Monday, March 28, 2005

These attitudes didn't arise without some cause

From Anonymous:

There has been a lot of complaining on this blog about how terrible
everyone else is - the management, the DoE, UC, Congress, etc - and
how hostile some groups and people have become to LANL. It's always
easy to blame everyone else (and in truth there has been a good
deal of lousy management all around), but in fact these attitudes
didn't arise without some cause. If it is going to survive, LANL
has got to get real and come to grips with the fact that some of
the other national labs do just fine with the same DoE and the same
Congress -- so the hostility to LANL just might possibly have
something to do with LANL's own attitudes and ways of doing things.

That's not to say that there aren't real problems elsewhere, but
frankly the only thing LANL can change in this equation is itself,
its own attitudes, its own expectations, and its own ways of
dealing with the world. So while it certainly is cathartic to bitch
about the situation, it might be more fruitful for discussion to
focus on what isn't working at LANL and how it might be fixed, on
just why the outside world sees LANL as arrogant and how that might
be changed, on just where LANL research really ranks in the world
and how it might be improved.

The data show that LANL has best-of-breed security and safety performance. The DOE and Congress slander us as renegades. How do you suppose changes to attitudes at LANL are going to correct for for this unreality? What kind of adjustments at LANL are going to bring the perception sin Washington back in line with the facts?
So -- WHY do the DoE and Congress brand us as renegades? They don't in general brand other national labs that way, so maybe, just maybe, just consider the possibility that it has something to do with us and how we treat them and/or how we oursleves behave......
Considered, and in the light of all available data, rejected. I know data doesn't carry any weight in Babylon, but it does here.

Maybe, just maybe, this is all about nothing but an opportunistic "who's your daddy?" moment in front of the camera for the Washington bureaucrats? All the Congressmen grandstanding about how they want scientists in jail better be ready for a near future where no one with an advanced degree is willing to use it in the service of their country.
12:48 and 11:37 - Consider how your comments look to someone who may know little about Los Alamos. Or consider how the admonition to "upgrade to Firefox" looks. Most of us have MS Internet Explorer and we don't want to muck around with more stuff for the computer. These attitudes are part of the problem.

Many people who become scientists do so because their interpersonal skills are not good. Graduate school exacerbates this. I know, I'm a scientist.

Scientists are good at problem-solving. First you define the problem. What problem is this blog addressing? That Pete Nanos must be removed? That the scientists want to be left alone in a graduate-school dream? That an important resource for the nation is being damaged? All of the above? Something else?

C'mon, address the problem and stop whining.

In May 2001, the trial of Robert Hanssen, one of the most notorious spies in American history, began. Prosecutors proved that Hanssen had passed as many as 6,000 pages of top-secret documents to Soviet and Russian agents during the 15-year period, which began in the 1980s. Among the information Hanssen allegedly provided the KGB -- Moscow's intelligence-gathering agency -- were the identities of three KGB officers who had been recruited as U.S. double agents. Two of double agents were executed when they had been called back to Moscow.

After nearly four years and $170 million, the FBI's Virtual Case File system has all but been junked. And despite a series of post-9/11 reviews of the FBI's anarchic computer systems--unworkable, antiquated machines that contributed to the bureau's failure to "connect the dots" before the terrorist attacks--there is no hope of fielding a replacement system for VCF for at least another 3 1/2 years.

This past Saturday, the FBI admitted that it accidentally gave a classified computer disc containing SECRET and SECRET NO-FORN documents back to the American translator who pleaded guilty to taking them from the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A. Fathy Mehalba, who was released from jail earlier this month, contacted the FBI's Boston office Tuesday after he realized agents had inadvertently given him the compact disc containing the secret files along with his personal property.

Based on the latter two incidents predicated on the earlier espionage, should Director Mueller order a complete stand-down of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for six months or longer? The answer is, of course not! The Bureau is too important to national security and to our war against international terrorism. It is staffed with the top law enforcement professionals that this country has to offer. Any organization has room to improve and improvements are best made when work is on going.

