Saturday, March 19, 2005

A vital insight into Nanos' thinking

From Anonymous:

A vital insight into Nanos' thinking presented itself during one of his all-hands' meetings when he invoked the Tailhook scandal as an analog to recent events at LANL. According to his retelling of it, the media frenzy over Tailhook was suddenly quenched by the suicide of Chief of Naval Operations Mike Boorda, a grotesquerie that drew attention away from the scandal long enough to let the vicious cycle feeding the story die.

The inspiration for the Lab shutdown, and attendant Cultural Revolution, may have come from this incident. Seeing an impending media crisis, the Director may have decided to force the story to a premature, if turgescent, ending by getting out ahead of the media in charging Lab employees with wrongdoing, thus seizing all the drama of the story for his own purposes. Instead of individual acts, the Director would accuse the entire organization of having a cowboy culture. Thus, instead of the problem having an institutional solution, such as improved infrastructure or the de-obfuscation of policy, Los Alamos' problems were total, requiring drastic measures -- measures Nanos assured Congress he was ready to undertake.

Unfortunately, you only get to use the "nuclear option" once, and you'd better win when you use it. Virtually every organizational failing has a cultural aspect, and promising to "clean up the culture" is all-inclusive. Nanos claims all safety incidents are preventable, if you inculcate the proper values. He claims we cannot ever fail to protect national security information, because we generated mountains of paperwork during our time of cultural reflection proving failure was impossible. From the time Nanos invoked culture to explain LANL's generation of news stories, the only acceptable output from Los Alamos was "flawless performance," a feat no one has yet achieved this side of the grave.

The failure of Nanos' gambit was only a matter of time. The next pinched finger, the next clerical error, or the next disgruntled ex-employee could bring questions no one would be in a position to answer. "Mr. Director, how did your vaunted culture change program fail to prevent this outcome?" When you get to this point, your only options are denial or total capitulation. You can see an example of the former in the Director's current "Nanobyte" analysis of the recent DX-3 accident: "Everything is okay. Someone may have been injured, but out of our new cultural awareness, we did everything right." Same failings, different spin.

Now, the media is back with another scandal, (fresh from the folks who brought you the forged National Guard memos), and this time, they are using the "culture" issue to pick up where Nanos left off. There is now nowhere for Nanos to go, no further issue to appeal to. Congressman Barton of Texas is suggesting the permanent closure of LANL, and anti-nuclear activists will be able to trumpet LANL's through-going "corruption."

All of this is causing the story in Washington and the reality in Los Alamos to look like they're from perpendicular universes. Perhaps, in a period of history characterized by the decline of scientific thinking and the resurgence of primitivism and irrationality, the fall of Los Alamos, a place dedicated to the non-ideological pursuit of fact, is inevitable. But still, I wonder, how might things have played out if we'd had a Director willing to defend us and our mission?

-dug (not Doug)

DUG not DUG:
Great posting that gets to the very heart of the current grotesque fiasco. In military parlance the tactic is called "bringing fire on one's own position." It's sparingly used by competent infantry officers as a tactic of last resort. For example, Colonel Hal Moore used it effectively when his unit was overrun by the enemy in Vietnam (Reference "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young" Galloway and Moore).

CAUTION: THIS TACTIC SHOULD NOT BE USED BY NAVAL OFFICERS ESPECIALLY BY NAVAL OFFICERS WHO HAVE NEVER COMMANDED A SHIP. And why is that? First, the goal of any good skipper is SOS (Save Our Ship) not SOS (Sink Our Ship). Secondly and among the most obvious reasons is that everyone is on the same boat, land might be a hundred miles away, and sharks are in the water. Ergo, the tactic would be suicidal for all (except of course for the sharks.) Thus we have the sad fate of the USS LOS ALAMOS and a skipper calling down fire on his own position.
Organizational culture can be an explanation of how business is conducted, both good and bad. There is amply evidence at other DOE complex facilities and in private industry that improvements in performance, safety and security can be made and that this is achieved by raising the level of formality and becoming compliant with rules and regulations.

At LANL the culture has been historically “rules optional” kind of a fly by the seat of your pants way of doing business. A cause of many of the findings from the dozens of recent restart MSAs and LRAs was a lack of formality and use of rules based systems. That is culture.

It is not likely that someone who has spent a significant time at LANL, and not elsewhere, would be able to objectively evaluate this. The defensive attitude here is that every thing was okay before Nanos and that all the negative attention is the creation of DOE/NNSA/UC Management is not true.

