Los Alamos workers face sanctions, possible firings

Friday, September 29th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Some scientists and administrators at the Los Alamos weapons laboratory have been notified that disciplinary actions, possibly including dismissal, are imminent in the case of computer hard drives improperly removed from a safe and later found behind a copy machine.

Los Alamos officials said that three of the employees to be disciplined are Bradley Clark, a Los Alamos scientist; Stephen Younger, the head of nuclear weapons programs; and John Browne, the lab's director. Laboratory officials said Thursday that other scientists might be reprimanded or suspended, and that Mr. Clark may even be fired.

The actions are meant to close a chapter of the unsolved displacement of the missing hard drives. Los Alamos is the main institution that designs and maintains the security of the country's nuclear arsenal.

The computer hard drives, no bigger than a wallet, hold data on nuclear arms and are meant for use in emergencies by the government's Nuclear Emergency Search Team, which is responsible for responding to nuclear accidents and terrorist threats.

The lapse in security began in early May as a raging forest fire closed in on the sprawling Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. As nuclear search team members gathered materials, they discovered that two hard drives with nuclear secrets had been improperly removed from their secure storage. The loss was reported May 31, and the drives were found June 16.

Disciplinary action is being considered because it took three weeks for the head of the weapons laboratory to find out about the missing drives, officials said Thursday. Officials said the Los Alamos personnel were told of impending punishments on Tuesday, but they would provide no details. And they cautioned that final penalties had not been decided and could change.