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Sunday, 18 June, 2000, 20:04 GMT 21:04 UK
Los Alamos suspicions grow
fire
The files disappeared after a forest fire
Suspicions are growing about the loss - and subsequent rediscovery - of highly sensitive computer hard drives at the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory.

Scientists at the New Mexico facility had made "contradictory statements" which suggested someone was hiding something - either espionage or negligence - said investigators.

The Energy Secretary, Bill Richardson, is under pressure to resign from the Republicans about this and other security lapses.

Bill Richardson
There are calls for Energy Secretary, Bill Richardson to resign

But he rejected the calls on Sunday, saying there was no evidence that the two computer drives with nuclear secrets ever left the Los Alamos lab or that espionage was involved in their disappearance.

He suggested panicked scientists may have misplaced the devices, triggering a cover-up.

The drives, found on Friday behind a copying machine, were flown to Washington from the weapons lab in New Mexico.

No espionage

"I believe there's been no espionage, it doesn't appear (the drives) left the X Division," Mr Richardson said.

Energy Department officials said the investigation was focusing on "several" members of a nuclear emergency response team that had free access to the vault holding the devices.

The hard drives, containing sensitive technical information on nuclear weapons design, including on US, Russian, Chinese and French systems went missing in early May when a forest fire caused major damage at the site.



Security was tight during the fire
Asked if he could rule out espionage, Edward Curran, director of the Energy Department's Office of Counterintelligence, said "absolutely not".

He said "several contradictory statements made by these people (with access to two highly sensitive computer hard drives) ... tend to indicate they had some knowledge" of how and why the hard drives disappeared and then reappeared.

Tampering checks

The FBI is trying to find out whether the hard drives were copied, or tampered with.

Six employees from the nuclear centre have already been suspended while FBI conduct lie detector tests.

It has emerged that 28 people at Los Alamos had free access to the vault where the hard drives were stored and did not have to sign material out.

Los Alamos was the focus of a year-long controversy in 1999 over alleged security lapses involving a former lab scientist, who has been charged with illegally copying highly classified files and is awaiting trial.

Officials are said to believe there is no link between the charges against him and the disappearance of the hard drives.

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See also:

17 Jun 00 | Americas
Nuclear hard drives found
09 May 00 | Americas
Forest fire shuts nuclear lab
14 May 00 | Americas
Historic atomic site destroyed
13 May 00 | Americas
Fires spread in US
11 May 00 | Americas
Los Alamos evacuated
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