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Project on Government Oversight

Another Security Breach at Los Alamos

Related Content: Los Alamos National Lab
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August 6, 2007

An incident involving the unauthorized release of classified data via email occurred last week at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The incident, which has been confirmed by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), is rated among "the most serious threats to national security."

The incident follows the Department of Energy's (DOE) July decision to slap the Lab with a $3.3 million fine, and to threaten the Lab with another fine if it failed to comply with security rules. The fine was levied because of the October 2006 incident in which classified information was discovered during a methamphetamine drug bust. The discovery was originally revealed by POGO. Last week's breach follows a series of other incidents in recent months (see links below).

This most recent breach was originally rated an Impact Measurement Index-1 (IMI-1), which is the most serious level security violation. In an attempt to minimize the problem, the breach was downgraded to a less severe category of IMI-4. After another review, however, it was elevated back to IMI-1.

"LANL has been fined, lab officials have been fired, and the lab was even closed for a number of months so that it could get its act together," said POGO Senior Investigator Peter Stockton. "It's clear that it just can't."

According to LANL, an IMI-1 rated incident is defined as:

"Actions, inactions, or events that pose the most serious threats to national security interests and/or critical DOE assets, create serious security situations, or could result in deaths in the workforce or general public. IMI-1 includes, but is not limited to, (1) confirmed or suspected loss, theft, or diversion of a nuclear device or components or weapon data; (2) confirmed or suspected intrusions, hackings, or break-ins into DOE computer systems containing Top Secret, SAP [Special Access Programs] information, or Secret Compartmented information; and (3) confirmed or suspected acts or attempts of terrorist actions."

Below is a list of security incidents at the Los Alamos National Laboratory since the Wen Ho Lee scandal in 1999.


Los Alamos Security Incidents Since the Wen Ho Lee Controversy

July 2007 – Los Alamos lab worker with "highest possible security clearance" arrested in cocaine drug bust. July 6, 2007. SOURCE: KRQE

June 2007 – Los Alamos board member sends highly classified email message unsecured, comprising "the most serious breach of U.S. national security." SOURCE: Time Magazine

May/June 2007 – Los Alamos staffer takes lab laptop containing "government documents of a sensitive nature" with him on vacation to Ireland , where it is stolen. Los Alamos scientist sends highly classified email over unclassified networks to the Nevada Test Site. SOURCE: Newsweek

October 2006 – Classified information from Los Alamos found during methamphetamine drug raid. SOURCE: POGO

June 2006 – NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks informs Congress that computer hackers got access to detailed personal information, including Social Security numbers for about 1,500 DOE contract workers in September 2005. Yet neither the workers whose personal information was compromised, nor the DOE's cyber-security head were notified about the incident.  SOURCE: Associated Press

July 2004 – POGO reports that 17 incidents of classified information from Los Alamos were sent over unclassified networks. On July 23, 2004, DOE shuts down operations involving Classified Removable Electronic Media (CREM) across the entire nuclear weapons complex. SOURCE: POGO

May 2004 – Classified computer media goes missing at Los Alamos. Lab claims it is "a single accounting discrepancy." SOURCE: POGO

December 2003 – Los Alamos confirms that computer disks were identified as lost during an "inventory of classified computer media." In total, ten disks were lost. SOURCE: POGO, LANL

January 2003 – A computer hard drive that contained classified data had been missing from the Los Alamos since October 2002, but top officials at DOE failed to investigate the loss. On January 16, 2003, DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham issues statement saying: "I am deeply troubled that Los Alamos National Laboratory is unable to account for computer equipment and other materials as part of lab management's inventory control and audit program." SOURCE: POGO, DOE

November 2002 – Documents leaked to POGO show that more than 200 computers are missing, some from top secret programs. A January 2003 report by the DOE Inspector General later corroborates the findings, and scolds Los Alamos for firing the officers who wrote the memo. SOURCE: POGO, DOI Inspector General

January 2002 – Computer data containing nuclear weapons design information goes missing. LANL locates the missing disk. SOURCE: POGO

June 2000 – Two hard drives containing nuclear weapons secrets disappear at Los Alamos . They are mysteriously found several weeks later behind a copy machine. SOURCE: LANLMarch 1999 – Wen Ho Lee, a Los Alamos nuclear weapons scientist, is investigated by the FBI for allegedly downloading nuclear secrets onto his hard drive.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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