University of California
and the development of WMDs

LANL and LLNL Today

UC President Robert Dynes

Shuffling the Nuclear
Weapons Complex:

Rethinking the UC's
management, media scrutiny,
and laboratory objectives.

Salaries of UC Employees



Shuffling the Nuclear Weapons Complex

Bringing the weapons labs under new management might produce the desired illusion of national security and institutional efficiency, but it will not change one simple fact: The root of the problem is the labs themselves.

The nuclear weapons laboratory at Los Alamos has been making headlines across the nation, but curiously, the news coverage entirely concerns mismanagement, theft, and lapses in security, while ignoring the long term developments regarding the laboratories, and the nation's nuclear weapons policy always at the core of the debate. The San Jose Mercury News reports, "[the] Los Alamos scandal raises question about UC [University of California] oversight,"(1.) while a June 25 article in the Washington Post relays the Energy Department's orders to, "Overhaul Lab Security."(2.) The June 25 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle states, "Watchdog agency fails Energy Dept. on security at labs"(3.). Only three days later the same paper follows up with a pair of articles recounting the exoneration of the Los Alamos Lab employee who was charged with defrauding the DOE to the sum of $30,000 to buy a Ford Mustang with a lab credit card(4.).

Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National lab have also gained considerable attention due to breaches in security and loss of sensitive materials and information. But there has been minimal debate of the larger issue at the core of the problem deceptively referred to as "mismanagement". Obscured by the recent political debate about "(mis)management", but central to the problems facing global society and the people of the United States with respect to the nuclear weapons labs are the labs themselves; their purpose, and what they represent.

The United States is currently forging an unprecedented and aggressive nuclear policy based on the usability of atomic weapons. This is the arms race renewed. Government mandate is prompting the labs and their staffs to begin the research and design of these new nuclear arsenals. The Congressional Defense Legislation for 2004 rescinds the prohibition on research and development of low-yield nuclear weapons(5.). Indeed, the whole realization that the United States is undertaking a massive restructuring of its nuclear weapons complex, policy, and projects is given less credence than the illusory question posed by the Bush administration and readily accepted into public debate; "who will manage the Los Alamos Lab come 2005?" This non-question at center stage of media coverage compels several other non-questions in the public debate, specifically; "Who should manage the lab?" "What is the proper entity to manage the lab; a university, corporation, the government, or some sort of consortium?"

The current desire of the Bush administration is to address laboratory mismanagement at Los Alamos, including multiple security lapses, unaccounted for nuclear materials, lost keys and passcards, property theft, and the punishment of whistleblowing investigators. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham's announcement to bid out the contract to manage the Los Alamos lab in 2005 is intended as a signal for the UC to shape up or lose out to a more efficient and secure entity, although non exists (speculations range from corporations like Lockheed, Bechtel, to the University of Texas). Energy Secretary Abraham has stated the government's policy repeatedly. The University of California bears, "responsibility for the systematic management failures that came to light in 2002. Given that responsibility and the widespread nature of the problems uncovered at Los Alamos, I intend to open the management of the Los Alamos to full competition when the current contract expires."(6.)

The DOE, the Bush administration, and those entities invested in the nation's nuclear weapons infrastructure believe that a change of lab management will bring about a more secure and better run operation. Unfortunately all parties are mistaken, the problem is rooted in the nuclear weapons labs and their mission, not the administrative skills of the universities or corporations that presume to "manage" these abominations.

"Mismanagement" of the nuclear weapons labs is a euphemism, and a non-sequitur of sorts because it describes the very nature of these institutions as though it were unexpected and even preventable. It is not.

Naturally, when the wealthiest and most scientifically advanced nation in the world chooses to devote billion dollars, and thousands of its most gifted and highly trained scientists to the design and production of nuclear weapons, other nations with lesser economic and scientific resources will go to great lengths to steal the results.

Naturally, when the United States continues to produce nuclear weapons and waste at dozens of sites across the nation, many concentrated near major metropolitan areas, terrorists will seek access to these sites in hopes of creating further disaster.

Naturally when the research and design of these new nuclear weapons requires the scientific and human resources beyond what even the US possesses, secrets will spread, technology will diffuse, and proliferation will be ensured as the only certain outcome.

Naturally, these labs cultivate in the words of lab critic and former Senator Warren Rudman, "a culture of arrogance," engaging in theft, abuse of property and privilege, the result is callous behavior among the staff, and security scandals in the making(6.).

The very nature of the nuclear weapons labs at Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sandia are corrupt and insecure. Pursuing nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, of all kinds and capabilities, en mass, is the singular goal of these facilities. Thus their institutional interests; furtherance of the nuclear arms race, is inherently corrupt. What we see in the recent lab scandals (blown out of proportion) is the micro reflection of this arrogant culture innate to the labs, that have been given mandate to pursue weapons of mass destruction by the macro arrogant culture in the halls and offices in Washington D.C.

