Sat, Jul 17, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Los Alamos research lab still under security cloud


Another security breach at Los Alamos National Laboratory prompted the lab to halt all classified work on Thursday while officials conducted a wall-to-wall inventory of sensitive data.

The standdown began at noon, and the inventory of CDs, floppy disks and other data-storage devices is expected to be completed within days, laboratory spokesman Kevin Roark said.

Last week, the laboratory reported that two items that contained classified information were missing.

The materials were identified only as removable data-storage devices.

The incident was the latest in a series of embarrassments that have prompted federal officials to put the Los Alamos management contract up for bid for the first time in the 61-year history of the laboratory that built the first atomic bomb.

Laboratory officials are searching for the items and investigating how they disappeared.

under escort

Individuals who had access to the items are being allowed to enter their workplace under escort only, and work has been shut down in part of the unit involved, the Weapons Physics Directorate, while the investigation continues, laboratory officials said.

The National Nuclear Security Agency, the federal agency overseeing the laboratories, sent a team to Los Alamos this week to investigate the loss.

The University of California, which has operated Los Alamos from its beginnings during the World War II race to build the bomb, has not decided whether to compete for the contract when it expires next year.

But the university warned on Thursday that security breaches must come to an end.

Pete Nanos, director of the Los Alamos laboratory, briefed the UC Board of Regents on the incident, saying: "It's time for all the employees at Los Alamos to take a stand and ask themselves what do I believe in. The challenge before them is clear."

Similarly classified material was reported missing in May. Laboratory officials later said they believe the material was destroyed as intended, but that the paperwork was faulty.

In addition to the latest security lapse, Los Alamos has been under fire since 2002 after allegations arose about purchasing fraud, equipment theft and mismanagement.

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