Then we have Los Alamos. No one here in the last twenty years has been convicted of espionage. Thanks in large measure to our Director's change orders and interference we have a computer program "Enterprise" that is soaking up funds like a sponge on steroids. I predict that it was be junked as well. We were missing two computer discs that never existed and one of the previous computer discs that were missing never breached security boundaries. Nothing was compromised to unauthorized individuals.

Based on the above, should Director Nanos order a shut down of Los Alamos and its activities in direct support of national security and its war against terrorism, particularly nuclear terrorism. You decide……………

In the next to the last paragraph in posting 8:48 PM "one of the previous computer discs" should read "none of the previous computer discs." This proves my point. Humans beings being human make human errors. You find them, correct them, and go on. I don't plan to stand myself down for six months.

You don't want to muck around with your computer? Boo freakin' hoo. MSIE is a noncompliant stinking pile of crap and for too long, people have had to suffer through broken FrontPage-excreted websites which are "best viewed with Internet Explorer". Maybe Doug could remove the upgrade admonition but he'd be doing everyone a disservice by trying to work within the confines of MSIE.
Correction 2:

None of the previous computer discs that were missing ever (NOT NEVER) breached security boundaries. DOE ORDER 126547 and LIR 02 PROPER USE OF GRAMMER does not allow double negatives. This infration will be investigated.

OK: I'll stand myself down until the game is over.
Just a small correction to 8:48 PM statement, "No one here in the last twenty years has been convicted of espionage."

Physicist Peter Lee was convicted in the 1990s. He reportedly transferred some LANL information to China in the late 80s. Of course, this information is no longer classified-- which is why his sentence was so light.

It is most often difficult to catch spies; consider, for example, Aldrich "Rick" Ames who sent CIA secrets to Moscow for over nine years! Despite his obvious "living beyond his means" it took years for the CIA to discover this mole.

For as long as the US maintains Los Alamos as its nuclear weapons lab, foreign spies will want to know its secrets.

One should be cautious with professing high security. If someone is suddenly found to be guilty of espionage there, the US tax payers will not only assume Los Alamos was sleeping on the job, but also accuse them of being to arrogant to see the spy amongst them. -- Just a thought of caution.
The 8:00 poster is correct about the Firefox "warning" being the worst real atrocity at Lost Admirals. Which is to say delta is greater than epsilon. (Sorry, I'm not going to translate.)

To phrase this in a way an outsider can understand: the inflated charges that Los Alamos scientists are cavalier with their national security trust are flat out lies. This has been proven by data. Case closed.
For the record, the warning (it's not really an admonition) regarding Internet Explorer was added to this site at the request of a viewer who had become extremely frustrated at IE's inability to render the site corectly. After having discovered that FireFox (being W3C-complient) rendered this site properly, he requested that I let others know.

The poster of 8:00 PM is entirely welcome to stay in the stone ages, with my blessing.

I thought Peter Lee was Livermore...? Let's give "credit" where "credit" is due...
Interesting thread - it wanders over all kinds of issues, but very carefully avoids even considering the possibility that LANLs problems might have anything whatever to do with our own attitudes and ways of dealing with the outside world. Is this inability to take an objective look at ourselves perhaps a symptom of the problem we face ?
When I came to LANL in the late 80's, there was a saying at LANL, "The last one in please shut the door behind them..." which was a way of saying that this was a great place to live and work for the rest of one's career. I also thought when I arrived here that the place had a quaint "back to the future" feeling of being stuck in a time-warp from the 1950's. Our stability and isolation has both served us well to preserve our technical and innovative strengths to serve the nation but also has been an achilles heel with regard to the crises of the last year. I spent most of 2004 on an extended assignment for the DOD and came back to LANL not only feeling like Rip Van Winkle but also like a midwestern college student that spent a year abroad in Europe. National Security organizations in the outside world, including government, military, industry, and other FFRDCs are going through constant turmoil that we have been mostly immune from. Has anybody lifted their eyes from the local turmoil to catch the chaos surrounding the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, Darleen Druyan?? (see Two years before landing in jail she said in a speech before the Aerospace Corp (the FFRDC that supports the Air Force in all space program project matters) that Aerospace would be terminated because prime contractors could do all that honest broker work for the government. On another front, how many people heard a peep when TRW was bought by Lockheed Martin in terms of maintaining important capabilities for the Nation??? Did anyone care about TRW worker's pensions? Comments on this blog tend to go to extremes between indignant self righteousness and "blame the victim". The truth is probably a very complicated mix of the two. However, our rhetoric should be communicated to the outside about how the critical value we bring to the nation is being destroyed by the current crises, not on how unfairly we are being treated as a point unto itself. Given what the outside world puts up with, we will be perceived as crybabies.
Correction to my 7:31 Post:

