By CBS News Capitol Hill correspondent Sharyl Attkisson
Jan. 30, 2007
At a congressional hearing today, both Democrats and Republicans
assailed Los Alamos National Laboratory managers and their Department of
Energy supervisors for what they view as the same old security problems.
This, despite the fact that Los Alamos, the nation's premiere nuclear
weapons center, has been under new management for seven months.
House members of the Energy and Commerce committee, charged with
oversight of Los Alamos, today threatened everything from yanking the
Lab's security responsibilities to shutting it down entirely.
"There is an absolute inability and unwillingness to address the most
routine security issues at this Laboratory," said Rep. Joe Barton,
R-Texas. "If we have to shut down the Laboratory, then so be it. But we
ought to be able to get security right at Los Alamos."
Management and security scandals have plagued the Lab for years. Most
recently, as reported exclusively by CBS News, a 22-year old former Lab
employee named Jessica Quintana walked out unchallenged with hundreds of
pages of classified documents. Police found them by accident during a
drug raid on the trailer home of her roommate. The FBI's criminal
investigation of the case is ongoing.
"Why she hasn't been arrested yet is a mystery to us," an insider tells
Sources also tell CBS News that Quintana had access to sensitive secrets
including underground nuclear weapons test data and the code that keeps
nuclear weapons locked in case they are stolen. In one of several
interviews with the FBI, Quintana told officials that security at the
Lab was so lax, she was never checked when entering or leaving, and it
was easy for her to walk out with hundreds of pages in her backpack, as
well as several portable computer storage devices.
The Laboratory and Department of Energy have repeatedly promised
Congress big changes. The biggest one was supposed to happen when the
federal government put the contract to manage the Lab up for bid for the
first time in history. The University of California had held the
contract since the Lab's beginnings in 1943. Last June, a new consortium
of four organizations took control. But the new faces turned out to look
a lot like the old ones, with the University of California retaining a
large portion of the contract. That, suggested members of Congress
today, may be the problem.
In response, the Lab's director, Michael Anastasio, took responsibility
for the most recent security breach and tried to assure fed-up members
of Congress that everything is under control.
"We took immediate action when we learned of the breach," Anastasio
said, but "there will not be a silver bullet solution because there are
Los Alamos National Laboratory employs more than 9,000 people and has an
annual budget of $2.2 billion. Taxpayers have financed tens of millions
of dollars in security upgrades at the Lab in recent years amidst
A recent Inspector General's report said that Lab security remains
inadequate despite all the expense.
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., likened the pattern of security breaches
followed by Lab promises to tighten security to "groundhog day." Rep.
John Dingell, D-Mich, said "it's dejavu all over again."
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