The New Mexican - June 29, 2007
By SUE MAJOR HOLMES - Associated Press Writer
The U.S. Department of Energy will report significant security breaches or compromises of classified material to Congress under a policy developed after criticism of security at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The Northern New Mexico weapons lab has been blasted for years of security problems that led the DOE two years ago to put its management contract out to bid for the first time in the lab's 60-plus-year history. More security breaches have occurred since a new manager took over last summer.
Lawmakers who held two hearings about lab security this year have threatened to shut down Los Alamos if problems can't be corrected. Earlier this month, House appropriations members targeted its budget, zeroing out nearly $500 million in nuclear weapons program funding; the Senate refused to do likewise.
Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell said the DOE will tell Congress about any loss of personally identifiable information on 10 or more people; loss or compromise of classified material that could compromise national security; penetration of a classified network; compromise of a classified intelligence network that could cause a substantial national security risk; and certain intelligence and counterintelligence incidents.
If there is doubt whether something should be reported, "the issue will be resolved in favor of reporting," according to a June 22 memo from Sell to "heads of departmental elements."
The memo was issued after a June 14 letter from two House members over the DOE's failure to notify Congress about a cybersecurity breach in January at Los Alamos. Congress learned about the problem six months later from sources outside the department.
The letter -- from two of the lab's harshest critics, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., and Rep. Bart Stupak, head of the committee's oversight and investigations subcommittee -- complained that DOE, lab and National Nuclear Security Administration officials who knew about the incident never mentioned it to them in several meetings.
Dingell and Stupak commended the new policy in a news release Friday.
"This new DOE disclosure policy, if fully implemented, will better enable Congress to obtain the information necessary to fulfill its critical oversight responsibilities and ensure that our nation's nuclear secrets do not fall into the wrong hands," Dingell said.
Stupak said keeping Congress in the dark is unacceptable and obstructs its ability to hold the DOE and its contractors accountable.
"This recent memo is an indicator that parts of the DOE are listening and we commend Deputy Secretary Sell for issuing this new directive," he said.
According to an official familiar with the investigation into the January breach, it occurred when a consultant to the lab management board sent an e-mail containing highly classified, non-encrypted nuclear weapons information to several board members -- who forwarded it to other members. It was classified as a serious breach, although lawmakers were assured no damage was caused.