Energy officials in hot seat for missing disks

Officials at Los Alamos National Laboratory waited nearly three weeks before

telling the 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 (D-Mich.) 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.

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