Last record of misplaced hard drives was at Y2K rollover : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Last written record of misplaced hard drives was at Y2K rollover

The Associated Press - 6/20/2000

WASHINGTON - Investigators are now uncertain how long computer disks containing nuclear secrets were missing from a Los Alamos laboratory vault. The last written record was made right after New Year's Day as part of the Y2K rollover tests, government sources said Tuesday.

The lab's director and senior Energy Department security officials have said the two hard drives, which were recovered last week and are being electronically scrutinized for security lapses, were last reported seen by a Los Alamos scientist in the vault April 7.

Sources familiar with the investigation said Tuesday this account, although not entirely dismissed, has come under suspicion because of some "conflicting statements" made during interviews and polygraph tests.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson sidestepped any discussion of the latest Los Alamos controversy but planned to appear Wednesday at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Republican lawmakers have criticized him vigorously for the security breach, some calling for his resignation.

The computer drives, used by an emergency nuclear response team at Los Alamos, contain secret technical data on U.S. and some foreign nuclear devices to be used in finding and dismantling a device in an accident or terrorist attack.

They were found missing May 7 from the vault in the highly secured "X Division" complex of the Los Alamos weapons lab in New Mexico, a day before the lab was evacuated because of a threat from raging wildfire. The disappearance was not reported until May 31, when the report unleashed a desperate search and a criminal investigation.

Last Friday, the storage disks - each slightly larger than a deck of cards - were found under suspicious circumstances behind a copying machine not far from the vault in an area previously searched several times, officials said.

FBI investigators have focused on a small number of people - by some accounts between two and six - who are among the 26 with free access to the highly secured vault where the two drives were kept as part of emergency response kits to be used by a Nuclear Emergency Search Team.

The investigation's focus is on the team members, and Richardson said all 26 have undergone polygraph tests. Senior department officials said answers given in some of the tests raised suspicion. Government sources speaking on condition of anonymity said inconsistencies also have arisen over the last known sighting of the two disks.

Some members of Congress have questioned why devices that reportedly contained such sensitive material were classified secret as opposed to top secret or higher, which would have required close tracking and sign-out procedures when they were used.

Lab Director John Browne has testified security rules were eased in 1992 during the Bush administration for the tracking of items classified as secret to reduce the cost of handling the large amount of documents carrying the designation.

Two weeks before he left office, President Bush signed an executive order extending the policy to government contractors such as the University of California, which runs the Los Alamos lab.

Richardson said new checkout procedures have been imposed for material in the Los Alamos vault, covering secret as well as top secret items.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said it is especially vital Congress review the changes made in the early 1990s and tighten the tracking of classified material now that vast amounts of information can be kept on a small computer disk, or drive, as was the case with the missing secrets.

-- Martin Thompson (, June 20, 2000

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