Saturday, March 05, 2005

Regarding "No one is as necessary as they think."

"No one is as necessary as they think."

Normally, I would agree with that statement except that at LANL we have lost,in the last few years, some incredibly important scientists and other workers who were the backbone of the US nuclear weapons program. Some have retired and moved away. Some have died. And many have been driven away. Most of the experienced employees who are left will retire by June 30th to prevent the loss of their pension which is inevitable if the contract is changed along the lines recommended in either of the draft RFP's. Frankly the experienced people LANL has left are of the utmost importance.

Thanks to Nanos, some who have already retired, are not allowed to come back because they will be seen as "double dipping". Of course, Nanos himself is double dipping, but what is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander at Los Alamos.

But the loss of scientists is not the only problem at LANL. The loss of all kinds of employees is a problem. LANL has lost administrative professionals, technicians and clerks who understand how the weapons programs work on a different, but very important, level. LANL has lost its classified library, a great deal of which has not been converted to electonic media and it has lost or punished the people who know the intricate and ill-defined rules of maintaining classified resources.

LANL's dirty little secret is that for every scientist or engineer fired there are usually at least two lower level employees who are fired or disciplined. Just look at the case of the non-existent media. Several managers were demoted. One technical staff member was fired. And two vault workers were fired. These people were doing their best to work within a system that had never been truly defined.

In fact, often scientists and engineers who make mistakes are neither fired nor disciplined. Only those who are lower than Technical Staff Member level take the blame.

For those who have never tried it, maintaining a collection of classified media for use by scientists and engineers is far from trivial. And for low level employees who attempt to enforce rules on scientists, engineers, and, God forbit, managers, the future is bleak. They are just as likely to be fired or disciplined for enforcing rules as for breaking them.

Why would anyone want to work on classified work after the beatings taken by Wen Ho Lee, the members of the NEST team (whose hard disks disappeared and then reappeared behind the copy machine) and now the career damage done to the folks in DX-3 who were fired and/or punished -- apparently only for PR purposes?

If only Nanos had done what he said he would do, solve safety and security problems and hold people accountable. Unfortunately, he only held non-management employees accountable and he only held them accountable for the failure of management to provide a system that actually worked for tracking classified media. It is time that someone hold Nanos accountable.

I agree that LANL has driven off and continues to drive off people with important science and engineering knowledge. But I also believe that not enough has been made of the firings and punishment of lower level employees without whom the laboratory could not function. Their jobs also require knowledge and experience that LANL can ill afford to lose.

Sadly, LANL is being run by a bunch of managers who know little about management,in general, and specifically about the management of a premier nuclear weapons program. They don't understand that their only tools are people and that unlike tools, people and their skills cannot be replaced by a trip to Sears or Home Depot. People have to be trained and maintained, no matter what their line of work. They need to feel safe and appreciated and to be treated respectfully. If the US can't get it straight, there are a several countries waiting in the wings to take over. Let us not forget that national security isn't a joke and can't be maintained just by putting up a good facade. It takes real people working hard and as a team -- managers and all.

Posted by Betty Ann Gunther to LANL: The Real Story


Comments:
Betty:

Good post, but you make a mistake by painting Wen Ho Lee as one of the well-meaning souls bludgeoned by a poorly-defined system. Wen Ho knowingly copied classified information onto an unclassified-only computer, thence to media and then removed the media from Laboratory grounds to parts unknown. There is no amount of vagueness in security rules that would lead anyone to think that conduct was acceptable. The man broke the law in particularly flagrant fashion and should be sitting in a cell to this day.
 
"...should be sitting in a cell to this day."

In the history of the Los Alamos Laboratory, there are three individuals who could arguably have been said to have caused the most harm to the institution. They are, in chronological order: Klaus Fuchs, Wen Ho Lee, and George P. Nanos. Of the three, only Nanos has not served jail time. I will not speculate in print what might have been each one's motivation. I have my theories, but now is not the time.

Let me instead focus on the Wen Ho Lee case, since that has been a source of deepest anger within the ranks of Laboratory staffers.

Betty Gunther did NOT say that Wen Ho Lee was a hero. Trapped in the system by political forces beyond his control and by his own ego, yes, but not a hero. Instead, Wen Ho did "hard time" in jail--that's what I would call nine months in solitary confinement for a crime that never led to imprisonment for John Deutsch, former CIA Director, whose laptop contained truly significant national secrets that were compromised by downloading pornography at home. Possibly, the embarrassment that Deutsch suffered was considered sufficient, but Lee received much harsher treatment for a similar offense.