TRW was bought by Northrup Grumman, not Lockheed Martin....
7:31 has a good point - LANL has got to get connected to the outside real world, or it will die! Bitching about how things were better in the old days gets us nowhere. If we are so damned smart, we ought to be able to figure our way out of this mess. if we can't, then we aren't as smart as we would like to believe!
LANL is not as smart in a broad sense as it would like to believe. Small subset has skills that are important, the rest is no different than any other GOCO.

"Attitude" SHOULD NOT be a problem in a free society. I can think whatever I want, you can think whatever you want. You can think that Nanos is our savior, I can think he’s a Trojan horse planted here by the Lab’s enemies. Whatever.

What matters are hard numbers and facts. PROVE to me that LANL has had significantly more safety and security violations than Livermore or Sandia. PROVE to me that our science output is below that of the other National Labs. Show me hard numbers, those that can be verified. Brad Holian did his part, in an open, respectable, refereed scientific journal.

As for "Attitudes", "Arrogance" and whatever else, these accusations by themselves are baseless and, above all, simply Un-American. As an American, I have a right to think and speak my mind, without fear of personal or professional persecution. One of the reasons people at LANL are so bitter about the shutdown was precisely the issue of basic free speech and intellectual freedom. At the top of the shutdown the instructions from Nanos said to report anybody who exhibited an "attitude" problem.
But "attitude" is real -- it has real affects in the real world. You can have any attitude you like, but some of those attitudes will have real and unpleasent consequences. In the case of LANL, some powerful figures out in the real world perceive that we have an attitude problem. Doesn't matter one bit if we agree or not, or even whether it is true or not -- the FACT is that they perceive this affects how we are treated, and if we want to change that treatment, we have to somehow change the perception.
To 5:27 AM

Peter Lee worked at LANL from 1984 to 1991 and worked for TRW at LLNL from 1973 to 1984 and 1991 to 1997.

Source: C-SPAN Report on Chinese Espionage.
To 9:13 PM:
Thanks for your comments, However, I chose my words carefully. Peter Lee was sentenced to a year in a half-way house for filing false documents, not espionage. I am not here to defend that decision but what the court decided is a matter of public record.

The purpose of "I WONDER AS I WANDER" was not to condemn the FBI or to defend Los Alamos. It only points out the disparity in how even elite organizations are treated by the media and how their senior managers deal with publicized problems.
The information disclosed by Peter Lee was declassified in 1993. That's why he didn't serve prison time.
To 1:11 pm:

You yourself put it very well. It doesn’t matter what “attitude” we really have -- certain people in Washington have already decided on their attitude towards us. Their minds are set and even if we compromise with our conscience and play the “Total Obedience” game, it’s not going to change anything.

On the contrary, to survive we should be doing exactly the opposite. The real problem is that LANL has not been defended with enough vigor. UC has been gutless, DOE clearly abandoned us, and even our management finds it more expedient to attack us, instead of defending us. LANL has virtually become a political punching bag: anybody in Washington can take a swing at it, just as a way of proving himself tough.

A small hope that I have is that the new contractor will have enough spine to stand up and say to the opportunist punchers, “Back off!” If that doesn’t happen, we are screwed and, more importantly, the Nation will have suffered a great blow. Consider this: in the US scientific community, the news travels fast. Pretty soon no promising young scientist will want to touch a national security lab with a ten-foot pole. Long term, that is a much, much bigger problem than any two disks, even if those had been really missing.
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