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Current DOE official once consulted for Russian nuclear companies

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Cheryl Moss Herman, an official with the United States Department of Energy, produced a detailed report in 2010 for a Russian nuclear company when she was a private energy and environmental consultant.

The document Moss Herman wrote as a consultant in 2010 was for TENAM/Tenex, according to the consulting memorandum she provided to the Russian subsidiary and obtained by Circa. TENAM is a fully-owned U.S. subsidiary of Tenex, which is 100 percent owned by the Russian state controlled nuclear company Rosatom, according to public documentation.

Titled “Policy/Legislative Issues Affecting the Business Climate in the U.S. for TENAM/Tenex,” the memorandum discussed the Department of Energy’s uranium regulations. She is now employed at the DOE’s Office Nuclear Energy develops sustainable fuel cycles.

Richard Painter, former Chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, told Circa that although no laws were broken regarding Moss Herman’s work as a consultant for the Russians prior to her work with the U.S. government there is a strong ethical argument that consultants who have worked for foreign entities “could pose a significant problem when dealing with national security interests.”

Painter said background security checks on incoming U.S. government employees aren’t thorough enough, adding it’s “a very lax system, there’s lots of room for mistakes. There’s no rules to stop a consultant from working with the Russians to then come work in the government.”

We live in a different world now with concentrated wealth in Russia, Saudi Arabia and China,” Painter said. “When you’re dealing with uranium, it’s a national security interest.”

The document Moss Herman wrote as a consultant, “Policy/Legislative Issues Attesting the Business Climate in the U.S. for TENAM/Tenex,” discussed the Department of Energy’s uranium regulations. She is now employed at the DOE’s Office of Uranium Management and Policy which assures supplies of fuel for nuclear power plants, which TENAM provides.

The executive to whom she provided the report, former Tenam president Vadim Mikerin was separately under a clandestine investigation by the FBI for corruption and money laundering, including extortion against American energy companies, and ultimately pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering.

In 2010, when Moss Herman submitted her memorandum to TENEX and Tenam Corp., the Obama administration was in its final days of reviewing the proposal from Russian state-controlled nuclear giant Rosatom to acquire Uranium One, a Canadian firm, which controlled roughly twenty percent of American uranium mining interests.

According to the DOE website, all employees go through background checks but some employees are required to pass higher level security clearances, known in the department called a, “DOE access authorization.”

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It “is an administrative determination that an individual is eligible for access to classified material when required by his or her official duties, or is eligible for access to or control over special nuclear material” and described by the website as “very similar to the security clearances granted by other Federal agencies for access to classified National Security Information.”

Moss Herman could not be reached for comment. Despite numerous calls, the DOE declined to comment on Moss Herman or if she had “DOE access authorization.” DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes told Circa “the department does not comment on personnel matters.”

Several weeks after Moss Herman wrote her report for the Russian entities, the Uranium One deal was approved Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) by the end of October, 2010. CFIUS is an inter-agency committee that reviews transactions that would lead to a change of control of a U.S. business to a foreign person or entity that may have an impact on the national security.

The Memorandum

On October 7, 2010, Moss Herman provided her analysis title “Policy/Legislative Issues Attesting the Business Climate in the U.S. for TENAM/Tenex,” to now convicted Russian national Vadim Mikerin. That October, Mikerin was promoted from Tenex to president for TENAM, the U.S. subsidiary of the Russian company.

At the official opening of the Russian subsidiary in the United States Moss Herman, was among many other U.S. business officials and Russian dignitaries, that included former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislayak, who were invited to Tenam’s grand opening party, according to an official guest list obtained by Circa. It is unclear if Moss Herman attended the event but her name was on the official list of invited guests.

At the time, however, the FBI had already been investigating Mikerin, who was then a top official with Rosatom’s TENEX subsidiary. The bureau had already gathered enough substantial evidence of bribery, money laundering and kickbacks going back to 2009, but indictments didn’t take place until 2014, according to court documents and as reported earlier by Circa.

According to Moss Herman’s 2010 memorandum she was providing, "information and analysis to TENAM/Tenex regarding policy, legislative and regulatory issues that could have an impact on TENAM/Tenex’s current and future business prospects in the United States.”

