Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Feedback to CBS

From Anonymous:

At the bottom of
there is a "contact us" link. Here's what I entered (and I suggest that everyone go there and enter their own words). The more, the better!
Bob Schieffer is failing just as Dan Rather failed in reporting on Bush's national guard service - The same ignorance of facts and lack of pursuance.
Bob Schieffer thinks that security at Los Alamos has become a joke. He has never been to Los Alamos and met the thousands of dedicated employees who espouse security, won the cold war, and are winning the fight against proliferation and terrorism. Please send a responsible reporter to Los Alamos to talk to these heros, rather than helping Iran, North Korea, and Bin Laden by attempting to close down Los Alamos!

Actually I think he is getting fed information from "CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, who began investigating lax security at Los Alamos more than five years ago, talked with Brown about the trouble he began seeing around every corner".
I have submitted the following to the CBS contact link. And to the 8:49AM post, even if Schieffer is being fed information from another clueless CBS reporter, that's no excuse for his yellow journalism. CBS should know what a poor job he is doing.

CBS - Where Fair Reporting Is a Joke and Bob Schieffer Is Clueless.

Never have I been so disgusted by a CBS news story than I am by Bob Schieffer's story regarding security at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Bob Schieffer has never been to LANL; Bob Schieffer has never talked with any LANL employees; Bob Schieffer has only paraphrased other totally distorted news stories without doing any research. The proud network of Walter Cronkite has sunk to the same level as Fox News with its poorly researched news programs and its "grab the ratings at any cost" reporting.

Yes there have been problems at LANL and there will always be problems because people make the wrong decisions. But while LANL is pilloried in the news, security breaches at other sites are never reported because it would take more effort to report on those stories. If CBS is really interested in reporting on security issues, it should first look to the US Navy which marks no media as classified and therefore does not have to report anything classified as missing. And then CBS should review the case of the missing disks from the DOE office in Albuquerque, NM. And then ...

Furthermore, the DOE should be made to shoulder part of the blame for the last security problem, the infamous missing-but-never-existed CREM. There is no excuse for scientists to have to transport classified information from one site to another on removable media when networks carry data around the world in a flash.Yet repeated requests for funding to extend the Red network to outlying sites have not been included in LANL's budget which comes from the DOE.

What is LANL's real problem? They are DOE/NNSA, a spineless UC president, poor upper level LANL management who serve at the will of the director, and a director who has no clue about how to manage and has alienated much of the LANL staff with his childish name-calling, temper tantrums, and profane language.

Finally, I'll continue to ignore CBS' news programs including the nightly news and 60 Minutes. If I want yellow journalism, I can always turn on Fox. And CBS, if you don't know what yellow journalism is, perhaps you had better review the history of journalism in this country. And then return to the basics of reporting - who, what, when, why, and where. And stay away from maybe. When it comes to investigative reporting, none of you is going to replace Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.
I sent them a few words. I invited them to send me an email if they needed directions to Los Alamos.
This is what I sent to CBS...

This complaint concerns the weekly commentary by Bob Schieffer titled "The Mess at Los Alamos" and currently accessible at
this URL.

The commentary contains material which is factually incorrect and, I dare say, insulting to many scientists working at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). I suggest that the commentary should be taken down. Moreover, it would be a good idea for Mr. Schieffer to issue a public apology to LANL researchers for overbroad generalizations and shoddy reporting.

The specifics follow.

Mr. Schieffer claims that in Los Alamos "the security has become ... a joke" without bothering to support this outrageous claim by ANY factual evidence. I request either substantiation or retraction.

Referring to the recent LANL shutdown prompted by the apparently missing disks with classified data, Mr. Schieffer claims that "the whole thing could have been avoided if two employees had not falsified inventory records." To the best of my knowledge and according to the data available in public record, no such falsification took place.

The justification for the shutdown can and should be questioned, but if there is any blame to be apportioned, it is to be shared by the senior LANL management (specifically the lab director) who overreacted to a security non-incident and by the various congresspersons who use LANL as a convenient political football with flagrant disregard to the effect of their grandstanding on research
essential to national security.

