updated 1/5/2007 4:12:33 AM ET 2007-01-05T09:12:33

Tens of millions of dollars and repeated security reviews haven’t stopped embarrassing security breakdowns in the government’s nuclear weapons program — and now the man in charge has been sent packing.

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman on Thursday ousted the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains the nuclear weapons stockpile and oversees the nation’s weapons research laboratories.

“I have decided it is time for new leadership at the NNSA,” Bodman said in announcing that the agency’s chief, Linton Brooks, would resign within the month.

Brooks, a former ambassador and arms control negotiator, said he accepted the decision, one he understood was “based on the principle of accountability that should govern all public service.”

“This is not a decision that I would have preferred,” he said in a statement to NNSA employees.

Earlier reprimand
Brooks was reprimanded in June for failing to report to Bodman the theft of computer files at an NNSA facility in Albuquerque, N.M., that contained Social Security numbers and other data for 1,500 workers.

Then in October hundreds of pages of classified weapons-related documents from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico were found during a drug raid in the home of a woman who had worked at the lab.

That security breakdown was especially troubling, a department inspector general’s report said, because it came after tens of millions of dollars had been spent to upgrade cyber-security at Los Alamos. A new management group also had been put in charge only a few months earlier — also a fallout over the repeated security problems.

The New Mexico laboratory is one of three major research labs that are part of the nuclear weapons complex under the NNSA. The agency was created after the security flap involving Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee in the late 1990s in hopes that a single agency within DOE might provide more control over security.

In announcing Brooks’ resignation, Bodman said the NNSA had “done its best” to address the problems, but that progress had not been adequate.

“Therefore, and after careful consideration, I have decided that it is time for new leadership at the NNSA,” Bodman said.

‘Systemic and pervasive’ problems described
Some members of Congress questioned whether Brooks’ departure is enough to make the changes that are needed.

“It will take more than a new boss to fix the problems, which are far more systemic and pervasive in nature,” said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is considering hearings on DOE security.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., said she also plans a hearing by her House Armed Services subcommittee on “the important policy and structural changes” planned to improve the nuclear agency. Her aides said she believes the issue is one that goes beyond Brooks, whom she praised.

Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, the ranking Republican on both the Senate Energy Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee on NNSA spending, said Bodman “has sent a clear message” that improvements are needed at the agency.

A number of lawmakers as well as private watchdog groups have maintained that Brooks had not responded forcefully enough to the Los Alamos security breakdowns.

“His departure is long overdue,” Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said Thursday. He had called for Brooks’ immediate firing last summer when the theft involving information on the 1,500 employees came to light.

In November, the Project on Government Oversight, a private watchdog group, urged that Brooks be fired, saying he had been slow in implementing a two-year-old policy to do away with removable storage devices in weapons-related computers.

In his message to employees, Brooks, who came to NNSA in July 2002, bemoaned the lack of progress in solving security problems at Los Alamos. “We have not yet done so in over five years,” he said.

But the rash of security problems date back to the late 1990s, frustrating senior DOE officials.

They include the disappearance of two hard drives containing classified material that later were found behind a copying machine and the disappearance of two computer disks that forced a virtual shutdown of Los Alamos. It later was learned the two disks never existed.

Among other incidents were lost keys to classified areas containing highly enriched uranium, use of less secure e-mail systems to transmit classified material, scientists losing track of vials of plutonium and the alleged improper use of government credit cards.

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