The memorandum was also meant to provide “the current status, including background information, and discussion on a few key issues that could affect the business climate for TENAM/Tenex’s directly and also introduces a number of other issues that could also have an impact on the nuclear business climate in the United States.”

She stated," some Republicans truly fear the entry of Russia into the U.S. market, as demonstrated by the fact that they are taking steps to block the purchase of Uranium One by Atomredmetzoloto." Atomredmetzoloto, known as ARMZ, is the mining arm of Rosatom. On June 8, 2010, Uranium One announced it had signed an agreement that would give “not less than 51%” of the company to JSC Atomredmetzoloto, or ARMZ. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Uranium One has two licensed mining operations in Wyoming that amount to about “20 percent of the currently licensed uranium in-situ recovery production capacity in the U.S.”

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Moss Herman warned the Russian nuclear executive, Mikerin, that there was significant congressional opposition to Russia, due to its relationship with Iran, in her memorandum.

"There are some in Congress who believe that Russia is providing Iran with sensitive nuclear technology as well as the nuclear know-how that will allow it to proliferate a nuclear weapons program, despite Russian Government statements to the contrary. Based on these concerns, broad Iran sanctions legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives, with bipartisan support, in April 2009."

She noted in her report to Mikerin, “this effort bears watching as it may provide clues as to the likely political reaction if a Russian entity was going to participate in the construction and operation of a uranium enrichment plant in the U.S.”

In the report, Moss Herman notes that the new revised Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010, are not as stringent.

"Although the earlier legislation included a prohibition on the entry into force of a 123 Agreement with any country that conducts nuclear business with Iran, the most recent version of CISADA (Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010), which was codified into law, does not include such a prohibition."

The new law would allow the president to determine if “the provision of such similar nuclear material, facilities, components, or other goods, services or technology to such other country does not undermine the nonproliferation policies and objectives of the United States,” Moss Herman wrote.

Ethical Conflicts

Last year, President Trump announced that his administration would make it tougher on lobbyists entering government and required incoming administration officials to sign an agreement not lobby for five years after the leaving the administration.

But at issue may be the narrow definition of the term lobbyist, say many ethics experts, who note that government employees may instead opt for the term “consultant” when taking on work for foreign governments or entities. Still, say experts, like Painter, they are in effect lobbying for the entities or governments.

Painter told Circa, that these conflicts of interest between work as a federal employee and consultant for foreign entities paint a broader picture of systemic problems throughout government agencies.

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“We are not well equip to deal with foreign companies and foreign governments trying to infiltrate our government through the use of paid consultants,” said Painter, not referencing Moss Herman but speaking in generalities as to the extent of apparent conflict of interests problems with federal employees.

“Conflict of interest rules don’t effectively deal with it,” he said. “If you come out of the private sector you can make decision to enter the government, there’s not much that can be done to stop the consultants. The only requirement that you sell off any financial interest you have. However, consultants are usually paid in cash, not in stock, so that may not even apply.”

Kurt Schlichter a trial lawyer, and a retired Army infantry colonel who also specializes in national security told Circa the “revolving door issue” in Washington D.C. is a significant issue when dealing with foreign powers or national security assets.

“Today, working for the government, tomorrow I’m working for a consulting agency, and the next day I’m working for a think tank,” said Schlichter. “ I think while it’s important you get people with a wide variety of experiences both in and outside, I think to some extent the public service effort has suffered from this. When being in the government is simply a stepping stone to bigger and better things then you lose the ethical commitment…Sure you want to gain experience, and that’s perfectly legitimate and you want to do something interesting, that’s fine too. But I think the revolving door minimizes the service aspect and maximizes the personal gain aspect. And that’s the danger I think we need to look at.”

Schlichter said there are many consultants who’ve worked for foreign entities or governments, who then go onto working inside the U.S. government but he noted, “there are legitimate questions, they need to be looked at, and only if to make sure that the processes are working.”

“I do think it muddies the waters,” he stated “I don’t think it automatically disqualifies you because you worked for a foreign entity, nor should you be, but you should definitely be asked appropriate questions and have to give appropriate answers,” said Schlichter, who was referring to the process the federal government uses for background checks and security clearances.

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