By ANDY LENDERMAN
The New Mexican
August 1, 2006
Los Alamos National Laboratory employees auctioned off a surplus computer
last year without wiping lab documents off the laptop's hard drive,
government investigators said.
No classified information was on the computer, but the lab didn't follow
its own rules or U.S. Department of Energy rules, the department's Office
of Inspector General wrote in a report released Monday.
"This resulted in the unauthorized release of a computer hard drive
containing laboratory documents on matters such as budget, time and
attendance, and unclassified procedures for transmitting classified
information," the inspector general's report reads.
The report said the handling of the documents on the hard drive, which
were from a lab-training facility, raise serious concerns about security
at the lab, where scientists manage the nation's nuclear-weapons
The lab has since developed new guidelines to "sanitize" salvaged
computers of information or to remove their hard drives altogether, said
an official with the National Nuclear Security Administration, which
oversees the lab.
"Since this particular incident, we have had no similar occurrences," lab
spokesman Steve Sandoval said.
Random inspections of the new program since last October have shown the
program is working, Michael C. Kane of the NNSA wrote in a response to the
The report was made public the same month that Energy Secretary Samuel
Bodman reprimanded a senior official because 1,502 nuclear-weapons workers
were not told for nearly
10 months that their Social Security numbers and other information had
been stolen by a computer hacker from a National Nuclear Security
Administration service center in Albuquerque.
"Recent events concerning the loss of personal information by government
agencies have highlighted the need to protect sensitive information and
take timely follow-up actions when that information may have been
compromised," Inspector General Gregory Friedman wrote in a letter
accompanying the report dated July 26.
The report had three recommendations: First, that all surplus computers
are "sanitized," or wiped clean of all information; that all hard drives
are removed before the computers are sold; and that the lab maintain an
accurate inventory of its surplus equipment. The report also said those
recommendations are applicable across the department.
The computer, an Apple MAC G4, was sold to an employee of KOB-TV on Aug.
13, 2005, at an Albuquerque auction house. The television station ran a
report on Aug. 25. That spurred the inspector general's report as well as
a lab investigation.
The subcontractor that sold the surplus computer at the auction had that
authority taken away until new procedures were established. Seven
computers had already been sold and were not available for inspection. The
new owners were contacted, and they said there were no hard drives.
An inspection of a sample of other computers at the auction house found
they did not have hard drives in them, according to the report.
Los Alamos has a history of computer-related security problems, including
several instances in which computer disks containing nuclear secrets went
missing or were misplaced in recent years.
After a run of embarrassing financial and security lapses, the Energy
Department put the lab's management contract up for bid. The lab had been
run for more than 60 years by the University of California. The new team,
which took over in June, includes UC and several corporate partners.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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