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Breach at Los Alamos Might Be a False Alarm

August 13, 2004|From Reuters

SANTA FE, N.M. — The security breach that closed the Los Alamos national nuclear laboratory last month may have been a false alarm, Sen. Pete V. Domenici said Thursday.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory, a key center of nuclear weapons research and the site where the atomic bomb was created during World War II, halted all classified work last month after two computer disks were reported missing.

It was the latest in a series of embarrassing security lapses that have plagued the laboratory and prompted congressional hearings over its management.

But Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, said in a statement that the classified disks were never missing.

"It may be that what we have here is a false positive -- the system says something is missing when it is not," he said. "Just as if it were a medical test, it is better to find out the inventory was wrong than that the disks were actually missing. But this entire situation only reinforces that we need to improve the inventory system."

Lab spokesman Kevin Roark would not comment on the possible false alarm.

The investigation is being conducted by lab officials and the University of California, he said. Ninety-two percent of the lab's low-risk activities have resumed, Roark said.

Los Alamos has been managed by the University of California for 61 years. The contract is open for bidding next year, and the university system has not decided whether to compete for it.

The executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, Danielle Brian, said the watchdog group had heard that the disks may never have been created. "We may have an even bigger problem if it's taken them this long to figure out" the disks were never created, she said. "There's clearly no system in place to account for classified information."

Meanwhile, the Department of Energy's Inspector General's Office, in a follow-up to a 2003 preliminary report, identified continuing problems that "undermine confidence" in the ability of Los Alamos to ensure classified computers were managed and "safeguarded from loss or theft."

The report, issued Tuesday, said eight classified desktop computers were not listed in the property management system. Three weren't assigned property numbers or added to the system.

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