Tuesday, May 03, 2005

This ought to stir things up

From a certain Emmett Smith :

Considering what I know is and could be going on there, I had always assumed that the jobs at LANL were very tightly controlled and that the environment was more regimental and unforgiving than I could imagine. I believed that the people working there were accepting this life style in order to make a contribution to their country, their science, and mankind. I thought that they understood that it had to be this way. The only democratic right that I thought existed at LANL was that you were all there by choice. Somehow, it was not reasonable or patriotic to ask, “What have you done for your $2 billion lately?” After all, you are controlling the information that could end the world and I would not begin to think that I should be trusted with this.

Now I find out that what you have done lately for your $2 billion, in your 20 plus years of isolation, is to convince yourselves that you are brilliant, understand everything, cannot be replaced, and the world should know who you are and what you do for a living. You think that it is silly to mention that no classified material should be written on this Blog when the very least you could do is say it over and over again. You actually believe that your continued association with UC will overcome the worldwide damage you have done to your facility’s credibility. You seem to be celebrating that the New York Times has noticed and made this Blog public. Aren’t you the famous ones.

You cannot have clerical errors, the world cannot know that you have clerical errors, you cannot have misplaced disks found behind copy machines, no one can know about possible misplaced information, and you cannot have safety issues. You cannot have 3,000 “issues”. The process and people that caused this need to be eliminated. $850 million is a very small price to accomplish this considering the possibilities.

I do not want my country’s enemies, or allies for that matter, to know that one of our nuclear research facilities is having personnel problems. I do not want them to know that information concerning the names, number of dependents, and addresses of every employee working there may exist at some facility outside of LANL and that they may be disgruntled. Do you really think that terrorists are above capturing or attacking you or your family as you venture out of your isolation? Do you think that your daughter is now safe as she attends college on the UC campus? Do you think that I am imagining scenarios that they haven’t already thought about? I do not want them to know that the same types of sophomoric problems may have occurred at other facilities. I do not want every spy in the world to know your name, phone number, address, and what you used to do before you retired fr! om LANL. I do not want every spy in the world to know who will be bidding on your management contract so they can get a head start on their infiltration plans. I do not want every maniacal terrorist on the planet to know that a undetermined number of you rocket scientists with security clearances will be gathering on May 14th at Ashley Park. I do not want to hear about what they are doing and can do at Lawrence Livermore or Sandia on this Blog. I do not want the world to know that LANL is a creaky old system. I do not want every garage bomb builder to know where you defecate your waste. Do you feel violated and compromised yet? If not, keep writing. I wonder how much our enemies would have paid for this intelligence report on this country’s nuclear research capabilities that you are building for them for free. I now know more about what they are doing and can do at LLNL than I had learned after living less than an hour from the facility for over 40 years. Some one may hav! e wanted to keep it that way. I probably could have found out but some one may have noticed what I was trying to do just as they should have noticed that I am reading this Blog. I cannot even send emails to secretaries at other facilities and I always thought that this was a good thing. Every time you write on this Blog you are taking it upon yourself to decide what should and should not be classified and you are putting yourself and your family at risk. If our enemies had to at least work for this information, our intelligence organizations might have a chance of intercepting them. At the very least, you are painting a picture for our enemies to exploit politically and set us back in our negotiations with other countries to control nuclear weapons and keep them out of terrorists’ hands. How can we demand that others control their nuclear facilities when ours appear to be out of control?

I have seen civil service organizations grind themselves to a standstill as they assumed self-importance and complacency. The next thing that happens is that everyone starts arguing about whom to blame for a major screw up. Since Dr. Nano will apparently be leaving for trying to prevent it, you can blame him. As far as I can tell, all that Dr. Nano did was realize the seriousness of the situation and step on a few prima toes that actually needed to be stomped on or cut off. We need to clean house there. In the interest of national and world security, I am for closing LANL down until Nano eliminates all 500 or 2,000 of you who do not understand what you hold in your hands or the urgency and anonymity with which you should be working. I will not feel safe or secure until you are all gone. I hope the intelligence agencies are already watching you. I suspect that LANL will be! much better off with some fresh meat and a new militaristic attitude but if your departure sets our research back a little, it’s worth it to avoid the alternatives.

Although the parent article contains enough misconceptions to fill a truck, this one is most troublesome: "Every time you write on this Blog you are taking it upon yourself to decide what should and should not be classified and you are putting yourself and your family at risk."

