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Felony Charges Are Filed Over Porn Cache at Livermore Lab : Crime: A recent employee is accused of computer services theft. A former co-worker faces minor counts.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Alameda County district attorney filed felony charges against a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory employee Wednesday, alleging that he used lab computers to store and distribute pornography. A second employee faces lesser charges.

The pornography cache, initially discovered by a Times reporter, contained 90,000 images, according to John Bell, the assistant district attorney. The images allegedly were stored on lab computer tapes and loaded onto on-line systems by one of the two defendants. They could then be retrieved by others via the Internet computer network.

William Allen Danforth, a technician who worked in the Computer Applications Sciences and Engineering division of the lab, faces two felony charges of theft of computer services. Livermore officials confirmed that Danforth resigned Aug. 15; he could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

“If the guy hadn’t been using the taxpayers’ computer for his personal interest in pornography, he wouldn’t be prosecuted,” Bell said, adding that the lab spent more than $13,000 to conduct an internal investigation. “Because of the nature of the work they do at the lab, they had no choice but to do a thorough cleansing of their computer system to see just what this guy was doing.”

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The facility at Livermore, southeast of San Francisco, is one of the nation’s three nuclear weapons laboratories.

In a statement Wednesday, the lab said its own investigation concluded “that (Danforth) had arranged for computer data storage and access that facilitated software copyright violations and publication of sexually explicit images by a select group of Internet users. Most of the images were of adults; however, much less than 1% involved children.”

Bell would not say whether additional charges relating to child pornography might be brought.

More than 50 gigabytes of porn--far more than originally reported--was ultimately uncovered, and sources said that as many as 20 collaborators inside and outside the lab may have been involved in obtaining and trading the images. Questions about individual roles and whether money was paid for access were still being investigated.

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Bruce Tartar, acting director of the lab, said in the statement that he had ordered a review of computer use, management and oversight systems to prevent future abuses.

Michael William Lazzarini, a computer technologist who reportedly worked for Danforth, was charged with infractions--offenses on the scale of a traffic ticket. He is accused of collaborating with Danforth to operate the porn database. Lazzarini, reached by phone at the lab Wednesday afternoon, said, “I have nothing to say about this incident at this time.”

The charges, prepared Wednesday by the district attorney’s office, were to have been announced Friday to allow lab officials time to make personnel decisions. Sources said calls from angry officials at the Department of Energy in Washington, which oversees the lab’s operations, speeded up the process.

The lab was embarrassed when the porn cache was discovered last month. The case highlights security problems that have arisen with the rapid growth of the Internet, which connects government, academic and business computers around the world.

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If convicted, Danforth could face a maximum sentence of three years in state prison and a fine of $10,000 for each of the two felony counts.


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