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Archive for February, 2003

LOS ALAMOS SCIENTISTS MAD AS HELL

Friday, February 28th, 2003

LOS ALAMOS SCIENTISTS MAD AS HELL
Kevin Vixie is livid.
He’s one of a number of scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory who are angry with Congress, for launching hearings this week into the allegations of fraud and Swiss cheese security that have already forced the lab’s director to resign; with the Department of Energy, for imposing a series of increasingly baroque regulations on their actions; with the media, for continuing to harp on these charges; and with business leaders and former senior managers, whose ethical lapses, they feel, are the root of the lab’s ongoing problems.
“I want to be here. I love being here. But I’m out of here, no question, if they continue to make it more difficult to be a scientist,” said Vixie, a mathematician in the lab’s top-secret X Division.
My Wired News story has more on on why these people are so irate.

LOS ALAMOS SECURITY: FT. HOOD DEFENDER WEIGHS IN

Friday, February 28th, 2003

LOS ALAMOS SECURITY: FT. HOOD DEFENDER WEIGHS IN
Former Military Police captain Phil Carter served as the anti-terrorism/force protection officer for the 4th Infantry Division. In that job, he helped write the plan to defend Fort Hood, the world’s largest military base in the world. Here’s what he had to say about Los Alamos’ security:

We’re not talking about the training area at Fort Hood (or Camp Pendleton). Los Alamos is a national-level asset and it ought to be locked up as tight as a facility befitting the kind of stuff it has. In more concrete terms, Los Alamos should employ some sort of layered security scheme similar in concept to what the Secret Service does for the President. There should be at least three layers of external security for a site like this:
Outer layer: sensors and armed patrols conducting mounted and dismounted reconnaissance of the area
Mid layer: perimeter fence, access control, guards walking fenceline, military working dogs
Inner layer: access control to the most sensitive sites; 24-hour surveillance of those areas; sophisticated detection systems
If done right, a layered system provides some redundancy. It also creates the ability to respond to threats as they’re detected by the outer layer. (We infantry guys call this a ‘defense in depth’) In theory, an intruder like Mr. Shachtman would be detected by the sensors or patrols at the outer layer, and a team would be dispatched to determine whether he’s a threat or not.

GI JOE AS SUPERMAN

Friday, February 28th, 2003

GI JOE AS SUPERMAN
This isn’t quite Superman’s X-ray vision. But it’s close enough to bring giggles to anyone who’s ever read a comic book.
The U.S. Air Force and Army are co-funding a project that allows, in a limited way, its troops to see through walls. It won’t tell soldiers what color underwear Lois Lane is wearing. But it’ll give a good idea of where she is in the next room.
There are a variety of technological approaches being tested in this program, called, imaginatively enough, “Through the Wall Surveillance.” The furthest along relies on a modified radar sending out waves that penetrate wood and concrete, but bounce back when they meet flesh.
Check out my Tech Central Station story for more on this program.

FIRED WHISTLEBLOWER NOW LABS’ SECURITY CHIEF

Wednesday, February 26th, 2003

FIRED WHISTLEBLOWER NOW LABS’ SECURITY CHIEF
Steven Doran, one of two former police chiefs fired from Los Alamos National Laboratory after their investigations into fraud went too deep, will now oversee security for the entire University of California system, reports the Contra Costa Times.
The University of California operates Los Alamos and two other labs on behalf of the Energy Department. Doran will supervise security at these three labs, and at all 10 University campuses.
THERE’S MORE: Shortly after his Congressional testimony today, Doran lashed out at Los Alamos officials who have tried to downplay security gaps.
“After 9/11, any time you can go on lab property and not get approached by a guard, that’s a serious problem,” he said.
Lab officers have said that they area I went into over the weekend wasn’t an important facility. To that, Doran replied, “if it’s not a big deal, why have a guard at all? Why not just open the gate?”

NUKE LAB FIRES BACK

Wednesday, February 26th, 2003

NUKE LAB FIRES BACK
Los Alamos National Laboratory officials have had a variety of responses to my story yesterday in Wired News about sneaking into the lab.
Before the story came out, they said that TA-33 was an secret, secure area; no way could an intruder walk in, they asserted.
After the story broke, these officials then told reporters that TA-33 isn’t all that important, on the whole. There’s just a tiny area that’s secure, and there’s no way I could have gotten into that. But the description they gave of this secure area sounds a whole lot like to one I was in.
Lastly, they asserted that the fences I walked around and over didn’t even belong to the lab. According to Congressional Quarterly, “the barbed wire Schachtman (sic) reported climbing over, (a lab spokesman) added, was erected years ago by the residents of a neighboring pueblo to keep livestock from wandering onto the government’s land.“
But if the neighbors put up the fences, what were all those Department of Energy signs doing on them?

