LOS ALAMOS, NM: The University of California (UC) is facing blistering criticism over its management of Los Alamos National Laboratory in the face of the latest controversy over two data-storage devices that have gone missing.
The disappearance of the devices, possibly filled with sensitive and confidential information, is the latest in a number of security lapses at the lab.
Last week, US Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham blasted the lab and the UC system for its shoddy security. He threatened to dismiss those responsible for the failures. The UC system has come under fire from other politicians, as well.
Beyond responding to a deluge of media calls, the UC system and Los Alamos are working together to be more proactive. That means providing not just the media but politicians and other interested parties with the latest information on efforts to rectify the security issues, said Chris Harrington, director of national media communications for the UC system and the office of the UC president.
"We have an ongoing media strategy in place, as the amount of media covering this is significant," said Harrington. "We have meetings with the media where we make the director of the lab and specific members of the UC system available. We also put statements out to the media as appropriate."
Robert Foley, UC VP for laboratory management, issued a statement Tuesday asserting that the university supports and is working with Abraham in his efforts to address security and safety matters. Those matters have led to a shutdown of the laboratory.
Foley further stated that the university backs all necessary measures to improve safety and security to ensure confidence in the lab.
But that may not be so easy. The laboratory's reputation, and that of the university, has been tarnished by this latest controversy. The university has managed Los Alamos since it was formed six decades ago. But starting in 1999, the lab and university have come under intense scrutiny for apparent security lapses, starting with weapons scientist Wen Ho Lee, accused of improperly downloading nuclear secrets.
And the San Francisco Chronicle recently detailed other scandals. "For the third time in eight months, lab staff members have lost computer disks containing information related to national security," wrote science writer Keay Davidson in the July 18 edition. "Late this week, lab officials detailed three recent safety violations, including the revelation that on Wednesday, a 20-year-old intern severely injured her eye while using a laser. A new scandal is brewing: In 17 cases, staff violated rules by e-mailing classified data on an unclassified network."