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Los Alamos National Lab Suffers Security Lapse

Officials say they can't account for a high-capacity disk and nine diskettes but that they may have been destroyed and simply not accounted for.

It appears Los Alamos National Laboratory is facing yet another embarrassing security lapse involving the loss of electronic storage devices. Officials say they can't account for a high-capacity disk and nine diskettes used at the lab.

While some of the disks were marked classified, the "initial laboratory review indicates that national security was not jeopardized by this incident," the lab said in a statement issued Tuesday. An independent federal analysis of the incident is expected.

Los Alamos also contacted the Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and the University of California concerning the storage-media inventory discrepancies.

According to the statement, one diskette, which was marked classified--but which may not have contained classified information--was reporting missing on Nov. 20; the diskette may have been destroyed, though there's no record of its destruction. A second diskette was reported missing Dec. 2, and an investigation into the incident reveals that it "was most likely destroyed" in January 2002 during the destruction of four other diskettes. But there's no existing receipt for the destruction of the diskette, according to the statement.

These incidents led to a wider investigation into the physical inventory of every classified data-storage device. That investigation revealed eight more inventory discrepancies. The lab contends that the disks were most likely destroyed, but there destruction was not properly documented.

"While the destruction of the materials was not properly recorded and documentation maintained, resulting in inventory anomalies, to date these investigative efforts support the likelihood that the missing media were destroyed," the statement says.

The inventory problems have led to a "limited security stand-down" at the lab while a search for the missing media continues and corrective policies can be put in place.

"This situation is totally unacceptable," lab director G. Peter Nanos said in a statement. "Security is one of our most important jobs; obviously we now must look deeper into the control of all sensitive information and solve these problems."

It's yet another credibility blow to the Los Alamos Laboratory, which develops ways to use science and technology to improve the safety and reliability of U.S. nuclear armaments, as well as critical research involving national defense, energy delivery, environment, critical infrastructure and to minimize the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.

Prior security problems at the lab included the case of Wen Ho Lee, a scientist who was accused of mishandling nuclear secrets, as well as a hard drive that disappeared only to be found later sitting behind a photocopier.

The lab is operated by the University of California at the bequest of the National Nuclear Security Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy.

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