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Project on Government Oversight




At Los Alamos, Security Failures keep "happening, and happening, and happening."

July 15, 2004 


Below are selected quotes from the July 13, 2004 House Energy and Commerce Hearing on "Proposals to Consolidate the Offices of Counterintelligence at the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Energy." Much of the hearing ended up focusing on security problems at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), which last Friday, July 9, 2004, announced that for the third time in eight months, it is missing classified data storage media. LANL's management is also, for the first time in its over 60 year history, up for competitive bid. It has been managed by the University of California System for the Department of Energy since its inception.

"We look for somebody else to at least offer to run the labs, because I think clearly, if you're rated on performance, and if performance includes security, they get a zero, not an "F" -- they get a zero."
-Representative Richard Burr (R-NC)

"[A] number of people are going to have to resign over this, and it's possible a number of people may have to go to prison over this."
-Representative Joe Barton (R-TX)

"There continues to be an ongoing pattern of business management failure and security problems, particularly at Los Alamos that Administrator Brooks has thus far been unable to resolve."
-Representative James Greenwood (R-PA)

"[I]t apparently is even worse today."
-Representative Joe Barton (R-TX)

"I believe today's testimony will demonstrate that the NNSA experiment has not been a great success."
- Representative James Greenwood (R-PA)

"[T]here's probably better security at the ... public library over CDs and videos that are on the Blockbuster top 10 list."
- Representative Joe Barton (R-TX)

"[T]his is the same safe and the same location, basically the same people, and apparently not a darn thing was done."
- Representative Joe Barton (R-TX)

"I would suggest to you that the vision here of an attitude within the labs, an attitude that dealt with or saturated with cynicism and disregard for authority, still exists."
- Representative Richard Burr (R-NC)

"[W]e don't have a system. We don't have a security system."
- Representative Joe Barton (R-TX)

"[At Los Alamos] they devalue the things you need in order to do good science. They devalue business management. They devalue security."
- Ambassador Linton Brooks (National Nuclear Administration Director)

"[I]t just keeps happening, and happening, and happening."
-Representative Joe Barton (R-TX)

Extended quotes

  • Representative Strickland (D-OH): "And has everything that could reasonably be done to protect this material from possibly getting into the wrong hands been done to this point?

    Mr. Linton Brooks (National Nuclear Administration Director): Obviously not, or we wouldn't have this situation. We're trying to figure out what it is we should have done that we haven't done, because we clearly don't have everybody's attention. So I can't tell you what it is we haven't done, but the facts are clear. We haven't done something. We haven't done enough."

  • Representative Barton (R-TX): "Eleven or 12 people had access to this particular safe. We don't know if there's a physical barricade around it. We don't know if it's continuously monitored by guards or even by cameras. But what we are led to believe is that the most sensitive materials in the laboratory are stored in that safe.

    What kind of a system is that, after four years where we had a huge national security scandal? And there's probably better security at the (Ennis?) public library over CDs and videos that are on the Blockbuster top 10 list."

  • Representative Barton (R-TX): "But by definition, nobody's following the rules because we don't even know where they are. Do we know how long they've been missing? We found out last week. Could they have been missing for two months? Could they have been missing for two years? Could they have been missing for two minutes? We don't even know that.

    Mr. Brooks: Well, we know that they can't have been missing for more than about six weeks, because they were --

    Representative Barton: Oh, that's comforting."

  • Representative Joe Barton (R-TX): "[W]e don't have a system. We don't have a security system.

    And, you know, I am just absolutely appalled. And if I were you and I had authority, I would put every one of those 11 people that have access under lock and key, if you have the authority to do it, and every one of those 200 people that have access to that facility should be immediately given a lie-detector test. And if they refuse to take the test, they should be fired. And if we have to start completely over, we should do that.

    I mean, there comes a point, you know, where you just say enough is enough. And we just went through this, you know, back in 1999 or whenever it was, and it apparently is even worse today."

  • Mr. Brooks: "Yes. But I want to make it -- this is an opinion, but I believe the problem is particularly significant at Los Alamos. We have problems in many areas at Livermore. We have problems in many areas at Sandia. I mean, these are complex organizations. We don't have this problem at either of those places. We don't have this problem, I think -- Steve would know better -- at PNNL or Oak Ridge.

    I believe there is something about the Los Alamos culture that we have not yet beaten into submission. And it's the flip side of their strength. They exalt science, and that's good. But what we found in the issue that led the secretary to direct competition is that in exalting science, they devalue the things you need in order to do good science. They devalue business management. They devalue security. That's what the lab director is working to fix."

  • Representative Rick Boucher (D-VA): "Why not? We've had extraordinary breaches already. We just had another one apparently last week. Why is there no consideration being given at DOE to exercising this authority to impose civil penalties?

    Mr. Brooks: That's a good question. I don't know, sir. Let me think about it. I mean, I haven't thought about it.

    Representative Boucher: Well, if you don't know, who does know?

    Mr. Brooks: Well, nobody knows, sir. I mean, I --

    Representative Boucher: Well, why don't --

    Mr. Brooks: It's my responsibility to know, and I had not --

    Representative Boucher: Let me just say, I'm a little bit frustrated with your lack of knowledge about these matters to which you are entrusted."


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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