UK Scientist to Los Alamos: Lock Up!

UK nuclear weapons expert gives a pep talk to staff at the research site

September 10, 2004

2 Min Read
Network Computing logo

The troubled Los Alamos National Laboratory has called in a U.K. scientist to boost its security standards following the nuclear research sites desperate attempts to locate two missing storage devices.

The New Mexico facility, which is the birthplace of the atom bomb, hit the headlines when two disks containing classified information were reported missing during a routine inventory (see Los Alamos Searches for Lost Media and Los Alamos Lessons Loom Large).

Malcolm Jones, a physicist and safety expert at the U.K.’s Atomic Weapons Establishment addressed Los Alamos’s 7,500 employees in an attempt to bolster morale following weeks of intense scrutiny from politicians and the media.

Jones highlighted the potential security hazards at a top secret research site. Staff who perceive security as "boring" came in for particular criticism, with Jones urging Los Alamos management to engage employees in developing safety processes. [Ed. note: OK, kids! Let's make Security Time FunTime!]

Rather than being a mundane and tedious activity, Jones called on lab personnel to see safety as a technology challenge.But even when security procedures appear to be working effectively, Jones warned that many organizations fall prey to "a false confidence" and security slips down the list of priorities. The end result: more accidents.

Somewhat stating the obvious, he said, “This is a complex industry with high consequences – we are in the sort of business where we cannot afford to have things go wrong.”

The scientist also warned that the best defense against security threats is to develop a strong culture of safety supported by “the best brains” and resources. This includes peer-reviews, rigorous risk assessments, access to top management, and a willingness to learn from mistakes, he added.

There has been ample opportunity for that last item at Los Alamos, with the fallout from the recent storage snafu reaching government research sites across the U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, for example, promptly ordered all Department of Energy operations using classified hard drives or computer disks to be stood down until procedures were improved (see Abraham Orders CREM Stand Down).

Events at Los Alamos then took something of a farcical turn last month. A report from the Associated Press suggested that the classified computer disks may not actually be missing. In fact, they may never have existed at all (see Los Alamos Disks May Not Be Lost).Even now, just over two months after the disks were reported missing, staff at Los Alamos were unable to confirm what exactly happened. A spokesman told NDCF, “That’s an ongoing enquiry – when we have some definite results that have been validated we will make our findings known.”

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-gen Data Center Forum

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights