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Laboratory Culture at Los Alamos?

Aired June 22, 2000 - 2:17 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The nuclear secrets scandal at the Los Alamos National Labs is leading to a tough, new examination of security at the New Mexico facility. Investigators believe the issues are not only procedural, but also cultural.

Here's CNN's Don Knapp.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON KNAPP, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Security has been part of Los Alamos since the beginning, 50 years ago, when, shrouded in secrecy, Robert Oppenheimer led an elite corps of scientists in the creation of the first atomic bomb. But to some scientists, the day- to-day rigors of security can be awkward, even a nuisance, if they impedes the flow of knowledge and exchange of ideas. It is a view of security known as laboratory culture, and it is now blamed for the loss, then recovery of hard drives containing secret nuclear information.

JOHN BROWNE, DIRECTOR, LOS ALAMOS NATL. LABORATORY: I am accountable, my laboratory is accountable for these incidents.

KNAPP: In Washington, lab director John Browne responded to Senate critics who claimed laboratory culture undermined security.

BROWNE: How many people in this auditorium, and I am sorry I can't see all people out on Labnet (ph) think we have a security problem at the laboratory? Raise your hand.

KNAPP: One year ago, Browne led workers in a mandatory security workshop after scientist Wen Ho Lee was charged with mishandling classified information.

ABADA SANDOVAL, LAB WORKER: In terms of lax security, we all know what happened after the cold war, people just sort of let their guard down a little bit. But, you know, having worked at the lab for 30 plus years, I can tell you right now that the lab's very serious about security.

KNAPP: But "serious about security" is not the impression left in Washington, where senators expressed outrage on the handling of the hard drives.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: The people who work at these labs, and this particular lab, have an obligation to protect the nation, not each other. And I think there is very clear evidence already that people were protecting each other.

KNAPP: Many residents here feel critics have been overly broad in their accusations.

TAMMY STOHNE, SCHOOL INSTRUCTIONAL ASST.: I just believe that whoever did this was responsible themselves, and I think the majority of the lab people were not in on it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And maybe the labs have gotten lax in last 50 years, and our lifestyles has reflect that, but I also think they should be given the opportunity to rectify the situation.

KNAPP (on camera): While most of those we have talked with here are troubled by the mishandled of nuclear secrets, many doubt anything sinister will come of it. They are more troubled it seems by the political fallout and what it might to the future of the lab.

Don Knapp, CNN, Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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