10 Missing Disks Prompt Los Alamos to Halt Some Work

Times Staff Writer

University of California officials on Tuesday ordered an immediate halt to some computer operations at Los Alamos National Laboratory after the nuclear weapons design lab said it had lost track of 10 computer disks marked “classified.”

UC and laboratory officials said the missing disks may have been destroyed, as the lab intended, but without being properly logged. They said an initial review had indicated no threat to national security, although the federal government was expected to investigate.

The announcement marks another embarrassment for the University of California, which manages Los Alamos and its sister nuclear weapons lab, Lawrence Livermore, for the U.S. Department of Energy. In April, after months of allegations of fraud, security lapses and lax oversight at Los Alamos, the Energy Department said it would require UC, for the first time, to compete for the right to run the lab. UC officials have said they had not yet decided whether they would compete for the contract, which the university has held for six decades.

In a statement Tuesday, the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the New Mexico lab for the Energy Department, said it was “disturbed that, after all of the revelations and reviews about security and document control over the past few years, laboratory employees still have not learned to manage their classified media properly.” But spokesman Bryan Wilkes said Los Alamos director Pete Nanos appeared to be “taking actions to address an intolerable situation.”


Nanos, in a statement, called losing track of the disks “totally unacceptable.” Lab officials, he said, must look closely at the control of such sensitive information. and “solve the problems.”

On Tuesday, UC’s newly hired vice president for laboratory management, S. Robert Foley, directed the lab to “stand down” from certain operations, while employees were retrained in the policies and procedures governing such classified material. A spokesman said the directive meant that Los Alamos employees, for perhaps two weeks, would not handle or work with classified computer disks.

“We take any security incident at the laboratory seriously,” UC spokesman Chris Harrington said. “We want to ensure that the strongest, most effective policies are in place at the lab.”

Los Alamos spokesman Kevin Roark said the first two disks were not believed to contain weapons data. The others, he said, were thought to contain budget and personnel information.

An investigator with the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight was critical.

Peter Stockton, a onetime security advisor to then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, said: “They simply don’t have the place under control yet.”