Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham on Friday ordered a halt to all Energy Department operations across the country that use the kind of computer disks reported missing last week at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Under his order, each Energy Department installation will suspend operations Monday involving removable data-storage devices such as computer disks. Each site will conduct an inventory of such items and perform weekly inventories after that.
The announcement comes after two computer disks were reported missing from Los Alamos on July 7. On Thursday, that lab announced that 19 employees had been suspended pending an investigation into the security breach and a separate incident in which a worker suffered an eye injury from a laser.
“While we have no evidence that the problems currently being investigated (at Los Alamos) are present elsewhere, we have a responsibility to take all necessary action to prevent such problems from occurring at all,” Abraham said in a statement from Washington.
On Thursday, lab Director Pete Nanos said the workers who were placed on leave were stripped of their badges and would not be allowed back in until their cases were resolved. They can show up at the lab only for purposes of the investigation.
“We’ve essentially moved them aside,” Nanos said.
He did not identify the workers or say what they might have done wrong. Of the jobs they perform, he said: “Suffice to say it’s all levels.”
The move comes a few days after Nanos ordered a halt to nearly all work at the lab to conduct an inventory of computer disks and other data-storage devices and to retrain lab personnel in the handling of sensitive material. The move was prompted by the disappearance of the two disks.
Officials have not said what was on the disks. Deputy Energy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow said Wednesday that he wanted the FBI’s help in the investigation, but he added that there was nothing to indicate that espionage was behind the disappearance.
A second investigation involves a July 14 experiment during which an intern was injured by a laser that researchers had thought was not producing a light at the time, lab officials said.
Nanos said he had an “all-hands” meeting with workers Thursday to stress the seriousness of the situation. He said some workers were still in “denial” about problems at the lab.
The missing disks and the eye injury are among several embarrassing problems to hit Los Alamos recently, including a number of other security lapses and a scandal over fraudulent use of credit cards.