The early July disappearance from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL)
of two computer disks containing classified material has resulted in
a Department of Energy investigation into the matter. It has also led
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to call for a "stand-down of operations"
at "all Department of Energy operations using such controlled removable
electronic media (CREM) as classified hard drives or computer discs,"
until new procedures for improving security can be developed and implemented.
Los Alamos is located in New Mexico, home of Republican Senator Pete
Domenici, who has been a key supporter of DOE's weapons labs and chairs
the appropriations subcommittee responsible for DOE funding. On July
22, Domenici issued a letter to LANL employees, warning them of the
consequences of continued security lapses to the credibility of the
The LANL investigation is being led by DOE Deputy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow
and Linton Brooks, Director of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
In a July 20 statement, Abraham reported that McSlarrow and Brooks have
concluded that "the failure to follow appropriate procedures is
widespread and extends beyond the security area" and that "Los
Alamos lacks an effective system to ensure the proper accountability
of so-called Controlled Removable Electronic Media such as computer
disks and hard drives.... [T]hey are concerned that some within the
laboratory work force fail to understand the seriousness of the situation.
This clearly illustrates the need both for immediate, effective and
permanent corrective action and for meaningful administrative and disciplinary
action at an appropriate time." Abraham's statement concluded,
"The investigation will continue to place the highest priority
on locating the missing material. I have therefore directed Deputy Secretary
McSlarrow and Administrator Brooks to coordinate with other federal
agencies associated with the work of Los Alamos, as well as with the
Federal Bureau of Investigation, to keep them fully informed of this
The text of Domenici's July 22 letter is reproduced in full below:
"To the Community of Los Alamos:
"One of the greatest honors of my life has been the
opportunity to represent the people of Los Alamos in the U.S. Senate.
You have shaped my career as I have pursued committee assignments
such as the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development of which
I am now the chairman that largely funds the laboratory. It has been
the experts at Los Alamos on matters ranging from nuclear weapons
to the human genome that have sparked some of my most passionate efforts
in the Senate and, as a result, have created national programs ranging
from science-based stockpile stewardship and nonproliferation programs
to brain imaging and human health.
"However, over time, I have increasingly found myself
expending considerable effort not in extolling the virtues of Los
Alamos, but in defending the laboratory and the University in particular
from its critics. I have been successful; the budgets continue to
grow, and the programs and people at the laboratory are secure.
"I have found myself increasingly defending the laboratory
for failures of basic management; human resources policies, procurement,
project management, inventory control, and security. While critics
have carped, I have worked to ensure that none of the attacks harmed
the laboratory, but that effort has come at great cost.
"Unfortunately, that defense has increasingly cost
the credibility of the laboratory. Today, in Washington, Los Alamos'
reputation as a crown jewel of science is being eclipsed by a reputation
as being both dysfunctional and untouchable.
"I do not yet know if the most recent security incident
is, unto itself, of great consequence. But I can tell you that the
analogy of the straw that breaks the camel's back is appropriate.
These sorts of things, which engender a lack of confidence in not
just the laboratory's management but also every one of its employees,
must end. As the proudest defender of the laboratory, I can tell you
that the defense can no longer be sustained unless the laboratory
"Director [of LANL George "Pete"] Nanos
and Deputy Secretary McSlarrow understand the situation. I have read
reports of people who think they are making a bigger deal out of this
than they should. Let me tell you as forcefully as possible that Nanos
and McSlarrow get it. They know the magnitude of the stakes this time,
and I completely support their efforts.
"Please understand the burden that is upon each employee
of the laboratory. It will take years to reestablish Los Alamos' reputation.
Any stumble will be a revalidation of the critics and undermine all
of our good efforts. Los Alamos National Laboratory must maintain
the highest standards for technology and science, and also integrity
among its employees. With that understanding, I call on those responsible
for this most recent incident to come forth to admit their errors
so we can move forward."