Security problems at the scandal-plagued Los Alamos National Laboratory are back in the news?again. The public has learned that the lab is vulnerable to terrorist attacks, that it has rehired a security official who retaliated against whistleblowers, and that lab lawyers helped cover up the unauthorized purchase of a Mustang convertible. But outgoing University of California president Richard Atkinson told reporters that private corporations have overblown the problems at Los Alamos, because they want the lab-management contract.
In one of those scandals, a lab employee is alleged to have used a federal credit card to buy a souped-up Mustang convertible. As AIM has reported, lab lawyers cooked up a story that she got confused and thought she was placing an order for “transducers.” CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson ran a story recently that “casts serious doubt” on that explanation. Attkisson told viewers that lab auditors had uncovered “thousands” of unallowable purchases the employee had made for her personal use. But the lab has declared her innocent and she is back on the job at Los Alamos.
One security official, Stanley Busboom, was forced to resign earlier this year for his role in the abrupt dismissal of two lab whistleblowers. Busboom’s golden parachute included $190,000 and health benefits. Now, less than six months after his firing, Busboom is back as a paid lab consultant. Busboom is supposed to be testing lab defenses against terrorist attacks. Lab critics say that is ironic since a 2000 training exercise successfully penetrated one of the lab’s most sensitive facilities on his watch.
That episode and others are described in an article entitled Nuclear Insecurity in the November issue of Vanity Fair. On C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, Author Mark Hertsgaard discussed lab security problems. He warned that lab facilities are “sitting ducks” for terrorists. He said that exercises have repeatedly shown how easily terrorists could penetrate lab security and make off with substantial quantities of plutonium. Hertsgaard says that lab security forces repeatedly failed to even detect mock terrorists during these exercises.
Rich Levernier, an Energy Department whistleblower, told him that more than 50% of the time, mock terrorists “got in, captured the plutonium, got out again, and in some cases didn’t fire a shot, because we didn’t encounter any guards.” This, even though the guard force was warned months in advance of the mock terrorist attack. He said nothing has been done to fix these problems.
He acknowledges that the problems didn’t begin on the Bush watch, but first became known to the public late in the Clinton administration. Hertsgaard refers to a 1999 government report that exposed decades of neglect and mismanagement of security at the nation’s nuclear weapons labs. Insiders agree that the problems are longstanding, but say that the progress being made in the late 1980s and early 1990s ground to a halt in the Clinton administration.