So when Energy Secretary Bill Richardson came to the laboratory where a half century ago the atomic bomb was born, he was confronted with the question: Shouldn't he be tested too?"Will you lead by example and take a polygraph yourself?" one of the scientists asked Thursday in an auditorium packed with more than 600 people.

"I might," replied the energy secretary, former U.N. ambassador and seven-term congressman. There was laughter, but no satisfaction.

It was not until the last question, when a woman stood and made clear the matter wasn't going to be dropped. She wanted to know if an employee of 25 years were asked to subject herself to a lie detector test under threat of being removed from her job and replied "I might," would that be greeted with laughter?

She repeated the question.

"I'm prepared to take it," Richardson finally answered, somewhat taken aback by the exchange.

Richardson tried to assure the laboratory workers that the tests would be "focused" to specific questions to root out potential espionage and avoid questions into people's "lifestyle."

"When we do it we're going to do it properly," he insisted. Only two other agencies use polygraphs on workers -- the CIA and the National Security Agency.

Later, on a flight from Los Alamos to the Sandia National Laboratory outside Albuquerque, Richardson said he had no problem with taking a polygraph test but thought saying so would take attention away from the issue he had come to talk about: concern that the Asian Americans are being subjected to unfair guilt-by-association and facing possible discrimination because of all the Chinese espionage talk.

"Asian Americans feel their patriotism is being questioned and that their careers will suffer as a result," he said.