Dear CBS,

Regarding the recent "Bob Schieffer's Take" on "The Mess at Los Alamos," what the heck is it with you people? You've been targeting this national science resource for years now. You, and that muckracker Attkisson, seem oblivious to the brilliant work done there, choosing instead to attack them for infractions that are worth fixing, of course, but no more shocking than any other major facilities' slipups. Humans make mistakes, and humans (not reporters), fix them. No, they aren't perfect. What a surprise.

Talk about a culture problem -- CBS seems to be sliding into the lazy trap of picking on the same old subjects over and over, blowing regular issues into major events that only a "supersleuth" can uncover. Get real. And do some real stories, instead of pretending you're on to something big. Or is corporate America getting too good at slamming the door in your face and you have to turn to easier targets?

Does it make you feel effective and patriotic that you're depressing and demoralizing the 12,000 people who have chosen to serve their country at this Laboratory? Being second guessed at every turn, and pilloried by a news organization that used to be respected, is getting really old. Just let those people do what they're there for, making sure America's nuclear stockpile is safe, and fighting nuclear proliferation worldwide. Doesn't that seem like a reasonable request?

Some day, when a potential terrorist device turns up in your city, you'll be darned grateful that the Los Alamos guys got on a plane and knew which wire to cut. In fact, you should be grateful every day that those same guys are tracking nuclear materials and technology, preventing that device from showing up on your doorstep.

C'mon, CBS, do the right thing and support the good guys for once.
CBS = Crap and BullShit
These postings are a bit over the top... including the claim that the CREM incident wasn't worth a fuss. Nanos testifed, under oath, that the CREM inventory of April 2004 was falsified. This agrees with what DOE says, and what the FBI says. Yet a blogger claims to know better; if so please produce some evidence or shut up. It is exactly such claims, without evidence, that lead Congress to find that LANL employees still haven't taken the problems seriously. Same with the safety incident; Cremers clearly screwed up, as did his boss. Its all in the report; including the fact that Cremers then tried to cover it up.
I don't much like Nanos either, but the problems were real, and they weren't getting fixed under Browne. His reaction to the 1996 Efren Martines accident was to promote the two LANL managers responsible. Go visit Efren (at Sombrillo), he's real, and he's brain dead... and it cost the taxpayers $13 million to boot. The "hard drive" case led to reform in vault custody, but they didn't do CREM. Browne didn't do shit... and he didn't deal with those responsible for the "hard drive" case. Domenici got them off the criminal charges for "obstruction of justice".
So, the bills came due. Now, unless some employees get real, and accept that there were real problems, the problems still won't get fixed. If CBS really took you up on your wishes, and came to LANL, it is very unclear that you would like the result.
Nanos did something about the problems, using the Navy cure. Now he will go away, that is clear, even if UC wins. The question, if UC wins, is whether they will get serious about LANL management. They need to...
With everybody at the Lab sniping at everybody else, I wonder if we're helping to set ourselves up for the fall people inside the beltway have been setting us up for all along.

They've used CBS, who's too dumb to know they've been used all along, to help raise the cry of "Foul" against the Lab.

Atkisson is a pretty face and that's all she is. The story has been enterprised by her producer who is obviously "close personal friends" with Danielle Bryan of POGO, one of her only sources for her story. Atkisson ought to go back to holding hair and makeup seminars for TV people, which she did before started to be used as a patsy.
Atkisson, in all the years and all the stories she's done about the Lab (not one positive or remotely correct), has only been here ONCE...to interview Brown. She's called and DEMANDED this and DEMANDED that, thinking she has the goods. Not once has she ever honestly attempted to work with the Lab to do the story. In all cases, the story is written before she called and DEMANDED to interview someone without telling what the story was about. I've never heard of someone overtly telling that she was going to do an ambush interview. Bush league.

Now we've got Schieffer calling us the same thing everybody else has been calling CBS. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

It's about time we put our heads down and get to work instead of whining about how lousy we think management is around here. If this place goes down it's because we've been part of the problem.

Here's a clue: Management is lousy everywhere and we don't have a monopoly!

The outsiders want to get us because we're the icon of the nuclear age. That's all they'll ever see. They've always wanted this symbolic "kill" to justify their warped moral sensibilities. Do you want to help give it to them?