The problems here are real. They are not creation of evil outsiders and the press. Pretending that the removal of the current Director will solve all the problems and that things would go back to normal is shortsighted wishful thinking.
The CBS "news" segment is a textbook example of a one-sided, support the hypothesis only story, created for the gratification of those individuals that manipulate the media to meet their own needs.

No rebuttal by the Laboratory, vague, blurry pictures of what are supposedly Lab documents and reports, unsupported assertions by disgruntled hatchet men and no single, verifyable fact presented.

But very editorial, sensational, and designed to elicit an emotional response from viewers. CBS continues to disgrace the news industry and lead its long slide into rejection by the public.

In more than 16 years at the Lab, I have never seen a single instance of that which Hook and Montano assert plague our purchasing system.

Their efforts to manipulate the media into kicking Los Alamos when it's down appear to merely be a cynical effort to promote their own goals of succeeding in thier lawsuits at the expense of the whole truth and all their co-workers, whom they apparently have no regard for whatsoever.

CBS' role of tool for these individuals in their legal battle is beyond contempt.
Remember that Mr. Montano first distinguished himself with a campaign to have the Topper mural in the high school basketball gym painted modified. He claimed that the raised hand was somehow anti-Hispanic, or something like that.
Facts, why does Nanos not use facts.
Whats gets me is that he could
make LANL better and defend it at the same time. LANL is the safest lab in the DOE of its kind. Why does he not say it? He simply states that what Brad said is wrong. Nanos must know the truth. The replies from his
people in the March issue of Physics
Today shows that they could not counter with numbers what Brad said.
Linton Brooks said that LAN is orders of magnitude worse the the
other DOE labs. Yet no number where
ever given! At this point it is
clear that Nanos is simply lying. Great,well we know where we stand. What happend to the Dec issues of Physics Today? Also does Nanos know how we compare to the other DOE labs in terms of security? LANL is again one of the best. He never mentions it. It seems like he trying to cover up the facts. Does Nanos know LANL is the top DOE lab in terms of publications and citations? Nanos never says anything good. He is out to destroy this lab. My question is why? Is it so he can get a better position latter? Is he getting paid by some company under the table? What is it? My guess is that is aiming for some high position in DOE. The US may be
in trouble if this keeps up.
I agree with CBS. It is the culture. The problem is that it isn't the LANL culture, it is the US culture and for all I know the world culture. Look at Enron, the FBI, and World Com, all cases of corrupt/disfunctional management brought down by whistleblowers. Look at the evidence vault in the Albuquerque police department. Look at all the corporate crooks who have been prosecuted by Eliot Spitzer, the Attorney General of the State of New York.
To close LANL because it has corrupt management would be like closing down the New York Stock Exchange or the Albuquerque Police Department due to wrongdoing.
The fact is Montano and Hook are auditors. Instead of going along with corrupt management as Arthur Anderson did, to its destruction, these two have refused to let wrongdoing at LANL be covered up. Auditors aren't known for being fun people. Their job is to find wrongdoing. Remember what happened to the last two guys who caught crooks at Los Alamos? They were fired. LANL has, at least, learned one thing -- don't fire the whistleblowers -- just torture them.
I have watched a lot of whistleblowing at LANL and I can tell you that it is real, swift and terrible. At least these two had the guts to take it public knowing full well the kind of trouble they would bring upon themselves. Let's see what a court of law thinks. Frankly anyone who sues LANL must have a courageous lawyer and a case because it is not an action for the faint of heart.
The problem is that LANL needs outside auditors with clout. Inside audits are supressed in most organizations. Hence the expression about the fox guarding the hen house. When an internal auditor reports wrongdoing to his/her boss, the boss's first move in way too many cases is to "shoot the messenger". It happens at LANL and it happens throught the US.
Congressman Burton, shall we shut down the FBI? the CIA? the New York Stock Exchange? Or should we just give auditors the clout they need to get the job done.
GREAT Letter to the Editor from LA businessman Bruce Norman in today's issue of the Monitor (pageA5).It's a MUST READ...."Nanos legacy looks bleak."
Every member of congress needs to see this one...
RE the congressional hearing:I cannot imagine that the LANL director even jokingly referred to employees as MORONS at a public hearing. Please tell me what Mr. Nanos's leadership skills are;I haven't noticed any!
Is any one else out there outraged? Does any one out there care?
It boggles my mind that his personal staff could support such caustic behavior. Is there no moral conflict within themselves?
Surely there's some astute reporter who could walk away with a Pulitzer Prize for LANL:The Real Story...
I don't think 11.07 has the foggiest idea about what he/she is talking about. The Lab is audited ad nauseum all the time, in a highly intrusive and work detrimental fashion. The fact that none of these outside auditors have picked up on the Montano-Hooks stuff goes to show how nonsensical their claims are.
The poster of 11:07 is clearly totally uninformed about LANL. Those two ex-cops that were terminated (remember that there is only a thin line between Pigs and Perp) were lying about LANL being a "den of thieves." Except for those two guys who bought all of the camping equipment, etc., the audits found very VERY few problems in procurement. Few people at LANL with Q clearances and good salaries are not stupid enough to steal petty amounts.

