Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Livermore security breaches overlooked

Livermore security breaches overlooked

By Betsy Mason

Lawrence Livermore Laboratory has quietly weathered the media firestorm ignited by the reported loss of classified computer disks at Los Alamos Laboratory in July, but Department of Energy records show Livermore has had more serious security incidents over the past three years than its embattled New Mexico cousin.

In response to the missing disks and resulting scrutiny from the press and the federal government, Los Alamos Lab director Peter Nanos shut down all activity there July 16. A week later, the DOE halted all work involving removable classified media, such as computer disks and drives, at all of its facilities, including Lawrence Livermore.

Work resumed at Livermore a few weeks after an inventory accounted for all classified removable media at the lab. But work at many high-security facilities at Los Alamos remained stalled for more than six months. Recently completed investigations by the FBI and the DOE concluded the missing disks never existed.

Many more security incidents have occurred at the DOE's four nuclear weapons labs, including Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico and California, that haven't gotten the same attention as the lost disks.

Records recently released by the National Nuclear Security Administration within the DOE show that of 87 security incidents at Livermore Lab from 2002 to 2004, 35 were Category 1, defined by the DOE as incidents that "pose the most serious threats to national security interests and/or DOE assets and could potentially create serious security situations."

Category 1 incidents are considered the most serious security incidents because they could result in top secret nuclear weapon information falling into the wrong hands. The incidents may include classified information provided to an unauthorized person or put on an unclassified computer system, and unsecured or unattended security containers.

At Livermore, four incidents resulted in confirmed disclosure of classified information to an unauthorized person.

"In all those cases, the determination was made that the impact was minimal," said NNSA spokesman Bryan Wilkes.

While the specific nature of these disclosures is classified, an example could be one level of classified information being disclosed to a person with a lower security clearance level, Wilkes said.

Meanwhile, Los Alamos Lab, commonly viewed as the worst offender when it comes to security lapses, had more total incidents with 102, but only 22 were considered Category 1 incidents, 13 fewer than Livermore Lab.

Like Livermore, Los Alamos had four confirmed disclosures of classified information to unauthorized people.

Another 39 incidents at Los Alamos and nine at Livermore are still being investigated and haven't been confirmed or rated yet.

Sandia in New Mexico had the most total incidents with 160, but only 14 were Category 1. At Sandia in Livermore, three of 42 total incidents were Category 1. The two labs combined had two confirmed disclosures of information to an unauthorized person.

It is difficult to compare the numbers between labs because each site uses its own judgment when reporting and categorizing security incidents, Wilkes said. "We're working on that," he said.

NNSA takes each incident seriously, Wilkes said, but it is important to keep the numbers in perspective. "When one considers the numbers of transactions we have, they number in the hundreds of thousands or millions," Wilkes said. "So these (security incident) numbers are fairly low. We are confident in the safety and security at all our sites."

Both Livermore and Los Alamos referred all questions about the security incidents to NNSA.

Even before the incident numbers were made public, employees at Los Alamos had begun to speak out about the shutdown and resulting tensions at the lab. Some employees have said they think Nanos overreacted and the complete shutdown, firings, demotions and reprimands were overkill.

On an Internet blog called "LANL: The Real Story," a few employees have been venting about Nanos, who in the days and months following the report of missing disks called workers "cowboys" who feel they are above the rules. Some lab employees have even called for his resignation. Others have called the climate at the lab "poisonous."

The security incident numbers are adding to some employees' opinions that Los Alamos was unfairly punished for a problem that exists at all the weapons labs.

I have worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory for 22.5 years.
In that time I have been honored to work with professionals from both Sandia and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. In every case I have found these people to be deeply devoted to the security of this nation.

Never in my career have I witnessed an attitude that could be characterized as cavalier or inattentive to the critical functions in our charge.

Many of us engage in the inter-service rivalries that have become institutionalized over the years. But to all of my colleagues throughout this complex, please know that you have our utmost respect, and sincere gratitude for your support through these trying times.

John Horne
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