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There is more information now about the classified documents from a nuclear weapons laboratory that ended up in a trailer park. Police discovered the documents last week during a drug search near the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the FBI has been investigating. The documents were traced to a woman who had worked at the lab. Some of the documents are in electronic form, raising questions about the lab's ability to keep track of digital secrets.
NPR's David Kestenbaum reports.
DAVID KESTENBAUM: This story starts like a typical TV cop show. According to the Los Alamos Police Department, officers last week responded to a call saying that some neighbors at a trailer park were fighting. When the officers arrived, the man at the home barricaded himself in a back room. The man had an outstanding warrant for violating probation. According to a police report, the man agreed to come out if he could have a cigarette before turning himself in.
The police found drugs and drug paraphernalia in the trailer and they found items that, quote, “appeared to belong to the Los Alamos National Laboratory.” The lab, often called the birthplace of the atomic bomb, is overseen by the U.S. Department of Energy. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman gave a speech today about bio fuels in Washington but some of the questions from the press were about the problems at Los Alamos.
Mr. SAMUEL BODMAN (Energy Secretary): First of all, it did occur. Second of all, there is an investigation going on that is in its early stages that needs to take place in a confidential manner.
KESTENBAUM: The FBI is investigating a woman who once worked at the lab identified as a, quote, “former subcontractor employee”. Secretary Bodman elaborated after the bio fuels meeting.
Mr. BODMAN: As I understand it, the woman was an archivist. They have had a significant effort in archiving data from the history, from past history and making that available in electronic form so that it could be properly stored and accessed.
KESTENBAUM: It's unclear what information the documents contained or why the woman might have taken them from the lab. Classified documents are supposed to be tightly controlled. Many are kept locked in safes and are only handled by people with security clearances. Secretary Bodman was asked if he was worried that someone with a drug problem might have been hoping to sell the documents to make some money.
Mr. BODMAN: Of course. Of course, I'm worried about everything and that's what I do. So we're looking at all things and that will be part of the investigation that's ongoing. Okay? Thank you.
KESTENBAUM: Los Alamos has had trouble with classified material before. In the year 2002 classified computer hard drives disappeared. After a long search they were discovered behind a copying machine. In 2004, two more classified computer discs could not be found. The lab later concluded they had never existed and were figments of sloppy record keeping. Parts of the lab were shut down for seven months.
The lab undertook a major effort to reduce the amount of classified material on portable digital devices. Last year, in part because of these troubles, the lab was put under a new management team, the University of California and three defense contractors. The lab's new director, Michael Anastasio, released a statement today that said in part, quote, “this matter is a reminder that constant vigilance by everyone is necessary to ensure a safe and secure laboratory.”
David Kestenbaum, NPR News.