As far a Hook and Montano, you need to work around them to see where they are coming from. As the assistant Manager of Mason-Hanger (the predicessor to PTLA), Hook single-handedly caused a strike of the guards by his abusive behavior. Montano is a well-known anti-Anglo activist.

The auditor Brown was did his work remotely. He does not possess a security clearance and thus was not permitted to enter secure areas. He has a longstanding reputation for sensationalism.

All that said, it is quite unforetuneate that UC was so quick to buy off those ex-cops and has been so unwilling to stand up for LANL. So, I suggest that it is time for UC to be replaced.
Bruce Norman letter referred to at 11:26 -- can't find it on the web. Seems The Monitor has chosen to start censoring the on-line version??? Could anyone do us a favor and post it on the main page of this blog? Thanks.
The Monitor on-line version lags the paper version by at least a day. Sunday's Monitor will be on line whenever they remember to get around to it; Monday, Tuesday, it varies.
90% of the problems at the Lab that are currently being blamed on culture really have infrastructure causes. You can design infrastructure that guides and encourages good behavior, or you can let your infrastructure decay to the point where personnel are put in the dilemma of either breaking the rules or missing their deadlines.

For computer workers in 2003 to have to rely on removable disks as their primary method of transporting data from building to building makes the institution look backwards. Making this a primary way of moving around data with national security implications is blameworthy. After the CREM incident, we should have had a discussion about the inadequate infrastructure at LANL. Instead, we had an Orwellian rewrite of recent history, and the "LANL Culture" bugaboo was conjured out of thin air. (I challenge anyone to find a single credible pre-Nanos citation that claims a dysfunctional LANL culture.)

It is worth noting that the "lack of formality" charge is infinitely fungible. Nanos blamed the CREM incident on a "non-approved procedure," which is just a clever way of saying actions become retroactively prohibited if anything bad happens. Nanos will continually have new grounds to claim a cowboy culture at LANL, but each of the charges will be only a trick of language.

What is most offensive about the "culture" charge is that it is so opposite the reality on the ground. LANL employees are remarkably patriotic, conscientious, professional, and dedicated to the preservation and peace of the United States of America. I have never seen a more thankless job than protecting the nation from terrorism, nor a more irresponsible and worthless clique than that small coterie which says LANL employees take their mission lightly.


While the author of the "Vital Insight" post may be correct that Nanos's actions have come in part from his analysis of the Tailhook fiasco, I think there is a much more important dynamic at work - and one that we have experienced before, just not as intimately. That dynamic is the "management style" (if it can be called that) that is the way of life in the Nuclear Navy. This in turn is the "management style" of the Godfather, midwife, Jefe Grande, and many other metaphors of Naval Nuclear Power, Hyman Rickover. If anybody doubts this, I would urge you to read the review of Rickover's unauthorized biography (the URL for this is and see how many characteristics of James Watkins and Pete Nanos you recognize.

For decades, each and every officer who entered Naval Nuclear Power was interviewed personally by "The Admiral" (Rickover). The interviews were famous for their ruthless application of stress and intimidation. Successful officers in this program had no choice but (in the jargon of sociology) to "internalize the values of their peer group", and there was no peer group except The Admiral. Nanos himself has said on several occasions, if I may paraphrase, that he comes from a culture [that Word again] where you come to work in the morning, put your badge on your desk, and if it's still there at quitting time you've had a good day. The following quotes from individuals who observed Rickover at close range are also illuminating.

"Every secretary was instructed, under threat of dismissal, to give to Rickover at the end of each working day copies of all correspondence that had passed through her typewriter..."

"Rickover, the reigning engineer of a navy within the Navy, has expanded the coverage of incident reports to include anything that, in his opinion, may constitute a deviation from his standards. This could mean an incident report on the obesity of crewmen."

"Rickover had so much authority within the Nuclear Power Program that whatever he said was taken as the final word. Needless to say, when he visited one of 'his ships', he came to inspect. And if things weren't just the way he wanted them, the Captain was 'fired' on the spot."
Cool. As many have said we need some positive suggestions here - so here's two.

1) If the nation decides it doesn't need LANL, do as Congressman Barton suggests and shut the place down. Put an end to it and be done.