Categorically false. No one at LANL can decide for himself what is classified (the definition of classified is very specific), and no one is permitted to put classified here.

And for everyone keen on the idea of turning LANL or other national labs into some Stalinist sharaska where people live in total fear and secrecy, ask yourself if you would send your son or daughter to such a place, and if you think anyone would be willing to serve their country under such conditions. Then ask yourself if the country would be secure with no one pursuing national security science.

We are not robots here with the capacity for "flawless performance." If you are infallible, leave a note here. You can take over my job.
Who is Emmitt Smith? Clearly an individual quite unfamiliar with LANL. He doesn't even know the Director's name. (Emmitt: it is NOT Nano!)
"Who is Emmitt Smith? Clearly an individual quite unfamiliar with LANL."

LOL. He has us confused with the federal witness protection program.

Later, Omega-Obsidian-1719
The point made by the first commenter deserves some amplification.

Everyone who works with classified information carries that information around in his head day and night. We know very well what beans must not be spilled and what ships might be sunk by loose lips. Yet people who work with classified information -- whether here at LANL, or at CIA, NSA, FBI, State Department, or wherever -- do not live in prison camps. We are allowed to go out in public. We speak in public. We give talks at conferences. We go to restaurants and have drinks with friends. All without divulging classified information. Why would anyone think that posting on a public blog should be any different? We're perfectly capable of holding conversations in an open environment, whether face-to-face or via electronic media, without divulging national secrets.

The alternative Emmitt Smith seems to be advocating, as the first commenter aluded to, is the Stalinist sharaska. Definition of sharaska: a research institute inside a prison camp.

I wouldn't want to live in Emmitt Smith's Amerika.
It is unfortunate, but this is a glimpse into the mind of a typical person who is ignorant of DoE, DoD, and the role of each in the science and engineering of the 'nucular' stockpile. Which is to say 98% of the US population, 97% of congress, and 100% of journalists.

Take heed.
All I can say is HELL YEAH awesome post!
The general public has a very romanticized notion of how government labs work. Popular culture presents this image of beautiful superheroes working in futuristic buildings with gleaming marble floors and state-of-the-art technology behind every wall. The reality is we work in trailers, or in 50-year-old cinder block buildings with asbestos-insulated pipes, park in ditches, and live in houses from the 50's. We can't get modern security technology because nobody will pay for it. We have incoherent and incomprehensible rules and policies because every new regime in Washington takes a different approach to doing things.

Life in Los Alamos is nothing like what you see in the movies. We do not live in "isolation" in some kind of a closed complex. The credit card companies have the same data on us as they have on you. Most of us are listed in the telephone book. We don't have our poop sifted for secrets. And we have the same rights of freedom of speech and freedom from harassment and intimidation at work as you do.

"You cannot have clerical errors"

Everyone has clerical errors. We do not live in a perfect world. Ever bounced a check? Ever missed an appointment? Sorry, you're out of the perfect club.

"the world cannot know that you have clerical errors,"

And the world does not know about clerical errors during the time frame when that information could cause damage to the national security. In the case of the DX-CREM clerical error, that information was first released by a certain senator, and we don't have the authority to gag senators.

"you cannot have safety issues."

Every organization has safety issues. And most organizations that do dangerous work have more than LANL. People slip on ice. People trip of stairs. People get sore wrists from typing all day. Those add up to "thousands" of issues very fast in a large organization.

"The process and people that caused this need to be eliminated."

The problem is, the principles you advocate, if applied consistently, would destroy everyone. They would shut down every organization. Your power company would shut down and the lights would go out. Your grocery store would close. The military would scuttle and disband. In fact, the most effective thing a terrorist could do right now to damage the United States would be to help carry forward this "zero tolerance" thinking. CIA Director takes home classified documents? Close the Agency! Abu Ghraib? Abolish the military! Leaked memos? Abolish Congress! Steroid scandal? Dissolve the NFL!

