May 20, 2007

Exclusive: Los Alamos Breach Was Easy

CBS News Learns Details Of A Major Security Breach At Nation's Top Nuclear Lab
WASHINGTON, May 20, 2007

"I printed out the pages I needed and put in my backpack with my school books and walked out like I did every day."
Jessica Quintana

(CBS) When Jessica Quintana wanted to sneak classified material out of the nation's top nuclear weapons lab, the biggest outrage is how scandalously simple it was.

"Where I was, It was easy," she tells CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

Last week Quintana, 23, plead guilty to the national security breach at Los Alamos. In an exclusive interview with CBS News, she tells how she did it.

She was just 18, right out of high school, when the Lab hired her to archive documents. The job came with a security clearance that gave her access to highly sensitive weapons data.

Last summer Quintana claims she wanted to take some work home, a major security violation. She walked unchallenged into a special work vault with a computer storage device called a flashdrive.

"I had the flashdrive in my pocket when I entered the vault that day," recalls Quintana. "And at some point in the day I knew I wasn't being watched, the racks were open, simply inserted the flashdrive into my computer, took what I needed."

It was material related to underground nuclear weapons tests from the 70's, and she printed more classified documents — 228 pages.

"I printed out the pages I needed and put in my backpack with my school books and walked out like I did every day," said Quintana.

The materials were found accidentally months later by local police during a drug raid on Quintana's roommate in their trailer home, reports Attkisson.

It's an understatement to say that walking out with national secrets shouldn't have been so easy, especially in light of the rash of security scandals at Los Alamos: missing hard drives, even radioactive material smuggled out.

Tens of millions of tax dollars have been spent to upgrade security. Quintana's case raises the question. Have others, even spies, made off with top secret material?

Quintana says in the years she worked at the lab, nobody ever questioned or searched her. Not once.

"They were so lax about coming in and out," said Quintana.

Congress was so outraged that the Energy Department fired its top nuclear security official.

Quintana has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and faces up to a year in jail. Her lawyer says Americans can thank her for one thing: exposing persistent gaps in security at a place guarding some of our most sensitive nuclear secrets.

[View video of the interview here.]


Anonymous said...

I can't thank this brain dead, worthless mound for anything. She (and her attorney) shouldn't be so smug about what she did - as with all of us, a clearance only bestows trust which she couldn't deliver...this is all her doing and a year would be too easy on this ditz. DOE/NNSA should be rapped on the head for dishing out clearances to flatliners like this. It's people like this who receive the clearances but can't take the responsibility that have brought the drug tests and the polygraphs upon all of us.

Anonymous said...

Again they get it wrong: she was hired by Kit Ruminer in IM-1 as an admin and after she graduated from high school she was hired (but IM-1 got her the clearance) to be an archivist. Maybe as an archivist she was hired by UC but she was already in the system and had her rushed-through clearance before then.

Anonymous said...

"The job came with a clearance." No. You are supposed to EARN the clearance. It is supposed to MEAN something, not least that you are actually committed to TRYING to do the right thing. Sorry for the shouting, this makes my blood boil.

Anonymous said...

They got it exactly right. This woman is not unusual. We should reflect about trusting so many people in difficult economic conditions.

Anonymous said...

Too bad Attkisson doesn't have time and inclination to do something of real use, such as question how much REAL information has left the lab in the heads of spies who passed polygraph tests, and how much REAL information won't be created in the future because exceptionally honest persons weren't hired because they failed a polygraph. Or because they never applied because they didn't want to risk the blot of a failed polygraph on their record. Or, they didn't want to work with people who would allow themselves to be subjected to a discredited pseudo-scientific retention requirement. Real scientists should not want to try to do science where the overseers allow tests without merit to be applied to the workers.

Anonymous said...

2:11 pm:

"Real scientists should not want to try to do science where the overseers allow tests without merit to be applied to the workers. "

Hear, hear! DOE needs to just be told "No!". No scientist of note needs to be subjected to this insulting nonsense. "We don't need no stinking clearance" to do great science - we just won't do it here. Why is working for DOE so attractive? You have a big mortgage in Los Alamos? You have kids in the unparalleled Los Alamos public schools? Is it worth your intellectual integrity to accept this quasi-religious belief in polygraphs? It is obvious that even Lab upper management is just "going along" and has no respect for this. Who will be the first LANL upper manager to "just say no"?

Today, managers heard that refusing a polygraph will not affect your "basic clearance" but only your eligibiity for the "special categories" that qualify you for a polygraph in the first place. So why comply? To paraphrase a saying I wish I could attribute off the top of my head - "All that is required for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Anonymous said...

The crown jewel of the Lab system...NOT! What a joke!

Anonymous said...


In terms of publications and impact
LANL is indeed the crown jewel of the DOE labs. Fact.

So STFU and go crawl back under that rock.

Anonymous said...

I'll bet Bodman and Brooks agree with you on the impact part.

Anonymous said...

"Today, managers heard that refusing a polygraph will not affect your "basic clearance" but only your eligibiity for the "special categories" that qualify you for a polygraph in the first place. So why comply?"

If that was said, it is incorrect. I have personnally spoken with HQ on this topic. Refuse a poly and kiss your Q good-by.

Anonymous said...

I think Bush should take a poly... and set a wondrous example for us all... or how about Cheney or Rice or that Gonzales midget???

You can only imagine the results....

Anonymous said...

8:36 am:

I depends on who at "HQ" you talked to. I don't believe the federal regulation (CFR) that mandates the poly program for DOE requires yanking a clearance for refusing a poly that is only required in the first place for certain categories, not all cleared people. Why should you be penalized for refusing a test not all cleared employees are required to take? Simply get out of the world that requires a poly.

Anonymous said...

There is no security system in the world that can stop people who want to steal secrets from doing so. We DO the work that CREATES the classified information. We go home every night with classified information in our heads. Are they going to strip search us every night on our way out the door and somehow empty our brains of all the classified information held there? The problem lies with hiring of people who have NO business being granted security clearances. LANL has NO say over that. You can bet that if anyone overseeing this loser's work tried to get rid of her they'd have been tied up with grievances for years.

What's particularly irritating about this whole situation is the utter cluelessness of our Congressional "leadership" on the whole topic of security and cyber security. As evidence, watch the video of the latest hearings wherein a Congressman lambasted the Director for allowing employees to purchase computers with USB ports. Not allowing this practice is the "obvious solution." HELLO! Has the congressman tried to buy a computer without USB ports lately? Where does he suggest one plug in those little niceties like your keyboard, mouse, etc.? And, every once in a while, you do actually have legitimate reasons for moving information off of a computer. It's depressing.

Anonymous said...

It is necessary for true patriots to try to save their country from its government, including Congress. One way, perhaps even somewhat effective, is to keep posting on these blogs. I'm afraid LANL is done for, but not the whole country, not yet.

(Not original. Apology or thanks to Ed Abbey.)

Anonymous said...

Fixing the government and fixing the lab are both worth doing. It will make the country we love even better.