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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Drug raid yields Los Alamos documents

WASHINGTON (AP)- A drug bust at a trailer park in New Mexico turned up what appeared to be classified documents taken from the Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory, authorities said Tuesday.

Local police found the documents while arresting a man suspected of domestic violence and dealing methamphetamine from his mobile home, said Sgt. Chuck Ney of the Los Alamos, N.M., Municipal Police Department. The documents were discovered during a search of the man's records for evidence of his drug business, Ney said.

Police alerted the
FBI to the secret documents, which agents traced back to a woman linked to the drug dealer, officials said. The woman is a contract employee at Los Alamos National Laboratory, according to an FBI official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.

The official would not describe the documents except to say that they appeared to contain classified material and were stored on a computer file.

FBI special agent Bill Elwell in Albuquerque, N.M., confirmed that a search warrant was executed on Friday night, but he refused to discuss details.

"We do have an investigation with regard to the matter, but our standard is we do not discuss pending investigations," Elwell said.

A spokesman for the Los Alamos National Laboratory, in Los Alamos, N.M., declined to comment.

Los Alamos has a history of high-profile security problems in the past decade, with the most notable the case of nuclear scientist
Wen Ho Lee. After years of accusations, Lee pleaded guilty in a plea bargain to one count of mishandling nuclear secrets at the lab.

In 2004, the lab was essentially shut down after an inventory showed that two computer disks containing nuclear secrets were missing. A year later the lab concluded that it was just a mistake and the disks never existed.

But the incident highlighted sloppy inventory control and security failures at the nuclear weapons lab. And the Energy Department began moving toward a five-year program to create a so-called diskless environment at Los Alamos to prevent any classified material being carried outside the lab.

Even though Los Alamos is now under new management, Danielle Brian, executive director of the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, said the lab has not done much to clean up its act.

"Los Alamos has always seemed to be rewarded for its screw-ups," Brian said. "We're waiting with bated breath to see if anything has changed."

The idea that police found classified documents at a home where a drug sting was being conducted is disturbing, she said.

"The problem is when you actually have those materials that are supposed to be protected inside the lab and you find them outside the lab in the hands of criminals — that should worry everybody," Brian said.

The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in Albuquerque were "evaluating the information obtained as a result of the search warrant," Elwell said.

The federal charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of a year in prison and up to a $100,000 fine.

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