Press Release

Missing Computer Data at Los Alamos? Continuing Security Lapses May Jeopardize National Security

Unconfirmed investigative lead: Knowledgeable sources tell the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) that last Friday, the Department of Energy's (DOE) Los Alamos National Laboratory discovered they were missing sensitive highly classified data involving nuclear weapons design information apparently on a hard drive, disk, or other computer media. They have apparently been searching both the Technical Area-55 plutonium facility and the Chemical and Metallurgical Research Facility for the missing data. If true, this appears to be yet another example of ongoing security failures at Los Alamos.

This unconfirmed incident follows on the heels of an announcement last week by the U.S. Attorney's office that its investigation into another incident involving missing computer media was closed and that no one was charged in that incident. According to a January 23, 2002 article in the Albuquerque Journal:

"The hard drives turned up missing during the Cerro Grande Fire, which devoured homes and other buildings in Los Alamos in May 2000. More than a month later, they were found in another part of their storage vault, behind a copy machine....'The case was thoroughly investigated and resulted in no charges to date,' [Assistant U.S. Attorney Sasha] Siemel said."

POGO is working with more than 20 DOE whistleblowers and insiders on an investigation into security weaknesses that make U.S. nuclear weapons facilities vulnerable to terrorist attack and cyber-security lapses. According to POGO's October report on the issue, computers containing nuclear secrets remain vulnerable: "It is virtually as easy today for a trusted 'insider' to put weapons design information on a tape or disk and walk out the door as it was during the controversy at Los Alamos [involving Wen Ho Lee]. All of our known spies have been insiders with the highest security clearances." (Pp. 3.)

To solve cyber-security problems, POGO recommended in its report that DOE convert to media-less computing: "The only way to stop an 'insider' is to stop any media (disks, tapes, laptops, etc.) from coming in or out of priority classified areas. Computers would be locked in vaults and access to any media would require a "two-man rule' where two people would have to sign-off on any copies."

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Security At Risk, POGO Report, October 2001.