Dec 23, 2008
A former Los Alamos National Laboratory employee implicated in the presumed disappearance of two classified disks — which, in reality, never existed — said Monday he sued the lab to vindicate himself and a co-worker.
John Horne, who had been a lead technician, filed his lawsuit Dec. 12 in state district court in Los Alamos against former lab director Pete Nanos, former DX division acting director Kevin Jones and Los Alamos National Security LLC, or LANS, which took over lab management from the University of California in mid-2006. The university is a partner in LANS. Nanos left the lab in May 2005 to join the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.
Horne's lawsuit alleges he was persecuted and retaliated against after the disappearance of two disks — so-called “classified removable electronic media” or CREM — in July 2004.
In January 2005, in a harshly worded review that described severe security weaknesses at the nuclear lab, the U.S. Department of Energy concluded the two disks were never made.
The presumed loss of the disks, plus an incident in which an intern suffered an eye injury from a laser, prompted Nanos to shut down the lab in July 2004. It wasn't back into full operation until early 2005.
Horne, in an interview Monday from the Santa Fe office of his attorney, Timothy Butler, said the shutdown was a fraud perpetrated on the American public because it was unnecessary. The DOE said the shutdown might have cost as much as $367 million; the lab put the cost at $119 million.
The lawsuit contends Nanos and Jones knew from mid-July 2004 that no classified disks were missing.
Horne and Todd Kauppila, a lab team leader fired in September 2004, had said the problem stemmed from an accounting error. Horne received bar codes for CREM for conference presentations in 2003, but did not need two of them. Kauppila, the conference chairman, never had direct contact with the disks or bar codes.
They told reporters in early 2005 that senior managers were making them scapegoats. Kauppila, 41, was contesting his firing when he died in May 2005 of hemorrhagic pancreatitis.
“Todd died because of this,” Horne said. “My vindication is his vindication. Todd was very dedicated to this country and did nothing wrong.”
An independent arbitrator ruled for Horne in February, saying he did not violate any security policy or procedure and was wrongfully disciplined. The arbitrator also concluded he should be paid lost wages, benefits and other relief.
“The laboratory did not anticipate this suit because Mr. Horne previously chose to use binding arbitration to resolve his complaint,” the lab said in a statement issued Friday.
Jeff Berger, a spokesman for the lab, said managers had not been served with the lawsuit. He also said it related to events that occurred before LANS became the lab's prime contractor. “John Horne's claims were resolved in binding arbitration last year,” Berger said Monday.
Horne seeks damages for emotional distress, loss of income and medical treatment for health problems he says were caused by actions against him.
He also seeks punitive damages, alleging defendants breached his contract by outrageous, malicious and reckless acts and “deliberate indifference” to his rights.
Horne, who took early retirement last year after 24 years with Los Alamos, was suspended for 10 days without pay in December 2004.
He was issued a security infraction in January 2005 for not adequately notifying a classified matter custodian about the CREM and making sure they were accounted for.
He then filed a complaint, alleging violations of the lab's administrative manual and that “unsubstantiated claims and unethical actions” by Nanos, Jones and others destroyed his hope of career advancement.
That claim was denied, and the lawsuit details allegations of persecution by division managers over the following months.
Everyone at Los Alamos knew he was the center of the investigation that shut down the lab, and some blamed him for that, Horne said.
“It was like being in a minefield,” he said.