Whether it’s merely an “accounting discrepancy” or something more troubling, the news that more nuclear data is apparently missing from an Energy Department regional office in Albuquerque — revealed after the discovery that several computer disks with sensitive data were missing from the top-secret section of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico — suggests that all is not well at the government’s nuclear facilities.
The latest finding came in the wake of the report in July that computer disks with classified data related to secret nuclear tests conducted by computer simulation were missing.
According to Bill Gertz of the Washington Times, the missing data are considered “extremely sensitive because it is used in the maintenance and development of nuclear weapons.”
Researchers last used them in April, and when they went to use them again in July, they were gone from a supposedly secure vault.
That triggered not just the suspension of 23 employees and a virtual shutdown of Los Alamos but a nationwide inventory of data held at all nuclear weapons facilities. Earlier this month, the inventory turned up three copies of a “controlled removable electronic media” or CREM device — bureaucratese for disk or zip drive — missing at the department’s Albuquerque office, which coordinates efforts with the Los Alamos weapons lab.
According to The Associated Press, Energy Department officials are downplaying the possibility that the disks may have been stolen or that their disappearance suggested espionage. But other officials fear a foreign intelligence agency might have been behind a theft.
Obviously, further investigation is needed. But what these incidents show is that government agencies in whom the American people place their trust to provide security from attacks and theft of data have trouble protecting their own data.
Los Alamos, which has hardly been free from accusations of laxness and gross bungling — remember Wen Ho Lee? — really needs to clean up its act.