3 more Los Alamos employees on investigatory leave

By Nancy Su
Daily Bruin; SOURCE: U. California-Los Angeles
August 9, 2004 Monday

Four more employees suspected of being involved in the security incident that shut down the Los Alamos National Laboratory were placed on investigatory leave last week, bringing the total number of employees on leave up to 23.

Work was halted on July 16 at the University of California-run lab due to the disappearance of two portable Zip drives containing highly classified information. Security concerns regarding portable electronic devices and the lab employees' attitudes toward safety and security has prevented officials from resuming classified work at the lab.

Fifteen workers at the lab were placed on investigatory leave July 22 for security violations involving the loss of data, and four were placed on leave for a separate safety incident involving an intern who suffered an eye injury from a laser.

Lab director Pete Nanos said disciplinary action for the loss of the Zip drives will encompass all levels of management, but criminal charges are not expected to be filed by any other agency.

Nanos added that the lab will have the proper level of discipline when work is resumed.

Lab spokesman Kevin Roark said a fairly large number of low-risk activities, most of which are administrative, have been restarted.

During a visit last week from UC officials, Nanos said it will be roughly two months before the lab can resume its normal operations.

UC Board of Regents Chairman Gerald Parksy said he has been ready and eager to visit the lab to express his concerns to the employees.

"We cannot tolerate the recent security and safety incidents because they have shifted the focus of the nation away from this great scientific and technological research," Parksy said.

Parksy said the regents believe the work done at the lab is for the safety and security of the nation.

"We carry great pride with respect to the scientific work that has been done," Parksy said. He added that the regents are concerned about anything that would "jeopardize or cloud that work."

UC President Robert Dynes reiterated his belief in the positive relationship of the UC and the Los Alamos lab to the lab's employees. While offering no specifics, he expressed his desire to assist the lab employees with fixing the lab's problems.

"I need you to help me to help you. I will do everything I can," Dynes told employees.

The security problems at the Los Alamos Lab have raised concerns for the regents over whether the UC should bid for a renewal of its management of the lab when its contract expires next year.

Parksy said the board will be reviewing the lab and making sure the problems that led to the security lapses are corrected before a renewal will be considered.

A possible bid by the UC is further complicated by the Friday announcement that Lockheed Martin Corp., the nation's largest defense contractor, would not compete for management of the lab. Both the University of Texas and the UC had been in talks with the firm to develop a partnership for the management of the labs before it announced its decision not to bid.

Wendy Owen, a spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin, explaining the company's decision to bow out, said the amount of resources needed to run Los Alamos could compromise the well- being of its other labs.

-- With reports from Richard Clough, Bruin senior staff.