2) If the nation decides it needs what LANL and LLNL do related to nuclear deterrence - make LANL and LLNL part of the Navy, or the Air Force, or both, under the DOD. Basically, make LANL and LLNL a part of the military responsible for maintaining the nuclear deterrent. (Interesting that we have heard nothing from the DOD on LANL.)

No GOCO bullshit to pass the blame onto, no contractor overbilling, no civilian "science" vs military issues, no civilian security issues, no "den of thieves", no DOE/NNSA as they would be eliminated by and large, no extraordinary pension issues, no salary issues, no work unrelated to the mission, no employee morale problems, ability to deal with personnel problems in a swift manner, no lawsuits, the ability to use existing DOD personnel, payroll and contracting functions, use existing military forces for security, eliminate double-dipping by the military retirees that come to LANL, clear chain of command, ability to design for passing on of knowledge, nice total integration of the weapon production and deployment cycle...the list goes on. Bring in a few civilian experts as needed. Basically, a military operation.

Military could train their own troops to be weapons engineers and scientists by sending them to top schools like they did with Pete Nanos (DIR), Fred Tarantino (PADNWP) and Doug Beason (ADTR). They are high ranking managers at LANL now and would presumably be doing the same thing as they are now (though admittedly, probably not collecting about $830k/yr between the three of them to do it).

The military has set up their own medical school, so they could presumably set up their own specialized grad school if needed to carry out the mission.

I think this would clean up the "problems", and be a bit cheaper and more efficient, no?
Anonymous 11:49 The lab is "audited" but the auditors only see what the lab wants them to see if internal auditors are told to hide fraud. I think that's the whole point that Hook/Montano were trying to make. Anonymous 12:48 UC bought a report to whitewash their sins as revealed by Walp/Doran -- that report and the fumbled attempt to coverup the Mustang fiasco were simply PATHETIC. Despite their happy face on it, people went to jail. Also, the 200 missing computers revealed by Walp/Doran, the DOE IG later confirmed could have had classified info on them. Some of those computers came from black programs, but LANL had the audacity to tell the press at the time that there was no classified info on the computers. FOR BOTH -- Why help the management thugs by having a public whipping session of Los Alamos whistleblowers? It seems that some here are unwilling to accept that Los Alamos might actually screw things up every once in a while. So unwilling, in fact, that they engage in empty, unsubstantiated attacks on the bearers of bad news. While a healthy level of skepticism is certainly to be expected, a number of comments on this blog simply go over the line on attacking whistleblowers. Think about. Nanos doesn't like the whistleblowers. They deserve our sympathy and support, not more retaliation.
Bob Shieffer closing commentary on today's edition of CBS's Face the Nation:

SCHIEFFER: With all the news about steroids and the Schiavo case, one story that deserved
more attention and got lost last week: the ongoing, ever worsening outrage that the Los
Alamos National Weapons Center has become.

Most of what they do there is top secret, but the security has become such a joke, the whole
place had to be shut down last year because two computer disks went missing. Well, Congress
got the bill Friday. It apparently cost $367 million to move research activities to other labs
while they searched for the disks. That's $367 million of your tax dollars. Now the kicker:
The disk never existed, and the whole thing could have been avoided if two employees had not
falsified inventory records. And, yes, this is the same place that had already wasted many
millions more with just sloppy work.

But even as Congress dug into this latest mess, Sharyl Attkisson, our CBS News supersleuth,
found some former auditors who said the lab had wasted millions more because they just paid
whatever price vendors set, no questions asked. Incredibly, the bosses told these whistleblowers
to keep it quiet because it might prove embarrassing.

An exasperated Congressman Joe Barton, who's been tracking this mess for years, said one
solution may be to just close the place down.

Congressman, I think you're on to something. That's it for us. We'll see you right here next
week on FACE THE NATION, and tomorrow on the "Evening News."
Watched the "scandal" piece. Sounds like someone committed time-card fraud if, as Montano stated, he sat around and did nothing yet still got paid. Whether it was him for doing it, or his managers for telling him to do it remains to be seen. Both signed the timesheet. Unless he was on overhead of course, then it was OK.

Let's get the IG in here and get that investigation started.
"Remember that Mr. Montano first distinguished himself with a campaign to have the Topper mural in the high school basketball gym painted modified. He claimed that the raised hand was somehow anti-Hispanic, or something like that."

Actually that was Montano's second public crusade. His first was a very public effort to get the Los Alamos High School Girl's volleyball coach fired after she had the audacity to cut his daughter from the team.

I found your ironic panegyric to the military delightfully and amusing.
Hey, Bob Shieffer of CBS News. When did you stop beating your wife?
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