It's a good thing CBS is at the bottom of the ratings and credibility barrel. But, if they want to make a comeback, don't let it be at the expense of this Laboratory. Screw all this petty BS, it's about monkey! (Watch "The Right Stuff" if you don't get that). Write those lame bastards, help fight for this Laboratory, and show them the backbone this Lab has always had problem crankin' up.

It's not just the Lab's reputation they want to trash, it's ours.
4:56 PM Post.

Your claim that:

"Browne didn't do shit... and he didn't deal with those responsible for the "hard drive" case. Domenici got them off the criminal charges for "obstruction of justice"."

sounds like you are alleging Sen Domenici has been part of the problem, and in fact interceded to prevent criminal prosecution? Any facts to back this up? If so, please print them because if they are found to be valid, Sen Domenici's role in LANL's problems needs to be brought to light before he leaves the Senate.
Perhaps shutting down the lab is indeed a good idea! Think about it.

Why beat up on CBS when they are simply reporting what a congressional representative suggests as a real solution to an embarassing problem.

LANL employees and management have taken too seriously the policy expressed by many Los Alamos bumperstickers "STRIVING TO CREATE A WORK FREE ENVIRONMENT".

Naturally the taxpayers are going to be outraged at a $350 million event like this one.
To 4.56 - no one is implying that there aren't problems. We wish there weren't any! However to conclude that the entire Lab should be closed when its record is better or comparable to that of other Labs, and ignore the superb work that is ongoing here,is unconsionable. The problems need to be fixed, but shutting the lab down would be a devastating blow to the national security of the U.S.
"Please send a responsible reporter to Los Alamos to talk to these heros, rather than helping Iran, North Korea, and Bin Laden by attempting to close down Los Alamos!"

Are you KIDDING me? As many of the posts have eloquently pointed out, there are material errors and lack of objectivity in the news segment. PLEASE argue on those merits and not with inflamatory and reactionary statements such as those above. By resorting to such over-the-top phrases, you become no better than CBS. Hell, you become no better than Nanos.
Dear Mr. Shieffer:

I had always had high regard for your professionalism and candor. That only intensified my shock recently as I watched your program that dealt with the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Apparently based on that one program I must conclude that CBS Evening News having sunk to the depth of depravity has demonstrated in this invective against Los Alamos that your news program wishes to stay there. Frankly, the reporting on Los Alamos was one of the most pitifully exposés I have ever witnessed, not an exposé of Los Alamos, but of the blatant fabrication of a “newscast” hewn out of gossip and back room ignorance. The last such exposé was the memo-gate fiasco that precipitated the early departure of your predecessor for doing the same thing.

Did any of your staff contributors ever bother to call Los Alamos, visit here, or review the actual record of our security and safety statistics? Did your “researchers” review the role we played in the past to help secure our Nation in the turbulent period of the Cold War? Did they ask about the role we are now playing in ensuring the safety and reliability of the Nation’s enduring nuclear stockpile without resort to actual testing? Did they mention to you that in the last ten years we have enabled the conversion of highly enriched uranium from 11,000 Russian nuclear weapon into the nuclear reactor fuel that now provides a significant fraction of the energy powering your studio? Considering that the President and the Congress have declared nuclear terrorism to be our most significant threat, did your staff even bother to investigate the role that Los Alamos is playing in preventing nuclear terrorism in America including the very city from which your broadcasts emanate? These activities are carried out by highly educated and dedicated men and women in some of the world’s most secure facilities but does your staff even have a clue as to what really is going on out here? I am compelled answer these questions for you, and the answer is "Absolutely not!"

If the answers to any of the above question were in the affirmative, your researchers would have know that our continuing record of scientific accomplishment, our security, our dedication, or our patriotism are not issues here. The real story has to do with petty political opportunists intent on raiding our retirement funds and securing our operating contract for their own districts, anti-nuclear cabals inside and outside of the US Government trying to derail nuclear programs including specifically capabilities designed to prevent and deal with nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism, and on the rampant mistreatment and allegations of abuse of employees by agenda-driven senior managers. These latter three points are what you should have focused upon. That story would have taken you to the top of the charts.
From the 4:56 poster;

In answer to the 5:22 post about Domenici's involvement in the "hard drive" case see; http://www.utwatch.org/oldnews/wp_lanlfbi_9_12_00.html for a piece by the Washington Post.

