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Breach at lab called significant

Times Staff Writer

A significantly larger amount of classified information from a nuclear weapons laboratory in New Mexico was discovered in a residential trailer during a police search on Oct. 17 than was disclosed by law enforcement officials, sources close to the investigation said Wednesday.

The search turned up a number of copies of classified documents from Los Alamos National Laboratory in the trailer park where a former employee lived.

Law enforcement officials last week had described finding only three electronic storage devices, known as memory sticks or thumb drives, inside the trailer. It was unclear whether the employee had knowingly removed secret material and placed it on the drives.

The discovery of the documents heightened concerns that the removal of classified information from the laboratory was not purely accidental, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to make public statements.

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Spokesmen for the laboratory and the Department of Energy said they would not comment about the classified documents, noting that the matter was in the hands of the FBI.

An FBI spokesman in New Mexico said the agency did not comment on ongoing investigations.

But it was clear that federal officials had grown concerned about the security breach.

Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell and National Nuclear Security Administration chief Linton F. Brooks went to Los Alamos this week to assess the breach and oversee the administrative probe into how the classified information was removed.

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The facility has a long history of security and safety breaches. After new management was installed by the Energy Department this year, top officials had hoped the problems were solved. But the current incident is “one of the utmost concern,” according to lab director Michael Anastasio.

Despite plans to eliminate most, if not all, of the access that employees have to transfer data from classified computers to removable storage devices, a significant ability still exists to place documents on disks and drives that can be taken from the lab, according to one official.

The existence of a larger amount of classified data at the trailer was first disclosed by Nuclear Watch New Mexico, a watchdog group in Santa Fe, which said it had obtained a detailed summary of a laboratory briefing.

Portions of the information were independently corroborated by The Times.

The summary indicated that police had found 228 documents with information printed on both sides, including classified intelligence and weapons data.

The computer thumb drives contained 408 separate classified documents.

Those numbers could not be independently verified, but sources told The Times it was a “large amount of information.”

The documents originated in a classified data vault in the lab’s dynamic experiments division, which conducts tests on nuclear weapons components, the summary said.

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When Los Alamos police arrived at the trailer in response to neighbors’ report of a fight, they found Justin Stone, 20, who was wanted on a probation violation, according to a police report.

Stone was hiding in the trailer owned by former laboratory archivist Jessica Quintana, and agreed to come out only after police promised he could smoke a cigarette before being placed under arrest.

A search of the trailer turned up a sizable amount of drug paraphernalia associated with methamphetamine use, and the classified data. Stone remains in custody.

Quintana, 22, later admitted to police that one of the glass drug pipes was hers, according to the police report. She has not been charged.

Quintana’s attorney, Stephen Aarons, told New Mexico newspapers that Quintana did not know the significance of the information on the thumb drives.

ralph.vartabedian

@latimes.com


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