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Secret Nuclear Weapons Data Misdirected

November 30, 2000|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Already shaken by security lapses, the Energy Department is now acknowledging that 15% of classified documents mailed from three nuclear weapons laboratories last year went to addresses not approved to receive such material.

Department officials insist the errant mailings, disclosed in a new report from the agency's inspector general, did not compromise security and that the problem has been fixed.

But that assessment was challenged Wednesday by the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman.

"They don't know that," said Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.). "You can rationalize, justify just about anything, but at the end of the day, you don't know what might have been lost. You have to fear the worst in a situation like that."

The Energy Department keeps a computer database of addresses that are eligible to receive classified data. Anyone mailing classified data is supposed to check this list to ensure the address is approved.

The report said the mailings to unauthorized addresses were discovered in May, shortly after two computer disks containing nuclear secrets disappeared from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The disks reappeared three months later behind a copying machine at the lab.

Department security officials acknowledged that the mailings violated department policy but concluded that no classified information was compromised. They blamed contractors who did not have access to the list of approved addresses.

But Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman disagreed. In his report to Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, he blamed a "breakdown in the execution of internal controls designed to prevent transmittal of classified documents to inappropriate recipients."

But Floyd Thomas of the National Nuclear Security Administration, created by Congress last year to oversee the labs, called the report helpful and said the agency supports Deputy Energy Secretary T.J. Glauthier's plan to crack down on contractors who mishandle classified materials.

In a Nov. 14 memo to Friedman, Glauthier said the department is developing new rules under which contractors could lose some contract payments and be fined up to $100,000 if they fail to protect classified information. He said the new rules will be announced by May 31.

The investigation examined 177 mailings of classified documents last year from the Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Laboratory, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash.

Investigators found that 27 of the mailings, or about 15% of those reviewed, were sent to other federal agencies or federal contractors that were not in the database of approved addresses.

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