In answer to the 6:08 post, I didn't say a thing about closing the Lab down. I assume that closing the Lab is impossible, whatever the merits of the case. We would all benefit from reform of the Lab.

What I was pointing out is that Browne utterly failed to deal with the security and safety problems, thus leading to last years events. The Lee case was another such case of denial. And of course TA-55 has been shut down numerous times for complete screw ups. LANL has chosen cover ups and lip service, and not dealt with the problems. I think we all know, and DOE certainly does, that these screw ups are not "necessary" for the business. Sandia, much beloved of DOE, shows what is possible. LANL management has been avoiding reform ever since the "Tiger Team", when they "stiffed" the DOE and, unique in the complex, didn't work off the TT corrective actions. LANL spends more energy avoiding these issues than it would take to fix them. DOE finds LANL the worst site in the complex to deal with.

What most of you don't know is tha LAAO wanted to compete the contract in 1997. They were sick of dealing with UC arrogance. ALOO over-ruled them. O'Leary finally caved in to Domenici. These issues are not new.

Whatever you think of the DOE, and their record is not good, they represent the taxpayers. LANL does not. UC/LANL is under contract to provide needed services; they do not represent the taxpayers. There seems to be some confusion on this point. Sandia cooperates with the DOE, LANL "stiffs" them; this has got to stop. And Domenici is a very big part of the problem; he bullies the DOE constantly, in response to pleas from LANL management. For real reform, this must stop...
Most of us who work at LANL know little about how LANL and DOE interact. We hear DOE is bad. We hear LANL is bad. We hear Dominici is bad. We hear that Dominici is a saint.
We haven't a clue whose fault all this is, but we are tired of being blamed and bullied. It worries us when we see our co-workers fired over little or nothing. We know that there was no uniform way to track CREM before the DX event. We know that management is now closing the barn door after the horse. We hope this will keep the next horse from escaping.
Most of us are just frightened about the new company coming in and taking away our benefits and we are really upset about it.
We don't get it and we are tired of it. We don't know who to blame but we are sick and tired of having innocent people blamed, for what?
7:06 PM Post.

Thanks for the info.

It is hard to believe that both Sandia and LANL are in the same state, both are represented by Sen Domenici, and DOE loves one and hates the other.

The story of how that came to be would make for interesting reading.

At some level I guess I am surprised that Sen Domenici himself hasn't taken the LANL "problem" child to the woodshed in a stronger fashion, (i.e., other than the contract competition). Perhaps he has and it is not public knowledge.

I am also surprised that DOE never put Sandia and LANL under one manager way back before LM ran Sandia. I suspect there are reasons of course.
I would encourage anyone concerned with the reputation and future of LANL to drop a note to CBS. Certainly, the 6:51 PM poster did a great job, but even a short note will be important. Once they get enough emails, the CBS producers may take notice. Blogs become really powerful tools when they manage to mobilize enough people to write emails to lawmakers/newsmedia.
Remember, our objective is a "work-free safe and secure place."
This posting will not cheer anyone up, I'm afraid.

There comes a time in the age of an institution when it may well be unable to regenerate itself in the face of mounting crises. Usually that happens when it has grown too big to be run effectively, or when the powers that be have become so corrupt and incompetent that they can't remember what the original purpose of the institution was.

The Roman Empire did not collapse in a single day. Near the end, not all Roman citizens were lazy, foolish, or depraved, though many of their so-called leaders were. The leaders, of course, blamed their own failures to hold the Empire together upon the ordinary citizens for not being alert enough to stem the barbarian tides at their gates. But as the Empire slowly crumbled, recrimination was the order of the day, as disorder settled inexorably upon everyone. Not all Romans forgot the original virtues of self-sacrifice and honor, and many spoke out against the coming disintegration.

