FBI ends investigation

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Thursday ended a seven-month criminal investigation at the Los Alamos National Laboratory that looked into the temporary disappearance of two computer hard drives containing nuclear weapons secrets after finding no evidence of espionage or intentional wrongdoing.

“The FBI investigation found no evidence of outside involvement in the disappearance of the hard drives at Los Alamos,” said Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. The FBI investigation was unable to determine responsibility for the disappearance of the hard drives and found no evidence that the classified information contained on the hard drives had been compromised, the DOE said in a statement on its Web site.

The hard drives were missing for 11 days last June but were later found behind a photocopier. The removable hard drives, which are about the size of a small wallet, contained information on classified procedures required to disarm a nuclear weapon in the event of an accident or terrorist incident. They are required to be stored in a secure vault and are normally subject to strict accountability procedures.

The end of the FBI investigation marks an important milestone for the Energy Department and Los Alamos, which have been the subjects of a series of investigations into lax cybersecurity practices and possible espionage, including the Wen Ho Lee incident, dating to early 1999. Lee is the Taiwanese-American scientist charged with downloading nuclear secrets at Los Alamos. A three-month study in June 1999 by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board concluded that the computer networks at the DOE’s weapons laboratories were “riddled with vulnerabilities,” including poor labeling and tracking of computer storage devices.

“Conclusion of the FBI investigation enables [Los Alamos] to fully focus on its vitally important national security mission,” said John Gordon, undersecretary and administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, in the statement.

Richardson has asked the University of California, which manages the Los Alamos lab under a contract with the DOE, to “aggressively pursue” the matter and ensure that appropriate personnel action is taken. “With the closure of the FBI investigation, we are referring the matter to the department’s Albuquerque Operations Office and the University of California for any appropriate personnel action,” said Richardson.