Los Alamos Security Woes Worsen, Again

Double yikes: Still more computers are missing from Los Alamos National Labs.

Just weeks after the Project On Government Oversight revealed ongoing security problems at Los Alamos, the group obtained a memo in which security officials acknowledge that 67 computers are considered missing and that 13 have been stolen in the last year.

"The magnitude of the security risk that the missing computers pose to LANL is unknown to DOE at this point. POGO is also concerned that the memo does not mention a LANL BlackBerry that was recently lost in a 'sensitive foreign country,'" POGO wrote in a statement.

"It's great to see that the federal overseer is more aggressively pursuing its oversight role," says Peter Stockton, POGO Senior Investigator. "But, the true test of how rigorous the government will be in holding the Lab to high security standards will be whether LASO significantly cuts LANL's contract performance fees for FY09."

Just a reminder: This all follows repeated security breaches at a facility that's supposed to be one of the most security in the country. This from July 2007:

"The elements of the story were irresistable. A top secret nuclear weapons lab. A drug investigation. And classified documents discovered in a trailer, after police responded to a domestic disturbance.

"It was all there in articles last week about a security breach at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

"On Friday, the U.S. Department of Energy recommended a record $3 million fine against the University of California, the contractor that ran the place. The energy department's National Nuclear Security Administration found the university's security procedures were riddled with gaps."

By Robert O'Harrow |  February 12, 2009; 8:18 AM ET computer security , security
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PMA Group of Arlington and Congressman Murtha.A scandal right in your own backyard.Double yikes and oh geez how did I manage to miss this one? Is it possible that you have been so cozy relying on leads from POGO that you are just missing the big ones? Would it be too much to ask for some actual investigative reporting rather than unidirectional management of the dear readers "must read list." Does this blog add anything to the conversation if there is nobody in the discussion?

Posted by: skycaper21 | February 12, 2009 3:19 PM

Every person with connections to security mandated work should be tested at least once a year,. Lie detectors and drug testing. In spite of these precautions we know there will be screw-ups. God help us.

Posted by: lengyson1 | February 13, 2009 10:20 AM

O'Harrow aren't you a little too experienced to keep citing this type of poorly sourced and unsubstantiated story designed to arouse our negative feelings about the "big bad federal incompetents"? I know you are supposed to be making your living scouring the earth for waste, fraud and abuse but this is just a bit to puerile and obvious. Do i need to point out to you that allegations such as "considered missing", or "stolen" are really just code words that POGO and other so-called watch dog orgs use to scare us and generate support for their pitiful and highly partisan agenda. Do us a favor and make a simple inquiry within your organization. How many of the Washington Post computers can be accounted for as of COB on Feb 13th..I mean serial number, who it is assigned to and location? While you are at it you might ask how many have been "stolen in the past year. I think we would be quite surprised at the answers. Maybe you should ask your buddies at POGO to run a little accountability investigation of the Post. I imagine some of those lost or misplaced computers might even have sensitive information on them. Anxiously awaiting your answer.

Posted by: chuckaluk66 | February 13, 2009 3:49 PM

chuckaluk66 may have checked his reasoning at the door. he is almost certainly right that the WaPo would have the same asset management problem. but the WaPo ain't the US Government and does not deal in classified information. We expect more from our government. We expect the best results, not just trying "hard" (GW Bush). People that lose classified information concerning nuclear anything belong in the slammer. Thos responsible should be easy to pinpoint. At the Post, it doesn't mean anything.

Posted by: axolotl | February 16, 2009 10:19 AM

chuckaluk66 has a reasonable point.

Not all of LANL's computers are used in the classified environment (partition) or contain classified data or material. In fact, the majority of PC's, be they desktop or laptop, fall in the non-classified category. Every inventory at LANL turns up "missing" computers and other equipment; I recall at least three occasions during my tenure there when the lab 'stood down' for a wall-to-wall inventory and several more when my division or working group did so. Stuff moves around; computers and other items get taken home or off-site without the proper record-keeping, equipment gets stolen, people borrow items without telling the "owner", and on and on.

Of the ten thousand or so lab employees, probably half or there-abouts have an inventory list of more than five to ten items. Each lab employee has his or her very own list of equipment for which they are responsible; that's particularly true for physical and materials scientists, engineers, technologists and technicians; some employees have no controlled - inventoried - items on their list, and some have considerably more than one or two.

That's not to say that the sky isn't falling - just that we don't know how fast it's falling and how heavy it is; i.e., without a lot of clarification, which will almost certainly not be forthcoming from LANL, we have no idea what the status of the 'missing' computers is. Most of them probably aren't even outside the lab's boundary.

I'd give POGO a "B"; I'm tempted to say "C+". Are there security problems at LANL? Very probably. Is this one of them? Who knows - from this former insider, it looks more like yet another property control problem with a potential security infraction thrown in to confound the issue. I would suspect that there are similar problems, to greater or lesser extent, across the DOE complex, and the noise made about it depends on whether POGO has someone currently inside a particular facility that can feed them information.

Posted by: vpaulus_dabq | February 17, 2009 3:51 PM

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