Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Lawmakers Slam Los Alamos Security
Both Democrats And Republicans Assail Nuclear Lab Managers, Energy Dept. Supervisors
WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2007
"If we have to shut down the Laboratory, then so be it. But we ought to be able to get security right at Los Alamos."
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
At a congressional hearing today, both Democrats and Republicans assailed Los Alamos National Laboratory managers and their Department of Energy supervisors for what they view as the same old security problems. This, despite the fact that Los Alamos, the nation's premiere nuclear weapons center, has been under new management for seven months.
House members of the Energy and Commerce committee, charged with oversight of Los Alamos, today threatened everything from yanking the Lab's security responsibilities to shutting it down entirely.
"There is an absolute inability and unwillingness to address the most routine security issues at this Laboratory," said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. "If we have to shut down the Laboratory, then so be it. But we ought to be able to get security right at Los Alamos."
Management and security scandals have plagued the Lab for years. Most recently, as reported exclusively by CBS News, a 22-year old former Lab employee named Jessica Quintana walked out unchallenged with hundreds of pages of classified documents. Police found them by accident during a drug raid on the trailer home of her roommate. The FBI's criminal investigation of the case is ongoing.
"Why she hasn't been arrested yet is a mystery to us," an insider tells CBS News.
Sources also tell CBS News that Quintana had access to sensitive secrets including underground nuclear weapons test data and the code that keeps nuclear weapons locked in case they are stolen. In one of several interviews with the FBI, Quintana told officials that security at the Lab was so lax, she was never checked when entering or leaving, and it was easy for her to walk out with hundreds of pages in her backpack, as well as several portable computer storage devices.
The Laboratory and Department of Energy have repeatedly promised Congress big changes. The biggest one was supposed to happen when the federal government put the contract to manage the Lab up for bid for the first time in history. The University of California had held the contract since the Lab's beginnings in 1943. Last June, a new consortium of four organizations took control. But the new faces turned out to look a lot like the old ones, with the University of California retaining a large portion of the contract. That, suggested members of Congress today, may be the problem.
In response, the Lab's director, Michael Anastasio, took responsibility for the most recent security breach and tried to assure fed-up members of Congress that everything is under control.
"We took immediate action when we learned of the breach," Anastasio said, but "there will not be a silver bullet solution because there are none."
Los Alamos National Laboratory employs more than 9,000 people and has an annual budget of $2.2 billion. Taxpayers have financed tens of millions of dollars in security upgrades at the Lab in recent years amidst various scandals.
A recent Inspector General's report said that Lab security remains inadequate despite all the expense.
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., likened the pattern of security breaches followed by Lab promises to tighten security to "groundhog day." Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich, said "it's dejavu all over again."
And there was this bit as well, from an earlier post on the hearings:
"Mr. Whitfeld, Kentucky asked Anastasio if LANL had a whistleblower policy, and then in the very next sentence mentioned that John Mitchell had violated his contract by leaving LANL before his contractual term was up. And then the conversation moved on. I believe the stage is being set to have some more discussion about Mitchell, perhaps in the closed session."
I suspect we have not heard the end of security problems at LANL just yet.
I do believe we've caught Kevin Roark in another of his little white lies. Mike most certainly did not look as if he was enjoying his opportunity to testify before the committee.
1/30/2007 3:53 PM
I wonder how long it will be before Mike bails and returns to LLNL. After all he has a really sweet deal, one better then any of the 8000 at LLNL will ever be offered. Why not?
THIS is just one of the $64,000 questions!
If I were Jessica's attorney, I'd be hawking her 'insider info' for a trade-off and try to make her look like less of a security threat or petty thief and more of a potential whistleblower who had the potential to identify security issues.
As to how she got a clearance - she's likely the child of another Lab employee and has probably spent the lion's share of her life in northern NM and therefore may not have been too much in the way of any red flags to prevent approval of a clearance.
That leaves the agreement a person signs upon receiving their clearance. Can you ensure a commitment to the policy and spirit of the agreement when a clearance is granted? We hope so, but can we really peer into someone's mind or heart and guarantee it? I doubt it. Can you force someone to apply integrity to everything they do? We could only hope. Can you employ methods and measures to test for 'probable responses' in circumstances. Probably; but not with rote or canned security training cycles that are merely a checkbox to complete annually. Give a real test - no open book, no crib notes, just find out what people know or don't know about protecting that which they been entrusted with and promised to protect. Also, see if there are concise policies with black or white distinctions rather than 'discretionary' or interpreted applications with wide variability. Either the ink on the paper (or whatever media holds info) needs protected or it doesn't.
If military personnel and their families, our elected officials, their staff and visitors to government buildings in our nation's or states' capital's or even school students in some districts can undergo barely-invasive searches, then why would that not be appropriate in many of these high-risk lab locations? Would this have detected the departure from a securty area of a thumb drive such as was carried out by this individual?
Would there be an outcry of unfairness if routine searches upon exiting higher security areas if it meant a level of surety that could mean the difference between shutting down the lab or operating it with prudent safeguards?
I think if people were willing and able to articulate what they see happening in the trenches - employees who could exchange ideas and information with investigators or decision makers - there might be a more realistic picture. (No whining, just ID the issues and help solve the problems.)
It can be fairly distressing to hear characterizations used by officials and onlookers who paint the the whole lab population with broad, sweeping brush strokes after dashing out to view the crisis-du-jour and assessing that the entire lab population is at fault for situations - some of which may well be single-point failures such as Ms. Q.
Likewise, it can be distressing to hear 'our' management or 'our' representatives who seem to paint a picture of fault but, to be sure only beneath them, leaving an impression that 'those dolts who are employed at LANL are impossible to lead, train or trust'. Many of the people being blamed in this sweeping manner have been here as a stabilizing force, ensuring that many of the core operations or competencies are stable in light of (or in spite of) fluctuations in policy or procedures, changes in administrations (both locally or nationally), massive reorganizations, ivory tower detachment, or just reckless development/purchase and implementation of systems that are broken before the first keystroke is applied.
Nearly every time I've seen someone talking for the whole lab, I am left with the feeling that they, the person representing the masses, must not be in touch with the folks in the lab population - you know, the ones who aren't sloppy with security, aren't wasteful, are frustrated by systems that make getting work done more difficult rather than enabling efficient work, aren't ordering stuff with government funds to outfit their patio or camping trailer and the ones who wouldn't complain at real improvements but have grown tired, just like the Congressional subcommittee, of remedies which only pretend to address the issues but result only in knee jerk reactions that lead to more challenges which actually impede getting anything done well - security, safety OR work.