Whistleblowers tell Congress: Gut Los Alamos

'My concern is that if you're willing to steal, you're willing to sell information.'

'Rep. Mike Rogers

Los Alamos National Laboratory officials tried to stymie investigators looking into theft and corruption at the New Mexico weapons lab, a House oversight panel heard late last month.

Glenn Walp and Steven Doran, whistleblowers who were fired in November from their posts at the Energy Department lab, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The panel is looking into allegations of poor property tracking, misuse of purchasing privileges and vanished computers. A second hearing is scheduled for this week.

'It's time to gut the place, it's so infected,' Walp said of the lab, which the University of California has managed for 60 years.

During his 10-month stint at Los Alamos, Walp said, his superiors constantly reminded him that his job was to protect the lab's image and management contract. Walp said that at one point, his immediate supervisor rejected his proposal to involve the FBI in the investigation 'on the grounds that the lab did not want the FBI back after the Wen Ho Lee case and the missing computer hard drive incident.' Problems with the physical security of computers and data tapes are well documented during 1999 and 2000.

Under the lab's agreements with about 75 nearby businesses, employees have been able to charge many items costing less than $5,000 by giving little more than their employee identification numbers, he said.

At one point, Walp said, someone from Los Alamos told him, 'You could have a [lab] computer system all set up in your home today, and no one will ever know.'

Doran said that since he and Walp were fired, local stores have started to keep lists of what lab employees can and cannot buy with employee ID cards, and the local-buying program will probably be eliminated.

Walp said he and Doran are careful not to call everyone at the lab corrupt, but he believes that some employees have committed theft and other felonies.

The University of California recently retained Walp and Doran as short-term consultants to help with its internal investigations.

Jaret McDonald, a third subcommittee witness who worked for a maintenance and construction subcontractor, testified that some university employees had bought goods'such as lawnmowers, sleeping bags, televisions and lock-picking gear'that appeared to be unrelated to lab business. When university officials took no action on his report, McDonald said, he called the FBI tip hotline, and FBI investigators followed up.

Energy's inspector general, Gregory H. Friedman, reiterated his recommendations for corrective action before the subcommittee.

The lab CIO's office said last December that more than 360 lab computers reported lost, stolen or missing over the last four years did not store any classified information. But Friedman said he has little confidence in that assertion, given the lab's history of computer security problems.

Several subcommittee members expressed concern that the extensive property mismanagement and thefts could compromise national security. 'My concern is that if you're willing to steal, you're willing to sell information,' Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said.

'The national security mission of the lab is inextricably tied to the day-to-day activities,' Friedman said.

Mission risk

Under the terms of the university's contract, unless the most senior members of a department are aware of fraud, the cost of lost and stolen equipment falls on taxpayers, not the university, Friedman said.

Bruce B. Darling, a senior vice president in the University of California president's office, apologized for the actions of top lab managers and said university administrators are now managing the lab's business and audit functions.

Since the Los Alamos shakeup two months ago, cybersecurity experts have been probing to see whether the lab's computers are vulnerable to attack, Darling said.

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