Thursday, February 08, 2007
Let's listen to science and use common sense
It probably comes as a great surprise to many Americans, including members of Congress, that there is no mandatory random drug testing at the nation's nuclear weapons facilities - including the two national labs here in New Mexico.
In the rather bumpy wake of repeated security problems - most notably at Los Alamos National Laboratory - this revelation Tuesday during a congressional hearing probably seems like one more threat to the national security.
No routine testing of the folks who handle, research and control our nuclear weapons? Who dropped the ball?
The answer: Maybe no one.
Our nuclear weapons research, development and stockpile programs are more than 60 years old - and, well, so far so good.
If that sounds flip, it's really not. Security, real security, is about common sense, good science and good engineering.
Our best scientists know that. And if the government would just listen to them, it might save itself - and the country - a lot of needless trouble.
Case in point: The Department of Energy and its embattled, befuddled National Nuclear Security Administration decided recently and very quietly to just stop mandatory lie detector testing at the nuclear weapons labs and facilities.
The nation didn't collapse; the nuclear balance of power didn't shift; there is no evidence that nuclear secrets have been smuggled to our enemies.
Odd, because the government had refused to listen to expert scientists who told them that the scientific evidence was overwhelmingly negative against the routine use of lie detector tests in the first place.
Yet new NNSA Administrator Tom D'Agostino thinks it "makes sense" to expand the practice of random drug testing to all of the nation's nuclear weapon facilities from the trial program now underway at Los Alamos. The move was started after some classified materials from that laboratory were found in a home last year during a drug bust that involved a lab employee.
The solution? Mandatory random drug testing for all!
A former Sandia National Laboratories scientist, Al Zelicoff, predicts that up to 10 percent of the nation's nuclear weapons employees will trigger false positives because of the widespread use of anti-depressants and other legal prescriptions.
If so, that could be more distracting, disruptive, costly and threatening to the real national security interests of a safe, secure and reliable nuclear stockpile than the occasional security breach - almost all of which incidentally have turned out to be wrong or grossly exaggerated.
Yes, the nation's nuclear weaponry and secrets warrant top security, including ensuring - as best as possible - that employees are reliable, dedicated and loyal.
The best way to achieve that is the way this nation built the most awesome arsenal in the history of the planet - with strict civilian controls and the best scientific and engineering minds we can hire.
NNSA, the Department of Energy, Congress and the president should tap into some of that expertise now.
Zelicoff and his scientific colleagues were right before. Chances are they'll have the right stuff again. Let's ask them before going off half-cocked.
Hello, anyone home? Bodman? Barton? Stupak? Anyone at all? I guess they are all too busy whipping the ass of working staff at LANL. You know, that place which has "culture problems" among the staff and those nasty "butt-head scientists".
Man Describes 'Backhacking' - Albuquerque Journal - Wednesday, February 7, 2007
By Scott Sandlin
Journal Staff Writer
Former Sandia National Laboratories cybersecurity analyst Shawn Carpenter said he regularly conducted "backhacking," or offensive computer investigation, after finding compromised machines in his work at the lab.
In the spring of 2003, he had found problems in machines of Lockheed Martin, the parent company of Sandia National Laboratories, and traced them back to Brazil, he testified. Hackers often move documents quickly to cover their tracks, so a speedy response is essential, he said Tuesday in his wrongful discharge trial before District Judge Linda Vanzi. His suit names Sandia Corp., a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin.
Asked by his attorney Stephani Ayers if he had obtained permission from management to go after the foreign hackers, Carpenter said it was something he had done normally as part of his work.
He also routinely worked from his home, "hoovering," or transmitting copies of documents to his home computer for more analysis to find patterns and tools used by hackers. Eventually, Carpenter said, he was able to figure out where the hackers' computers were located.
In 2004, Carpenter's work led him to a disturbing series of discoveries he believed compromised national security. "I backhacked into a computer system and found evidence that perhaps hundreds of defense contractors had been compromised," Carpenter testified. He determined that breaches occurred at Fort Dix, the Redstone Arsenal, the Defense Contract Management Agency and the World Bank, and that the hacking was coming from South Korea. He informed supervisors the next day, only to be told basically to mind Sandia's business and nobody else's.
Dismayed, Carpenter, a six-year Navy veteran who had trained in nuclear systems, said he asked about taking the information and "throwing it over the fence"— unofficially sharing it with a government agency that dealt in security or enforcement. He was told not to do anything, he said.
Carpenter said he agonized about the breaches, because a lot of damage can be done in a short time.
At home, he discussed it with his wife, a West Point graduate and Army reservist with a doctorate in nuclear engineering and prospects of winning a White House fellowship.
They decided national security mattered more than their jobs, and Carpenter made contacts that would eventually lead him to share information with the FBI and to be terminated from his Sandia employment for insubordination, sharing Sandia information outside the lab and "violation of the law."
Carpenter's wife, Jennifer Ann Jacobs,, who did obtain the coveted White House fellowship and worked at the National Security Council, testified that her husband was devastated not only by losing his job, but by the accusations of wrongdoing that accompanied the termination.
Asked about the decision to go to court, she said the couple believes a verdict in his favor would say he did the right thing by going outside Sandia, and that the lab didn't do its duty.
"The judicial system is the route by which the average person, who doesn't have a lot of power or a lot of money ... can stand up and say 'This isn't right,'" Jacobs said.
Why do you think Bush fired the US attorney in ABQ? He doesn't want anyone there who will prosecute the execs, only the mooks like Carpenter who stand up for the people, who expect us to do the right thing...protect their national security.
1. First, I just learned that Shawn Carpenter was awarded $4.7 million by the jury in his lawsuit against Sandia. Occasionally, it would appear, Sandia can't hide ALL of its malfeasance behind the corporate veil. Having watched the trial proceedings, taken extensive notes on the testimony, listened to the closing arguments and the jury instructions (i.e. the matters of law) and finally knowing a bit about the extensive preparation that was required on the plaintiff's part (who has the burden of proof), this is both gratifying to witness and perhaps (emphasize "perhaps" a lesson for all in poor management practices.
2. With regard to anonymous 2/8/07, 5:24PM: there is a rather extensive corpus of data and analysis in the medical literature on the use of drug screening, and while your solution would seem to be curative (and indeed has been used by individuals with positive random drug screens), the conclusions of more than 20 years of publications is that there is no justification for random drug screening in part because the "present[ation] of a valid prescription" is rarely sufficient and investigation of a positive screen almost always leads to opening of medical records that are then misinterpreted (or misused) by non-medical experts who render judgment on an individual.
I would argue, by the way, that random drug screening in medical and hospital practice has a greater ad hoc rationale than at a National Lab because we know -- without the need for inference -- that the consequences of bad behavior due to drug abuse are very real in the medical setting. Even so, reviewers note that there is no controlled trial to justify the use of random drug screening.