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ABC News
World News This Morning
June 19, 2000

Security Procedures at Los Alamos Questioned


In other news, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson predicts investigators will know within a few days just how nuclear secrets disappeared at the Los Alamos lab. The computer hard drives were recovered Friday and are now being examined in Washington. Meanwhile, the search for those responsible is narrowing. Here's ABC's John Yang.

JOHN YANG reporting:

The FBI criminal investigation into the case of the disappearing computer drives now focuses on several workers at the Los Alamos nuclear labs. Officials say they gave contradictory answers during their lie detector tests and that raises suspicions--suspicions about even how long the drives were actually missing.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson says that there's no evidence of espionage, and no evidence the drives even left the X Division.

He says it may be just a case of a worker misplacing the drives and then lying about it for fear of being fired, but now his Republican critics say he's the one who should be worrying about his job. John Yang, ABC News, Washington.

COOPER: The security procedures at the Los Alamos lab are under the microscope, and there's some debate over how the nuclear secrets were ke--were classified. We get that part of the story now from ABC's Josh Gerstein.

JOSH GERSTEIN reporting:

Despite the danger of serious damage to US national security, the information on the hard drives at Los Alamos was not classified as top secret. Instead, it was put in a lower security category, simply "secret." That category allows access with a less thorough background check and imposes fewer controls on the data. In the early 1990s, the tracking system for materials classified only as "secret" was abandoned.

Mr. STEVEN AFTERGOOD (Federation of American Scientists): You have no way of knowing exactly where they might be at a given moment. If they had been classified at the top secret level, this whole episode might not have occurred.

GERSTEIN: In 1997, the Energy Department recommended upgrading to the highest level the classification of security information on nuclear weapons, information that could be useful to terrorists, but the change never happened. Last December, the Pentagon complained the controls required if the data was reclassified as top secret would be too expensive, and too many restrictions could hamper the work of rapid-response teams dispatched to emergencies involving nuclear weapons.

Mr. JOHN BROWNE (Director, Los Alamos National Lab): They need to be responsible for quickly grabbing their tool kit, if you want to put it in those terms, which include the hard drives, and be--be out of the laboratory, and on to airplanes in a very short notice.

GERSTEIN: The question many experts are now asking is if the information on the hard drives about how to arm and disarm nuclear weapons isn't considered top secret, what is? Josh Gerstein, ABC News, Washington.

Copyrightę ABC News

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