These labs breed insecurity because of their mission. There will never be a manager capable of instituting the security systems and procedures necessary to prevent the spread of the technological and scientific secrets created within. Equally, there can never be sufficient security and management to turn these labs away from what is in their own interests, yet is universally destructive. Security during the Manhattan Project and early US nuclear weapons development failed miserably to prevent the spread of the atom bomb and subsequent nuclear technologies to other nations. Security in this age will accomplish no better. Proliferation of the bomb is widely acknowledged as the result of technological diffusion, an international scientific citizenry, and espionage.

Stopping the bomb and protecting national security is not a matter of securing the labs as the current debate leads one to believe. Stopping the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction has only been proven achievable through internationally binding treaties such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Trying to stop any conceivable terror attacks against the nuclear weapons complex, its infrastructure, and products, is a fool's game. As long as the United States continues to build these weapons and support these labs and facilities there will be a threat. Finding a new manager who might better secure laboratory materials, and information is foolhardy because it has never worked, and because it detracts from the real issue. The existence of the labs and their mission is the core of the problem.

Security lapses and mis-management at the nuclear weapons labs are as old as the labs themselves. Nothing changed in 2002 to necessitate a shuffling of Los Alamos management contrary to Secretary Abraham's remarks. A Federation of American Scientists'(FAS) report(8.), "Science At Its Best, Security At Its Worst" is a brief summary of the security problems for the DOE's nuclear weapons labs. It's a brief summary, but it still fills 14 pages with bibliographic notes on DOE and Congressional documents released between 1979 and 1999.

The FAS report includes a Congressional General Accounting Office (GAO) report from 1979 during the Atomic Energy Commission's authority over the labs citing; "incorrect declassification of very sensitive weapons design information which subsequently was found in a publicly accessible library in Los Alamos." In 1980 a GAO paper concluded, "Improper measure, storing, and verifying of the quantities of nuclear materials" within the nation's nuclear weapons complex. There are multiple reports spanning the two-decade period repeatedly pointing out the "inability of the weapons labs to track and recover special nuclear material." In 1988 a congressional document scorns the labs for "failure to obtain timely and adequate information on foreign visitors before allowing them access to the labs," and yet a decade later in 1998 another congressional report concludes, "visitors with ties to foreign intelligence services gained access to laboratories without DOE and/or Laboratory official's advance knowledge of visitors' connections." A 1991 GAO report entitled, "Nuclear Security: Accountability for Livermore's Secret Classified Documents is Inadequate," identifies over 12,000 missing documents at the time of publication.

Securing the labs is only possible by shutting them down, and ending the research, design, and production of atomic weapons. More recent and shocking demonstrations of the labs deficiencies and nature have included mock terrorist assaults on the labs. Some of these exercises involve terrorists seeking access to the labs for suicidal destructive purposes including small improvised nuclear detonations, while others simulate teams of thieves with the mission of carting out nuclear materials and sensitive information. Both scenarios have proven the Labs to be ripe targets incapable of defending themselves while they work inside on the next generation of weapons of mass destruction. The mock terrorist have succeeded on all fronts too many times as the Project On Government Oversight's Executive Director Danielle Brian has repeatedly testified before Congress: "…the nation's ten nuclear weapons facilities, which house nearly 1000 tons of weapons and nuclear materials regularly fail to protect this material during mock terrorist attacks." (9.)

Of all the most recent breaches of security involving the weapons labs, it is Sandia which is cause for the most concern. While Los Alamos has been plagued by small scale thefts by employees, and Livermore and Los Alamos both falling victim to inept security guards losing keys, it is Sandia where some of the most serious violations of lab security have occurred. The most shocking example of a security breach involved a Verizon Corp. van that was stolen from a parking lot in a classified area of the lab and crashed through a perimeter fence at 5 a.m. in what is described as a "high risk" exit maneuver in former US Attorney Norman Bay's recent report on Sandia Lab (10.). The van was recovered one and a half days later in a nearby department store parking lot, and it has been revealed that sensitive computer equipment went missing just prior to the van's theft.

Lockheed Martin, the manager of the Sandia lab seems to be failing in the same respects as the University of California, giving weight to the notion that there might be no "optimum" or "best" manager for the labs. The labs are essentially insecure, corrupt, and dangerous to national and global security, therefore whoever supposes they "manage" the labs is really doing nothing other than overseeing an unmanageable disaster in process.

The level of security and the kind of management required by the nuclear weapons labs because of their mission is simply impossible. On the one hand, the labs mission is to carry out ground breaking research across disciplinary fields. However, this research is for the sake of nuclear weapons design and testing, national missile "defense", biological weapons, and other militarized forms of science. Therefore the labs, and their results must be secured; an impossible task considering the resources and knowledge required, paired with the geopolitical conditions and weapons proliferation that further US high energy, biological, and chemical weapons research is responsible for. The labs as they exist, with their present purpose, are impossibly corrected institutions whose only purpose is the creation of weapons of mass destruction making their condition one of permanent mis-management, and insecurity.