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Project on Government Oversight




Leaked Document: Mishandling Lost and Stolen Computers at Los Alamos

November 19, 2002 


POGO has received a memo indicating serious problems in the handling of lost and stolen computers and other property at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The memo suggests that even in the aftermath of Wen Ho Lee and missing hard drives, basic security precautions were not being taken to adequately secure computers at Los Alamos. To view the memo, click here.

The memo from the Los Alamos Office of Security Inquiries provides an analysis of lost and stolen property from FY 1999 to FY 2001 and outlines processes implemented to address the incidents. Please contact Beth Daley at POGO to have a full copy of the memo faxed. A short version without itemized lists of lost and stolen items can be sent by email. Here are a few excerpts from the memo:

  • "The reports indicate that no questions were asked pertaining to the type of data that may have been on stolen computers, laptops, PDA's and digital cameras[regarding 39 incidents occurring in 2001]."

  • "Of the 11 incidents that are alleged to have occurred off-site [in 2001], none contain police reports to verify the theft actually occurred, or was investigated by an appropriate law enforcement agency."

  • "A copy of all OSI [Office of Security Inquiries] theft reports are given to the Los Alamos Police Department and the FBI in Santa Fe, for their information, and for placement in the NCIC records. Both agencies indicated that the reports are so poor that they never placed any of the alleged stolen items within NCIC records. The FBI SAC at Santa Fe indicated that one of his secretaries was so upset with the poor reports coming out of LANL on stolen government property, that she was going to report the matter to the news media."

  • "it is opined that the current LANL system used to report lost items is conducive for covering items that are actually stolen."

  • "As I view it, reporting a desktop computer as lost, as in the case of the 2001 report where 33 were reported lost, is parallel to my spouse telling me she just lost the refrigerator."

This week the Department of Energy's Office of Inspector General launched an investigation into possible cover-ups at Los Alamos. In addition, the U.S. House Committee on Science is investigating allegations surrounding the controversy.

The memo comes from what appear to be high-level officials have who contacted POGO and others to draw attention to "criminal activity, administrative mismanagement and high level corruption" at Los Alamos. Through anonymous faxes and emails, the anonymous officials alleged a credit card fraud scandal that has now been confirmed by FBI search warrants. However, much more serious allegations from the anonymous officials warrant further investigation. According to the officials: "There are many, many people who want to tell all they know but are afraid."

In January, 2002, sources at Los Alamos alerted POGO that computer data containing nuclear weapons design information was missing. See POGO Alert "Missing Computer Data at Los Alamos?" . Shortly after the Alert was issued, Los Alamos officials claimed to have found the computer data - see Associated Press article.

In October, 2001, POGO released a report "U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Security At Risk" co-authored with more than a dozen Department of Energy insiders and security experts concerned about lax security at our nation's nuclear weapons facilities. According to the report: "It is virtually as easy today for a trusted 'insider' to put weapons design information on a tape or disk and walk out the door as it was during the controversy at Los Alamos. All of our known spies have been insiders with the highest security clearances."

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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