Officials Propose Security Upgrade at Laboratory

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UC management of Los Alamos National Laboratory once again came under fire this week at a U.S. Senate hearing, in which Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson said university security is "not very good" and that another agency may take charge of security at the embattled laboratory.

"The University of California's security is not very good, and I'm convinced of that," Richardson said Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "As much as we have pushed and pushed, there are some problems."

Richardson's comments underscored the university's main battle in managing three federal laboratories -- science, the university's strong point, versus security, admittedly weak at times.

"We may have the University of California do the thing they're good at and have somebody else do the things they're not good at," Richardson said.

He also told the Senate committee he would review UC management later this summer.

The secretary's testimony came after two tumultuous weeks of security debacles and public humiliation for Richardson. After a fire swept through the laboratory's town in May, two hard drives containing nuclear secrets were discovered missing.

The drives were found late last week, behind a copy machine in the same area of the laboratory from which they had disappeared.

But even after the drives were found, both the Energy Department and the university faced accusations of second-rate security measures in the nation's original nuclear facility.

In a letter to Richardson this week, UC President Richard Atkinson vowed to step up security at the facility.

"The security incident at the Los Alamos National Laboratory is wholly unacceptable to me and to the university," he wrote. "We will not tolerate weaknesses in security at the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons laboratories."

Atkinson said two UC-commissioned security reviews, which were postponed this week so as not to interfere with the FBI investigation into the drive's disappearance, may help the university prevent similar incidents in the future.

The letter also stated that the university will redouble its efforts to establish a balance between science and security at the lab.

"I know that some question the university's ability to reconcile a culture of openness in conducting the world's greatest science program with the culture of secrecy, rigorous accountability and counterintelligence properly required to protect the United State's most vital nuclear weapons secrets," the letter states. "The university's ability to recruit and retain the best scientific minds has been essential to the laboratories' extraordinary mission successes."

The proposed security upgrade is composed of five key points. All highly classified information will be "locked down" until enhanced controls can be put into place. A "cradle-to-grave" accountability system will be put into place for any secret material stored on portable electronic media, and the amount of this data stored on electronic media will be limited.

Additionally, fewer personnel will have access to the vaults where classified material is stored, and classified information will be electronically encrypted when it could be taken off site.

Despite promises of security improvements, this week's Senate hearings did not bode well for Energy Department control of the laboratory. Several senators are pushing to award control of Los Alamos to the Department of Defense.

In addition to Los Alamos, the university runs Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a non-nuclear facility, for the Energy Department.


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