Security Problems Persist at Los Alamos National Laboratory
The Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is operated by the National Nuclear Security Administration, is responsible for, among other things, designing nuclear weapons.
Over the past decade, security personnel documented numerous security, safety, and project management weaknesses at NNSA's nuclear weapons complex, including LANL. In particular, during the Clinton Administration LANL has experienced a series of high-profile security incidents that drew attention to the laboratory's inability to account for and control classified information and maintain a safe work environment.
In July 2004, LANL's director declared a suspension -- or stand-down -- of laboratory operations to address immediate concerns, including the loss of classified computer disks. During the stand-down, laboratory teams identified more than 3,400 security and safety issues.
As a result of systemic management concerns, and the fact that the laboratory contractor --the University of California -- did not adequately address these problems, the Department of Energy (DOE) decided in 2003 to allow other organizations to compete for the management contract at LANL.
The University of California, which had been the exclusive management and operating contractor since the 1940s, was replaced in June 2006 by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, (LANS). LANS is a consortium of contractors that includes Bechtel National, Inc.; the University of California; BWX Technologies, Inc.; and the Washington Group International, Inc.
Congress asked General Accountability Office security analysts to provide information detailing recent security, safety, and management problems at LANL. The GAO provided Congressional staffers with information on these issues.
As requested, the GAO report provides information on security incidents that compromised or potentially compromised classified information, incidents involving the loss of or failure to properly account for special nuclear material (highly enriched uranium or plutonium) and radiological material, nuclear safety concerns at the laboratory, safety accidents involving LANL employees or contractor personnel, and project management weaknesses that may have resulted in significant cost overruns.
According to the GAO's preliminary report, LANL experienced 57 reported security incidents involving the compromise or potential compromise of classified information from October 1, 2002, through June 30, 2007, according to DOE's ITAC database.
Thirty-seven (or 65 percent) of these reported incidents posed the most serious threat to US national security interests. Of the remaining 20 incidents, 9 involved the confirmed or suspected unauthorized disclosure of secret information, which posed a significant threat to U.S. national security interests. The remaining 11 reported security incidents involved the confirmed or suspected unauthorized disclosure of confidential information, which posed threats to DOE security interests.
Examples of the most serious types of security incidents reported by DOE include the following:
* LANL could not account for nine classified removable electronic media items, including data disks, during the relocation of these items to a different on-site facility. DOE concluded that these items were likely destroyed prior to their relocation.
* A law enforcement search of a LANL subcontractor's home in Los Alamos, New Mexico, recovered classified information in the form of a USB "thumb drive" and documents. The subcontractor, who possessed a DOE security clearance, had removed the information from a highly classified facility at the laboratory.
In response to the last incident, in July 2007, enforcement actions were taken by DOE, including the issuance of a preliminary notice of violation to the University of California with a proposed civil penalty in the amount of $3 million, a separate preliminary notice of violation to LANS with a proposed civil penalty in the amount of $300,000, and a Secretarial Compliance Order to LANS.
The preliminary notice of violation cited both the University of California and LANS for serious violations of DOE's classified information and cyber security requirements. In response to security weaknesses in the handling and processing of classified data, LANL officials told analysts that they have implemented a number of measures to strengthen controls since June 2006, including destroying an estimated 1.4 million "legacy" classified documents; reducing the number of accountable electronic classified items from 87,000 to 4,472; reducing the number of vaults and vault-type rooms holding classified data from 142 to 114; and consolidating classified material and classified processing operations into a "Super Vault Type Room."
There were no reported incidents involving the loss or diversion of special nuclear or radiological material from LANL from October 1, 2002, through June 30, 2007. However, a number of security concerns with the inventory and accounting of these materials have been documented, most recently in a DOE Inspector General report issued in September 2007.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.