I believe that what REALLY galled most people in X-Division about Wen Ho was that, under the most aggressive and adversarial of FBI interrogations--after he had been fired from his job, by the way--he whined to his interrogators, "Well, EVERYONE does it." Meaning that everyone behind the fence bends the security rules, especially those that are barriers to getting classified work done. Well, that might be true to SOME extent, but no one had ever imagined downloading such enormous quantities of secret data, taking it outside the fence, and maybe even taking some of it home. The degree of Wen Ho's violations of the security rules is truly breathtaking. But it was not espionage, most likely, and it does not even remotely begin to match the level of espionage that Klaus Fuchs achieved.

Since the Wen Ho Lee case, no one would ever DARE admit to bending security rules. And now with the devastating shutdown of the Laboratory by Nanos, we see the imposition of even more fear into the system.

I repeat: of the three men I have listed, only Nanos has not served time in jail.
 
Oh, my gosh! I'd completely forgotten about the John Deutsch case! I used
to wonder whether the Deutsch case was one of the prime reasons that the
Feds finally decided to back off on the Wen Ho Lee case. The lack of
similarity in the treatment between Wen Ho Lee and John Deutsch was truly
remarkable. And the types of material that Deutsch compromised were at
the highest security levels. Also, let's not forget about our former NSA
"TS/SCI" pant-stuffing aficionado, Sandy Berger. What do you think would
happen if either you or I ever tried sneaking home with classified docs like
that and then lost some of them, as Sandy did! Yeah, you can add these
two to the previous post on screw-ups at other agencies during the last
decade.

Isn't it interesting how the elite in our society seem to have a different
level of justice applied to them when they violate government security
regulations? Oh, and BTW, just where in the heck are those three classified
disk that DOE reported missing from their ABQ offices last summer? We
know the LANL CREM incident was an accounting error. Shouldn't some
people over at DOE/ABQ be getting the Nanos-treatment for their incident?
After all, if the DOE thinks the Nanos-treatment was good for LANL, then
surely they would want to apply the same medicine to their own staff.
 
Speaking of top level people not being punished and DOE not being held accountable, I recently heard how it came about that the DOE complex quit accounting for classified documents approximately 1993. A friend was on change of station there at the time. It seems that there was an audit at that time and it was discovered that DOE could not account for 500 classified documents. The dropping of the accountability system occurred immediately after that little problem. Of course, the expense of such a system, and the old one was becoming unsupportable, was another part of the reason.

To quote George Orwell:
"All pigs are equal, but some pigs are more equal than others."
 
Mr. Hill claims that Lee removed the classifed tapes to "parts unknown". This is directly contradicted by testimony in the case. Such sloppy accusations diminish this forum.

I worked in X-Division, and Lee was right. The security rules, especially "need to know" were bent, constantly. In the Lee case, as testified to by John Richter, some of the tape files, such as the W-88 deck, were "down classified", to PARD; should have been SRD. Probably done for easier handling. Same with the missing "hard drives". A lot of people, including managers, should have been hung, and weren't. Was Lee wrong? Certainly? Was X-Division wrong? Even more certainly.... I came to LANL from a DOD site, and LANL security was, and to a lesser extent is, a joke. "Need to Know" is still not adequate, because don't want to affect the "university atmosphere". You can't have it both ways...
 
I came here from a TS/SCI environment and was appalled at the lack of even basic "need to know" enforcement. LANL's handling of classified material is reckless. When was the last time someone asked you for a receipt when you gave them a classified document? Does LANL even have classified document receipts? Not to my knowledge.

Many of LANL's security problems are indeed self-inflicted.
-Dawn-
 
I worked in X-div for over twenty years and Lee was WRONG! I never knew anyone to mistreat secret nuclear weapons data for convienience. That's crap. John Richter is a friend of mine and he is brilliant, but sometimes he is just wrong as well.
 
Okay, so some people we could have done without.

But when someone has been working on a code for 30 years and they're the only one that understands the inner workings of the code. And now they're being forced to retire, even though there's no one to replace them. Add to that the fact that we depend on the code to keep working... well, this is a problem.

This scenario is being played out all over the Lab.
 
As you read this blog a few common themes are revealed. A predominant one is the use of phrases such as “brain drain”, “forced to retire early”, “scientists fleeing” and “I’m gonna quit”. These phrases and others have been used to whip each other up into a frenzied state about a perceived, shared plight or fate. They have all lost any impact by being repeated, mantra-like, far too often. No one that will make the decisions about who the director will be or who will manage the lab will be influenced. These phrases are being used like the wild rants of an indulged child that has always gotten their way.

