After Breaches, Head of U.S. Nuclear Program Is Ousted
Friday, January 5, 2007
Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman has fired the head of the nation's nuclear weapons program, Linton F. Brooks, because of security breaches last year at weapons facilities, including Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Declaring that it was "time for new leadership," Bodman said in a written statement yesterday that he had asked Brooks to leave his post as administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration by the end of the month.
The dismissal comes after embarrassing security lapses, including the Oct. 17 discovery of drug paraphernalia and computer flash drives containing highly classified information in the trailer home of a contractor. The items were found by Los Alamos County, N.M., police officers responding to a domestic dispute call.
That led to a harshly critical report in late November by the Energy Department's inspector general, Gregory H. Friedman, who said that security procedures in key areas at Los Alamos were "nonexistent, applied inconsistently, or not followed."
While Bodman refused to elaborate on his statement, the removal of Brooks also comes as Democrats, determined to hold oversight hearings on the nuclear laboratories' security problems, take control of Congress.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a written statement yesterday he was "afraid that it will take more than a new boss to fix the problems, which are far more systemic and pervasive in nature." He added that "the new Democratic Congress will exercise the oversight responsibility . . . to get to the bottom of the dysfunctional nuclear weapons complex's problems."
Brooks, the top nuclear security official since mid-2002, is not an expert on computer security. But he has spent four decades working on national security issues, starting as an officer in the Navy and later dealing with nuclear weapons issues at the Pentagon, National Security Council, Navy, State Department and Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in three Republican administrations.
Brooks said in a statement yesterday, "This is not a decision that I would have preferred, but it was made by a thoughtful and honorable man and is based on the principle of accountability that should govern all public service."
In the Bush administration, Brooks has been an advocate of building a new generation of nuclear weapons over the next decade, devising post-Cold War missions for nuclear weapons and modernizing U.S. nuclear weapons facilities, some of which date to the 1940s.
"He was a very intelligent public servant with a great deal of integrity," said Joseph Cirincione, vice president for national security issues at the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington research group. Cirincione, who strongly disagreed with Brooks, said the security lapses had done little actual harm. "I would feel better if Brooks were being dismissed on policy grounds rather than security grounds."
But the October incident was only the latest of a string of security lapses. Earlier, Brooks had failed to tell Bodman when a computer hacker managed to steal the personnel records and Social Security numbers of 1,500 Energy Department contractors.
The breaches also angered Republican lawmakers. Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said yesterday that when the Social Security numbers were stolen "it was critical not only that Brooks move swiftly to counteract this sort of security breach but also that he immediately notify the top officials in his department and the people whose data was lost. Instead, he sat on his hands."
In October, Freidman, the Energy Department inspector general, said that the weaknesses in security procedures were "especially troubling since the department and the National Nuclear Security Administration have expended tens of millions of dollars upgrading various components of the laboratory's security apparatus, including vast expenditures on cyber security."
Bodman had named a department task force to review the inspector general's recommendations and report by Feb. 28.