Well, you get the idea.
In my experience, the organization that leaks the most classified information to the world is the US Congress ( House and Senate). DOE is way up there as well. If LANL employees publically mentions the classified information what Congress mentions, we would soon be out of work. The person whose letter started this thread has no clue what working with classified is like.
Many of the rebuttals here focus simply on the letter of what Mr. Smith said and not the spirit of his post. One person did start to entertain that spirit when s/he pointed out that Mr. Smith's view is probably very close to the romanticized notion that the public, politicians, etc. have about LANL. And therein lies the problem. Sorry if this sounds provacative, but I'm pretty convinced that this blog has unwittingly laid the foundation for a major perception problem of the LANL and its employees. Other posters besides Mr. Smith have tried to point this out, but they were dismissed as crackpots, trolls, or uninformed idiots. Point is, when many posts presumably from outsiders start popping up with the same words and phrases like "arrogant," "whiners," "concerned only with saving your pensions," etc., it is indicative that a perception is beginning to cement itself in the Zeitgeist. It's obvious that this blog has been an awful lot of fun for an awful lot of people who can't seem to shake their anger toward the director, but maybe now the old saying about discretion being the better part of valor is very apropos. The government shut down Rocky and hacked Brookhaven off at the knees on a whim. Money is tight in Washington. $2 billion probably looks mighty juicy to cash-starved politicians. And if you've been paying attention, it's pretty clear that the majority of Americans really don't grasp the value or necessity of nuclear weapons anymore these days. A crafty politician could appease an antinuclear public and scoop up some pork for his or her district at the same time with some creative cutting, particularly if the general feeling of the public is that LANL is home to an arrogant breed of out of touch scientists. See where this could go? The question people probably ought to be asking right now is what is the value of continuing this blog? Of course, this is just my two cents.
The previous borders on sounding pretentious. One football player's opinions do not make up a Zeitgeist! Even with 10,000 visits on Sunday, the vast majority of Americans probably have no idea what's been going on at LANL. The thoughtful ones will not presume that they know the place based on a couple of stories in the media. I can find dozens of homeopathy websites out there that claim to have the cure to cancer and say that medical doctors are just arrogant people trying to protect their incomes. So what? Uninformed speculation still sells for a penny to the ton.

Los Alamos stands because of the value it offers to the nation in terms of security. LANL technology is not just weapons. It's about stopping NBC (nuke/bio/chem) terrorism. It's about discovering ways to reduce the threat of other country's weapons. The nuclear genie is out of the bottle. All a country has to do to get a nuclear bomb is duplicate the level of technology the US had in 1943. If we don't figure out new and innovative ways to deal with this, either because we were naval [sic] gazing during some safety shutdown or sitting in a redundant electrical safety meeting, instead of working threat reduction and weapons, it won't be long until the survivors of some future terrorism event are asking us some hard questions about our priorities. If you view "ergonomics near misses" as your top priority, it's because you lost sight of the real priority: national security.

North Korea may be very close to blowing a huge hole in the test ban treaty. Wait and see what the political weight of the weapons program is then.
5/3 7:54pm said:

"Money is tight in Washington. $2 billion probably looks mighty juicy to cash-starved politicians."

The reason it is tight is the US is spending something like $1 billion EACH WEEK on Iraq.

In two and a half weeks, Iraq gets what LANL gets in a year, perhaps with some change left over.

This country's life blood, literally and financially, is circling the drain, and the drain is Iraq.
5/3/2005 07:54:45 PM “…cash-starved politicians.” Surely you are saying this in jest. Admittedly, the Laboratory’s $2.2B is an amount that few of us can grasp, particularly if you are taking out home-equity loans to pay for your child’s tuition at an in-state tier 2 or 3 school. However, it is a miniscule amount when viewed in the context of the $2.6 trillion federal budget
[ http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2006/ ].

The 4th paragraph of the President’s budget message says:

“To ensure our security at home, the 2006 Budget increases funding for anti-terrorism investigations; border security; airport and seaport security; nuclear and radiological detection systems and countermeasures; and improved security for our food supply and drinking water.”

As previously stated, Los Alamos National Laboratory is much, much more than just nuclear weapons. LANL has enormous technical capability and critical technical resources to offer this nation in the context of the above paragraph excerpted from the President’s budget message. I refer readers to a link from another recent post as only one of many possible examples; Los Alamos Muon Detector Could Thwart Nuclear Smugglers - Science Daily

Given the world terrorism issue and how creative the terrorism threat is becoming, LANL represents a tremendous bargain to the security of this nation.
Why bother?
It beats venturing out of doors, where I might be taken captive by a terrorist and forced to divulge the location of the gateway to the underground subway between TA-33 and Area 51.
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