Sandia LabNews

Labs Director Paul Robinson joins President Clinton aboard Air Force One


"I would also like to recognize two New Mexicans who work at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque who have not been properly recognized. Chris Cherry and Rod Owenby in 1996 assisted FBI and ATF agents during the search of Theodore Kaczynski’s residence in Montana. They, at considerable risk to themselves, helped to lead to the capture and conviction of Mr. Kaczynski and put an end to his deadly attacks. They live among you, and they have never gotten credit for what they did, and I think we ought to express our thanks to them tonight."

Flying toward Albuquerque on Air Force One, Sandia President and Laboratory Director C. Paul Robinson spoke earnestly with President Bill Clinton.

Among the topics of the 30-minute discussion: science-based stockpile stewardship, the START II Treaty, labs funding, and counterterrorism.

"We had just taken off [from Washington] when President Clinton came in and sat down to talk," says Paul, who was invited by the president to accompany him to New Mexico aboard Air Force One on Feb. 3 after a business trip to the nation’s capital. It was Clinton’s third visit to Albuquerque in the past 18 months.

Gathered with Paul were Energy Secretary Federico Peña; Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.; Rep. Bill Redmond, R-N.M.; and Robert Bell, the president’s senior director at the National Security Council for defense policy and arms control.

Quick rewrite of Clinton’s speech

Twice the president said emphatically, "I just love our national labs," Paul told the Lab News. Clinton said it the first time when he and Paul shook hands. He reiterated that feeling when told about the key role Sandians Chris Cherry and Rod Owenby (both 9333) played in the Unabomber case (see "Disabling the Unabomber’s final bomb" on page 5).

That bit of information led to a quick rewrite of the president’s speech just hours before it was to be delivered later that day on Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza.

"Secretary Peña was our champion about the role that Chris and Rod had done in dismantling the Unabomber’s live bomb in his Montana cabin following his arrest," Paul says. "Peña mentioned that I had just gotten clearance from the FBI to mention their role since the trial was over and they wouldn’t have to testify."

Chris and Rod’s role in solving the case had been kept secret for nearly two years.

Clinton was so taken with the story he immediately instructed his speech writer to sit next to Paul to gather the details.

"They cleared the text with the Department of Justice and I got a chance to read the final version," Paul says.

Here’s what the president said early into his late-afternoon 16-minute speech before live local TV coverage and thousands of people who had come to hear him:

"I would also like to recognize two New Mexicans who work at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque who have not been properly recognized. Chris Cherry and Rod Owenby in 1996 assisted FBI and ATF agents during the search of Theodore Kaczynski’s residence in Montana. They, at considerable risk to themselves, helped to lead to the capture and conviction of Mr. Kaczynski and put an end to his deadly attacks. They live among you, and they have never gotten credit for what they did, and I think we ought to express our thanks to them tonight."

The crowd roared, and Chris and Rod, who were with Paul in the audience, said later they felt honored and proud.

Burden on labs

In other areas of their discussion aboard Air Force One, Paul says President Clinton expressed his admiration and appreciation of Sandia, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories, particularly in the context of science-based stockpile stewardship and the need for certainty when it comes to the safety, security, and reliability of America’s nuclear weapons in the face of no further tests.

"He [Clinton] told me about his visit with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and with the chiefs of each of the major commands earlier this week," Paul says. "He mentioned General Eugene Habiger [commander-in-chief of the Strategic Command] who told him how seriously he had taken his role in stockpile stewardship, including an independent assessment with some of the best people he could find. But Habiger told the president the biggest burden for certification is on the laboratories and the laboratory directors."

Paul said the conversation turned to the prospects of the Russian Duma ratifying the START II Treaty, and then to funding for the national labs.

"Secretary Peña talked about the funding and how essential that was, and in particular, my role in trying to secure funds, both to keep people and for building new facilities," Paul says.

When Peña spoke briefly on the plaza before Clinton, he thanked the president for his support of Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories.

"I’m proud to be here with President Clinton because he has fought to support our labs, investing in research and technology, and that’s important to New Mexico," he said to cheers from the audience.

Visit to Los Alamos

After Air Force One landed at Kirtland Air Force Base, Paul boarded an MH53-J "Pavelow" helicopter assigned to Kirtland’s 58th Special Operations Wing for the quick flight to Los Alamos. The president flew in a White House helicopter brought to Albuquerque inside a giant C-5 transport aircraft.

At Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), President Clinton underscored the crucial role Los Alamos, Sandia, and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories have in maintaining a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear deterrent. In a noontime address to lab employees, Clinton noted that the directors of the three laboratories – all of whom were in attendance – had confirmed that the laboratories can continue to certify the nuclear stockpile through the science-based stockpile stewardship program. Success of the program, he noted, is vital to the Senate’s ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

"I don’t think we can get the treaty ratified unless we can convince the Senate that the stockpile stewardship program works," Clinton said.

Robert Bell of the National Security Council said in a White House briefing the day before the president’s trip to Los Alamos that the visit was intended to underscore the vital role the three national security laboratories play in assuring four of the six safeguards under which the US is prepared to enter into the CTBT.

The first safeguard is the science-based stockpile stewardship program; the second is maintaining very modern laboratory facilities and programs in theoretical and exploratory nuclear technologies; the third is preserving the basic capability to resume nuclear test activities should the treaty no longer be in force for whatever reason; and the fourth is the option to withdraw from the treaty if for some unlikely reason the secretary of defense and secretary of energy – in consultation with the Nuclear Weapons Council, the labs directors, and the commander of the Strategic Command – can no longer certify high confidence in the nation’s nuclear weapons.

In a demonstration of Los Alamos’ computing capability – a vital element of the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) and stockpile stewardship – the lab ran three different simulations off the so-called Blue Mountain supercomputer: One dealing with how the computer can help with transportation prediction problems; one on environmental issues and weather prediction; and the third a nuclear test simulation itself.

Sandia currently has the world’s fastest computer, the Intel teraflops, which has a top speed of 1.8 teraflops, or 1.8 trillion floating point operations per second. The teraflops represents a major initial effort of ASCI, a DOE program designed to provide the software, computer platforms, weapons codes, and user environments to run simulations for making critical decisions about the safety and reliability of the nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing. The initiative calls for computing speeds of up to 100 teraflops by 2004.

Increased support for science

Clinton announced in his address at LANL that his recently submitted balanced budget includes $517 million to help the DOE develop the next generation of supercomputer technology.

"Just recently, we signed contracts with four leading United States companies to help build supercomputers that will be 1,000 times faster than the fastest computer that existed when I took office," Clinton said. "By 2001, they’ll be able to perform more calculations in a second than a human being with a hand-held calculator could perform in 30 million years."

Also in his LANL address, the president spoke of his increased support of science and technology in his proposed budget.

"The new balanced budget contains the largest investment in science and technology in history," he said. "It includes a $31 billion 21st century Research Fund to significantly increase funding for the Department of Energy, the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the National Cancer Institute."

Clinton also emphasized the need to use science and technology to combat global warming. "There really is a scientific consensus that if we don’t do something to slow the rate of greenhouse gas emissions, and in fact, turn it around and reduce it in America and throughout the developed world and eventually throughout the developing world as well, we will disrupt our climate in ways that are potentially disastrous for people all around the world sometime in the next century," he said.