U.S. Recommends Fines for Los Alamos Security Breach

The U.S. Energy Department on Friday said it would seek $3.3 million in fines against the managers of the Los Alamos National Laboratory for a security breakdown that allowed classified documents be taken to an employee's trailer park home, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, June 15).

This would be the largest civil penalty ever imposed by the agency.

Local police in October 2006 discovered more than 1,000 pages of classified documents and computer storage devices while conducting a drug raid at the trailer home.  A contract employee had removed them from the New Mexico facility so she could work on a project at home.  She later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of removing classified information from the laboratory (see GSN, May 21).

The civil penalties, which include a $3 million dollar fine for the University of California, are the largest the Energy department has ever imposed.

The Energy Department proposed a $3 million fine against the University of California, former sole manager of the laboratory, and assessed $300,000 to Los Alamos National Security, LLC, the facility's current operations contractor, according to a press release.

The University of California received the largest fine because investigators found that the deficiencies leading to the incident had developed during the university's tenure as the facility's primary manager.  The management team that took over in June 2006, which includes the university, failed to fix the problems, the Energy Department said.

Responses to the Energy Department notice are due within 30 days, though the fines are likely to be maintained.  Court challenges are also possible.

University spokesman Chris Harrington said university officials would file a formal response detailing their objections to the fine with the department.  He said the response would likely note that the incident occurred five months after the end of the university's contract as lone manager at Los Alamos.

Los Alamos National Laboratory said in a statement that it would "make security improvements consistent with those outlined in the compliance order."

"The significance or gravity of the security breach is a central factor in proposing" such a high penalty, the notice of violation issued by the National Nuclear Security Administration said.  The agency oversees the Energy Department's nuclear weapons activities (Josef Hebert, Associated Press/Forbes, July 13).

July 16, 2007
About

The U.S. Energy Department on Friday said it would seek $3.3 million in fines against the managers of the Los Alamos National Laboratory for a security breakdown that allowed classified documents be taken to an employee's trailer park home, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, June 15).