Is LANL like the declining Roman Empire? Possibly. Are the barbarians (unwashed, unkempt, but bright-eyed at the prospect of looting all that wealth, and uncaring about the infrastructure that took so long to build) now at the gates? Are their numbers growing? Are their throaty roars growing into a cacaphony of hate? Possibly. Are we staff members helpless, like the Romans of old? No, I don't think so, but the prospects dim with every passing day.

The bottom line is that all we can do is to fight against the tide, tell the truth, and stand up to defend against the barbarian hordes. Some of us will have the ability to leave, and we should wish them well, whether they are old enough to retire, or young enough to find new careers in the academic world.

But whatever happens, we don't have to be meek and silent. And we don't have to slavishly defend the incompetents who claim to be our leaders. Better to go down fighting, with the truth on our side.
It is not inevitable. Please read the book "From Good to Great" by Jim Collins. It takes real leadership, usually by a selfless insider.
8:27 AM

"The bottom line is that all we can do is to fight against the tide, tell the truth, and stand up to defend against the barbarian hordes."

I tell the truth, so I'm clear on that. Since I am a bit dim, I am not clear on how to fight the tide and stand up to defend against the barbarian hordes.

"But whatever happens, we don't have to be meek and silent...Better to go down fighting, with the truth on our side."

Isn't this what the Japanese did toward the end of WWII? Worked out somewhat suboptimally for them I think.
Dear LAAO Anonymous 7:06 PM

Your posting is important because it at least constitutes dialogue that is often missing in the Laboratory and LAAO relationship and I apologize at the start for being overly “laboratory-centric” in my opinions. However, I have worked on both sides of the divide.

Every organization staffed by capable workers, led by competent managers and working with enlightened customers can and should institute reforms that most likely will be improvements. Like mules in harness these cohesive teams may not always be in perfect step but the plow runs the deepest when they pull together. However, "reform" without those three components can and most often does lead to disastrous results. Therefore, your premise that we would all benefit from “reform” of the Laboratory is an assumption not supported necessarily by historical precedence. In a bicycle built for two, a reform that requires the first biker to pedal furiously to climb some steep hill and the second one to keep applying the brake to prevent the bike from rolling backwards would punish both bikers. Unfortunately and too often, this is the situation we have in the Los Alamos-LAAO relationship and frankly both parties suffer as a consequence.

Your assertion that John Browne utterly failed to deal with the security and safety problems again is not supported by historical data used by the NNSA to evaluate performance. Under Browne’s leadership the Laboratory achieved a “best-of-class” rating in safety and his security statistics were on par with those of Sandia and Livermore even though it is widely known that Los Alamos tends to report at a lower threshold than its two sister laboratories.

The Lee case that you mentioned as a “case of denial” is also only an assertion and is not supported by the facts. Federal Judge James Parker had access to all the probative information in the case. He expressed his disappointment with several parties having roles in the case. (http://www.asianam.org/judge_parker.htm). The Los Alamos National Laboratory was not numbered among them. The Departments of Energy and Justice were. Obviously, Los Alamos cannot be held accountable for willful criminal acts of others. However, where the Laboratory sometimes errs specifically is in not asserting its prerogatives as a “victim organization” by removing the suspect individuals earlier in the process. This tension between “making the prosecutor's case” and “protecting national security” is complex and both goals are important but both must be kept in proper balance.

I don't believe that TA-55 has been shut down but PF-4 located within TA-55 has. These shut downs have been for short periods of time in order to remedy problems that had largely been self-identified. It is inconceivable that in the current regulatory/oversight environment with LAAO personnel directly overseeing operations that Los Alamos would or could engage in cover-ups. Again I do not believe that your assertion is supported by the facts. If you have evidence of intentional cover-up of a safety problem you need to report that impropriety immediately through the appropriate channel

I agree that Sandia is much beloved by the Albuquerque Office of the NNSA and, even though you did not mention it, Livermore is much beloved by the Oakland Office. However, what would the relationships be if those two organizations worked with LAAO? I am not trying to be overly harsh but I believe this question is appropriate because it goes to the heart of the matter. In the case of Albuquerque and Oakland there has always been close coordination with Sandia and Livermore respectively and a realization that coordination produces product and results. The laboratories and the area offices understand their respective roles. Both bikers are one team, pedaling together.

