Los Alamos National Lab improves information security

Los Alamos National Lab improves information security
Los Alamos National Lab improves information security 

By Jill R. Aitoro  
February 12, 2008  

Los Alamos National Laboratory acknowledged problems involving security 
of classified data and has taken several steps to improve processes, 
according to a report [1] from the Government Accountability Office 
released Monday. The laboratory, which manages numerous nuclear 
facilities and operations, saw a reduction in the number of reported 
security incidents from a five-year high of 18 in 2005 to four in 2007.

The laboratory, which is managed by a consortium of contractors called 
Los Alamos National Security, handles plutonium, uranium and tritium 
processing; research and development operations with special nuclear 
material, high-energy radiography; radiation measurement; packaging of 
nuclear materials; and radioactive and hazardous waste management. The 
government awarded the management contract to the consortium in June 
2006, after a series of high-profile security incidents involving the 
possible exposure of classified information and concerns over workplace 
safety. The House Energy and Water Development Subcommittee asked GAO to 
provide an update on security, safety and management problems at the 

"This was not a full-blown audit," said a GAO spokesman, who requested 
anonymity. "The idea was to get something to the committee to address 
some questions, based on existing studies, or work done by the [Energy 
Department] inspector general."

GAO analyzed data from the lab's Office of Safeguards and Security and 
the Incident Tracking and Analysis Capability database - Energy's 
primary repository for monitoring security incidents. According to the 
report, 57 security incidents involving the compromise or potential 
compromise of classified information were reported between Oct. 1, 2002 
and June 30, 2007. Of those, 37 posed the most serious threat to 
national security. In one example, nine classified removable electronic 
media items, including data disks, could not be accounted for after 
relocation to a different on-site facility. Energy concluded that these 
items were likely destroyed. In another example, a law enforcement 
search of a subcontractor's home in Los Alamos, N.M., recovered 
documents and a USB thumb drive containing classified information 
removed from a highly classified facility at the lab.

In addition, nine incidents involved the confirmed or suspected 
unauthorized disclosure of secret information, which Energy determined 
posed a significant threat to U.S. national security interests, and 11 
incidents involved the confirmed or suspected unauthorized disclosure of 
confidential information, which posed threats to the department's 
security interests.

According to the report, lab contractors have taken a number of steps to 
improve information security. An estimated 1.4 million legacy classified 
documents were destroyed, for example, and the number of electronic 
classified items reduced from 87,000 to 4,472. They've also reduced the 
number of vaults and vault-type rooms used for holding classified data 
from 142 to 114, and consolidated classified material and classified 
processing operations into a supervault-type room.

"It's a problem they're aware of and trying to take steps to remediate 
long-standing issues," the GAO spokesman said.

Lab representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

In response to the report, lab officials noted that the number of 
security incidents that compromised or potentially compromised 
classified information had declined from 18 in 2005 to five in 2006 and 
four in 2007. The number of reported incidents rose prior to 2005, 
increasing from 14 in 2003 to 16 in 2004.

"In our view, this short period of time is not sufficient to provide a 
basis for meaningful trend analysis," Gene Aloise, GAO's director of 
Natural Resources and Environment, said in the report. "Consequently, it 
is too soon to tell if this decline in security incidents is more than 


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