WASHINGTON (06/13/2000) - Officials at Los Alamos National Laboratory waited nearly three weeks before telling the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that two computer hard drives that contained nuclear secrets were missing from a vault, Energy officials told Congress Tuesday.
The delay was caused, in part, by the wild fires that engulfed the area surrounding the laboratory and threatened to destroy the lab, they said. And they suggested that the disks, the size of a deck of playing cards, may have been misplaced, not stolen. In addition to the FBI, sources said, the "CIA is assisting in the Los Alamos investigation and is currently undertaking an assessment of the missing material."
But angry lawmakers said there was little accountability at the lab, where the hard drives were stored to be used by the government's Nuclear Emergency Search Team, a unit that responds to nuclear accidents and nuclear-related threats from terrorists.
"The fact remains that we have two hard drives missing," said Rep. Bart Stupak, a Democrat from Michigan, at the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing.
The hearing was originally scheduled to discuss how far the Energy Department has come in the last year in tightening security at its facilities. But it quickly turned into a probe over what happened to the hard drives that contained intelligence information on the U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons programs.
Retired Air Force Gen. Eugene E. Habiger, now director of the Office of Security and Emergency Operations for the Energy Department, said the disks were last seen in the vault on April 7. They were discovered missing a month later when lab officials checked the vault as the fire threatened the lab complex.
He said there was a delay in notifying authorities because the lab had been shut down and was not reopened until May 22. And although 28 people have access to the vault without an escort, he said there was no effort to question them until last week. Polygraph tests will be administered next week.
Habiger, who has conducted a search at Los Alamos for the disks, expressed doubt that espionage was involved, but said officials don't have a clue as to what happened to the two hard drives.