LAAO on the other hand unfortunately has decided that Los Alamos was somehow the enemy and proceeded to treat the Laboratory accordingly. You can hear that invective bubbling to the surface in your statement: “What most of you don't know is that LAAO wanted to compete the contract in 1997. They were sick of dealing with UC arrogance. ALOO over-ruled them. O'Leary finally caved in to Domenici.” Granted this attitude intensified the "arrogance" that you seem to have noticed. The aforementioned statement does beg the question, “Does LAAO see itself as a “peddler or a brakeman?”

I would argue that your assertion that "Los Alamos spends more energy avoiding issues than it would take to fix them" needs enlightenment as well. Fixing problems requires money and for sixty years Los Alamos has had to maintain facilities out of program dollars. The Department seemed to have a policy of running facilities to failure, an expression I recently heard a LAAO employee say with respect to TA-18. One sees the "slash and burn" mentality at the abandoned DP Road Complex, the CMR Building, the TA-50 Liquid Waste Facility, and other facilities at Los Alamos too numerous to name. One does not see this approach at Sandia and Livermore. Moreover, putting this shortsighted philosophy into today's increasingly stringent regulatory and security environment is a recipe for disaster. The results will always be the same. NNSA will expect us to operate facilities that are vital to its mission, such as pit production or criticality safety, without providing the funds to replace facilities or to stay ahead of critical maintenance schedules. At the same time, the compliance and security regimes will continue to create increasingly complex demands and requirements. At some juncture, either the systems or the people will break. LAAO will absolve itself of responsibility. NNSA will absolve itself of responsibility. The DOE will absolve itself of responsibility. The Laboratory will be beaten in front of the media and Congress as a show of “good faith.” As Senator Rudman once described a similar situation, “This is fleckless management at its worse.”

I certainly question your assertion that “DOE represents the taxpayers. LANL does not.” The truth is that neither DOE/NNSA nor LAAO represent the American taxpayer. In representative government that function constitutionally falls to the legislature, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The DOE and its elements, as part of the Executive Branch, execute the will of American citizens expressed by their representatives one of whom is Senator Domenici (some citizens are not taxpayers). Therefore, it is not the responsibility of the DOE, NNSA, or LAAO to represents our citizens. It is certain their responsibility to protect them against nuclear threats from declared nuclear states, from the proliferation of nuclear weapons to unstable regimes, and from the ominous threat of nuclear terrorism. Los Alamos has shared that responsibility for over six decades and neither of us can afford today to step out of that responsibility as a matter of pusillanimity, pride or convenience. Peddling together like there may be no tomorrow is the only option we have as a free people wishing to stay that way.
Sandia may be beloved by DOE, however
they do very very little science. In
fact LANL is 11th in the entire world in terms of published papers and citations. Sandia, well maybe 200th.
There is no science in Sandia. Name
someone good? Anyone? No. Now Sandia
may be fine an enginnering but not at
science. Sandia does not matter. It
is irrelevant. I do not know anyone from Sandia that got a unversity job. LANL counts. If LANL goes down
it will be a huge blow to the US
No science at Sandia? Their Pulsed Power Sciences Center is far and away the best in the world. They developed wire-away z-pinches into the most powerful pulsed x-ray source anywhere. Their Z accelerator produces as much x-ray energy today as NIF will produce when completed in 2010. The staff members working on Z publish extensively. They are among the two or three best ICF laboratories in the world (Livermore and Rochester are the other two, Los Alamos is at the bottom among US labs).
Arrogance combined with ignorance is a dangerous combination. The above posting deriding Sandia sounds like the Pete Nanos statements from around January 2004 in which he claimed that only UC knew how to manage great science.
Of course Sandia does great science and Los Alamos does great engineering. This contest is not between Sandia and Los Alamos. The problem lies with our own abusive and incompetent senior management and an oversight area office and department that has lost the bubble with respect to what they were created in the first instance to accomplish.
To 1:32 PM:
I agree but we need to add to the "problem list" the President of UC who prefers not to open his eyes hoping evil will go away and thereby is allowing evil to destroy the reputation of the UC as an institution that cares for its people. We also need to add the Vice-President of UC for Laboratory Operations who is part of the evil by actively defending it.
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