Aug 7, 2007
August 6, 2007
Another security concern popped up at Los Alamos National Laboratory on Monday, and a watchdog group and the lab are at odds over what it means.
The Project on Government Oversight reported Monday that classified information was released via e-mail last week at the lab, and it’s among “the most serious threats to national security.”
But the lab describes the information as “sensitive” and stressed there was “absolutely no damage to any national security interests.”
Both sides agree the incident, which the lab declined to detail, was given the most serious U.S. Department of Energy rating, an Impact Measurement Index 1. Incidents are categorized based on their potential risk to national security.
That designation, the lab reported in a security advisory, covers “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.”
The Washington, D.C.-based Project on Government Oversight has criticized the lab’s security record for years.
“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,” the project’s senior investigator, Peter Stockton, said in a news release. “It’s clear that it just can’t.”
Lab spokesman Kevin Roark said POGO’s characterization of the event was misleading at best.
“We did have a lab employee who made a mistake and inadvertently allowed sensitive information to get on our yellow network, which is password protected,” Roark said. “It’s for lab employees only. It is not accessible to the outside world. However, sensitive information should not reside on the yellow network.”
The problem involved a small number of people and no one involved came from outside the lab, he added. It was discovered quickly, and the potential for a problem was eliminated within an afternoon, he said. An internal investigation is ongoing.
The National Nuclear Security Administration referred questions about the matter to the lab Monday. That agency recently declined to detail security incidents and how they compare among different weapons labs.
However, there were 22 “Category 1” incidents at Los Alamos from 2002 through 2004, New Mexican archives show. There were 35 at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the same time frame.
The lab has been under intense pressure from Washington lawmakers to improve its security record, and new managers stress they are making progress.
Roark said the lab responded quickly. “We are on this stuff,” he said. “We are working it hard.”
U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., has been especially focused on Los Alamos. He chairs an oversight and investigations subcommittee.
“Chairman Stupak finds it troubling that, despite Secretary (Samuel) Bodman’s promise to immediately inform committees of jurisdiction when security breaches occur. Instead the Energy and Commerce Committee was alerted of this breach by an outside government watchdog organization,” Stupak’s spokesman Alex Haurek said.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said his office was told the lab has a well-established procedure for responding to incidents of this nature, and the information stayed on the lab’s internal network.
Contact Andy Lenderman at 986-3073 or firstname.lastname@example.org.