Nuclear weapons lab loses disc

The Los Alamos National Laboratory, the foremost nuclear weapon design facility in the US, has lost a computer disc, although it...

The Los Alamos National Laboratory, the foremost nuclear weapon design facility in the US, has lost a computer disc, although it claimed that its loss "in no way constitutes a compromise of national security".

A lab statement said staff had been checking an inventory of classified material and realised a piece of classified removable electronic media (CREM) was not where it was supposed to be. The lab said the missing CREM could be a CD, USB flash drive or Zip-type disc.

Since the disc is missing, its contents cannot be verified. The statement admits to "administrative errors and the past pervasive use of low-density magnetic and desktop systems".

Previous lost disc incidents at Los Alamos include:

  • the loss of a hard drive in January 2003
  • the loss of two hard drives which were then found behind a copier in 2000
  • the disappearance of more than 200 computers in 2002. There were denials that they contained classified data.

If anybody has the missing discs they could read classified information about US nuclear weapons. The total amount of CREM at Los Alamos is being reduced in a lab programme and 50,000 items have been destroyed since December 2003, a reduction of 60%.

The lab is hoping to move to a disc-free desktop environment as part of a US Department of Energy security initiative.

Server storage encryption technology exists and Microsoft's Windows XP can encrypt desktop files. However, relying on users to encrypt files is probably less secure than moving to discless desktops.

Chris Mellor writes for

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