Los Alamos Disks May Not Be Lost

The missing disks at Los Alamos National Lab may have never existed

August 13, 2004

2 Min Read
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Classified computer disks from the Los Alamos National Laboratory may not be missing, as many once feared. In fact, they may have never existed at all, according to a report from the Associated Press.

A high-profile case of missing information may have been caused by lousy asset management and not rogue employees, spies, or some kind of theft from the Labs. As a result, the Labs may face the prospect of having to admit that classified Lab activities were halted, employees were temporarily laid off, and government contracts were put up to bid for no good reason at all (see Los Alamos Searches for Lost Media, Los Alamos Fallout Continues, and UC to Lab Staff: Help Save Us!).

The AP report, citing sources at the Labs, tells the story this way: Someone in the Labs found two unused bar code labels on a sheet of 20, assumed two disks were unlabeled, and then made the connection that security must've been breached. What actually happened was that there were only 18 disks in the first place.

The Labs won't confirm much at this point. "Our inquiry is ongoing. When we have some definite results that have been validated, we will make those results known," Los Alamos spokesman Kevin Roark says.

Sen. Pete Domenici (R New Mexico) says that even if disks aren't missing, the inventory system needs to be fixed. "I will tell you that whether or not the disks were missing, Los Alamos’ system of tracking its classified inventory is clearly a mess if we cannot tell if classified material is missing. The first thing an inventory system has to be able to do is tell what materials we have and what material is missing," the Senator said in a prepared statement.“It may be that what we have here is a false positive -- the system says something is missing when it is not. And just as if it were a medical test, it is better to find out the inventory was wrong than that the disks were actually missing. But this entire situation only reinforces that we need to improve the inventory system."

At least one analyst says assuming the disks were missing wasn't a bad idea. "At a government high-security lab, it's inexcusable to have process breakdown. Having said that, you're trained as a military or intelligence person to always assume the worst case," says analyst Jon Oltsik, of Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group Inc.

"Assuming that some disks were stolen and taking the necessary steps to alleviate the problem was the right thing to do," Oltsik says.

— Evan Koblentz, Senior Editor, Next-Gen Data Center Forum

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