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Federal Officials Continue Search for Missing Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Secrets

Aired June 13, 2000 - 2:03 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The head of the government's main nuclear weapons lab says he cannot rule out a link between the lab's latest security failure and recent forest fires that imperiled northern New Mexico. Officials say the disappearance of two highly sensitive hard drives occurred around the time the lab at Los Alamos was being evacuated.

CNN's Greg LaMotte is on the story. He joins us now from Los Alamos -- Greg.

GREG LAMOTTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well, that secret information that is missing is used by what's called a Nuclear Emergency Search Team, or NEST. These teams respond to nuclear emergencies around the world 24 hours a day. The search team, if needed, would take the hard drives, the ones that are missing, with them and use the information that's on those hard drives to tell them how to respond to a nuclear threat. It's sort of a map.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BROWNE, DIR., LOS ALAMOS NATIONAL LABORATORY: It's classified nuclear weapons information that would be valuable to help a team ascertain what they might find if there is a nuclear incident, whether a terrorist incident or a stolen nuclear device.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAMOTTE: The hard drive, about the size of a deck of cards, were found to be missing May 7 when wildfires were moving towards the lab's property. Authorities with the lab, for no known reason, weren't notified until May 31. Lab officials haven't ruled out espionage, but think the hard drives were misplaced in the confusion caused by the fires.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROWNE: People could have made a mistake. Errors in judgment occur when people are under great stress. People also sometimes forget what they've done with something when they're under great stress.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LAMOTTE: Every person who had access to the secure vault has been interviewed. Authorities say they've turned that lab upside down trying to find those hard drives, but so far have not been able to locate them.

The Department of Energy and the FBI are now involved in the investigation -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Meantime, Greg, with some lawmakers saying, no matter what happens, this shows sloppy security measures at the lab, is there any emergency situation beginning there regarding security measures?

LAMOTTE: Well, the areas that have been affected by these missing hard drives have been, for the most part, been shut down while the investigation continues. Members of the FBI and the DOE are here, again, going over the building inch by inch trying to locate these hard drives.

In terms of "sloppy," I think that the Los Alamos officials would agree that there was some sloppiness in all of this given the fact that these hard drives were found to be missing on May 7 but weren't told to Los Alamos officials until May 31. They're very dismayed by that revelation.

In the meantime, they say, there was, however, an emergency situation going on at Los Alamos. There were raging fires out of control nearing the property and on the property, and they feel as though -- that some of the security personnel went into these vaults, removed sensitive information, and maybe in the panic, and maybe in the confusion, can't remember where they may have placed them.

ALLEN: And the investigation goes on, a story we'll be learning more about.

Greg LaMotte at Los Alamos, thank you.

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