The concept that you are so vital and so important that the threat of you leaving would cripple this institution or national security is just plain absurd. It is pure arrogance and self-important posturing. There is not a single individual or group of individuals here at the lab that could not be replaced. Maybe there would be some minor inconvenience, but that too, would soon pass.

LANL earned its way into its current situation by decades of poor performance. LANL was insulated from accountability by the programmatic needs of the cold war. And BTW if you hadn’t heard; we won, it’s over. The good old days locked in your memory are over as well and will never return. If things are so intolerable here, instead of impotently threatening to retire or resign, why not show some dignity and find employment elsewhere or just quietly leave. After you are gone, those that are still here will be much better off. Don’t let the fear of market forces, competition, supply and demand or being held accountable for performance hold you back.

One thing is certain. In a year or two when all the dust has settled there will still be a Los Alamos national laboratory, some people will have left and others will have replaced them, work will be performed and the lab will be managed by someone. Life will go on, but it will not be the way it was, ever again. That is something we all can look forward to.
 
As you read this blog a few common themes are revealed. A predominant one is the use of phrases such as “brain drain”, “forced to retire early”, “scientists fleeing” and “I’m gonna quit”. These phrases and others have been used to whip each other up into a frenzied state about a perceived, shared plight or fate. They have all lost any impact by being repeated, mantra-like, far too often. No one that will make the decisions about who the director will be or who will manage the lab will be influenced. These phrases are being used like the wild rants of an indulged child that has always gotten their way.

The concept that you are so vital and so important that the threat of you leaving would cripple this institution or national security is just plain absurd. It is pure arrogance and self-important posturing. There is not a single individual or group of individuals here at the lab that could not be replaced. Maybe there would be some minor inconvenience, but that too, would soon pass.

LANL earned its way into its current situation by decades of poor performance. LANL was insulated from accountability by the programmatic needs of the cold war. And BTW if you hadn’t heard; we won, it’s over. The good old days locked in your memory are over as well and will never return. If things are so intolerable here, instead of impotently threatening to retire or resign, why not show some dignity and find employment elsewhere or just quietly leave. After you are gone, those that are still here will be much better off. Don’t let the fear of market forces, competition, supply and demand or being held accountable for performance hold you back.

One thing is certain. In a year or two when all the dust has settled there will still be a Los Alamos national laboratory, some people will have left and others will have replaced them, work will be performed and the lab will be managed by someone. Life will go on, but it will not be the way it was, ever again. That is something we all can look forward to.
 
Have to say I agree with the previous post.

It's been my 30+ year experience that most scientists and engineers are pretty much impotent chumps. Usually decent people, fairly intelligent, but by and large just cogs in a machine with no real power as a group.

I remember most all of the engineers and scientists I've worked with saying they hoped their children studied something other than science or engineering. Always found that interesting. Many engineers and scientists I've worked with have been from lower class to lower-middle class backgrounds and the first in their family to finish college. They got an OK job, which was the point, but nothing special. Better than what their parents did. By and large, to their credit, most have known they were easily replaceable.

Here's a simple question in that vein: Which of the following groups strikes you as the most impotent as far as influencing American public opinion, or as far as their political clout goes? a) The American Medical Association (AMA); b) the American Bar Association (ABA); or, c) the American Physical Society (APS), or any of the other engineering or scientific professional societies.

Anything but the c) answer and you qualify for a special deal on some land in Southern NM.

Hell, the workers at KSL probably have more power than LANL's technical staff.

A lot of posturing going on to be sure. I think 40-50% of the Lab's TSMs could leave and no one would even know, or care, that they were gone. I pretty much only hear Sens. Domenici and Bingaman making noise about the loss of talent, and I have to assume that's somewhat politically motivated. No one else seems to be worried about a big exodus of scientific talent. That should be a clue of how important everyone else thinks the potential brain drain at LANL is.

Probably too many TSMs here now with PhDs anyway. Look for a continuing shift in the TSM ranks for a Bachelors degree to be the required entry degree. It has been shifting over the last 15 years or so. That will take care of a lot of political problems at LANL as well.

The next contractor will go through and make an assessment of its needs. Jobs will be advertised and people will fill them - sounds pretty simple and it is.

So, not to worry, LANL will still be here tomorrow pulling in its share of Northern New Mexico's federal welfare dollars. Even if it pulls in only $1B - $1.5B on a reduced budget, that's still pretty good compared to the rest of the state. NM is in no immediate danger of losing its 1st Place status as the state getting the most federal dollars back per tax dollar sent to Washington. Also, the good news is that the LANL of tomorrow will probably require less skills and education.
 
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