LOS ALAMOS IGNORED FRAUD WARNINGS

Wednesday, February 26th, 2003

LOS ALAMOS IGNORED FRAUD WARNINGS
“Officials at the troubled Los Alamos National Laboratory allegedly ignored for months the concerns of a lab subcontractor that employees appeared to be using the lab’s purchasing system to buy personal items,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

The contract employee, identified as Jaret McDonald of Los Alamos, has been subpoenaed to appear today at a hearing before a congressional subcommittee investigating allegations of financial irregularities and mismanagement at the nuclear weapons lab.
McDonald, who works for a laboratory support services company called KSL, tried at least twice between September 2001 and June 2002 to bring his concerns to the attention of lab officials. When they took no action, Johnson said, McDonald sent an anonymous tip to the FBI, which launched an investigation and issued search warrants for the homes and vehicles of several lab employees.

HOW I SNUCK INTO LOS ALAMOS

Tuesday, February 25th, 2003

HOW I SNUCK INTO LOS ALAMOS
There are no armed guards to knock out. No sensors to deactivate. No surveillance cameras to cripple. To sneak into Los Alamos National Laboratory, the world’s most important nuclear research facility, all you do is step over a few strands of rusted, calf-high barbed wire.
I should know. On Saturday morning, I slipped into and out of a top-secret area of the lab while guards sat, unaware, less than a hundred yards away.
Despite the nation’s heightened terror alert status, despite looming congressional hearings into the lab’s mismanagement and slack-jawed security, an untrained person — armed with only the vaguest sense of the facility’s layout and slowed by a torn Achilles tendon — was able to repeatedly gain access to the birthplace of the atom bomb.
For details — and pictures — click on over to my Wired News story here.
THERE’S MORE: Los Alamos is separated from Bandelier National Mounment by New Mexico State Road 4. Hikers frequently pull off to the side of the Route 4 to admire the snow-touched Jemez mountains, or to take a walk through the desert’s multicolored stones. A Bandelier park ranger tells nature-lovers that they can “go hike on Energy Department lands” if they don’t want to pay Bandelier’s $10 parking fee.
“You can even bring your dog,” she adds.
AND MORE: One reader e-mails in the following story about his experience with the Los Alamos security system:

Doesn’t surprise me a bit. I had to work there for a joint project… One of the labs is on the property of the Los Alamos hotel. We were told to meet a few physicists up there after dinner one night to keep working. They assured us that getting in was impossible and we’d need to be escorted. During the day, this was true. We’d be stopped by a guard at the front desk.
Well, the door was propped open by a lazy janitor who was taking out garbage so we marched right in. Right at the door, were several boxes of printed brochures of data. We laughed and took the elevator up ourselves. When we knocked on their door, they just about had a heart attack.
“How’d you get up here?” “Walked in. The door is propped open by your cleaning crew.” They admitted to having issues with the cleaning dept.

AND MORE: Los Alamos maintains an inventory of handguns, as well as “rocket-propelled grenade launchers, mortars, cannon, etc., (that) are used in projectile and high-explosives research. The Laboratory also owns a small number of tranquilizer dart guns used in animal studies,” according to lab press release.
Until recently, however, Los Alamos couldn’t “quickly confirm that all firearms owned by the Laboratory were accounted for.” Now, in a statement issued today, Los Alamos said that problem has been fixed.
AND MORE: Many people sent in comments saying that my story wasn’t a big deal, because the area into which I went wasn’t sufficiently top-secret. If I had walked out with, say, a wheelbarrow full of uranium, then they would have been impressed.
Well, in 1997, during a security training simulation, soldiers were able to do just that. In 2000, during a similar exercise, feaux bad guys “gain(ed) access to the reactor fuel potentially causing a sizable nuclear detonation that would have taken out part of New Mexico and caused havoc downwind.“
I’m a scared, out-of-shape lummox without any military training whatsoever, and with no motivation to do anything harmful. Yet I got into an area that I was assured could not be accessed by any outsider e an area that no one will even say officially what it’s purpose is.
If I could do what I did and these simulated attackers could made such spectacular inroads A what could a more determined adversary accomplish? That’s the question my story asks.
Several readers of Slashdot said that TA-33 couldnt have been that important, if Bussolini and Alexander stored their allegedly fraudulently-purchased goods there, and if I was able to get in.
To that, one Slashdot reader replied, “I’m not comfortable assuming that the buildings he managed to get into were useless just based on the fact that he was able to access them. It seems like that sort of head-in-the-sand circular logic does not good security practices make.“
I agree.

DIALING FOR DICTATORS

Monday, February 24th, 2003

DIALING FOR DICTATORS
Dropping leaflets is so Gulf War I. Now, when American psychological warfare specialists want to convince Iraq’s higher-ups to give up, they call Saddam’s men on their private cell phones, according to the New York Times.
This telemarketing barrage follows in the wake of a U.S. effort to sway Iraqi opinion by sending out unsolicited e-mail to Iraq’s decision-makers.

A WELL-TESTED EYE IN THE SKY

Sunday, February 23rd, 2003

A WELL-TESTED EYE IN THE SKY
With so much sophisticated spy technology at the ready, why is the U.S. military using a nearly 50 year-old plane to hunt for Saddam’s illicit arsenal? Because the venerable U-2 eye in the sky, cruising at 70,000 feet, can do things other spy gear can’t, MSNBC reports.

It can peer through clouds, while satellites require clear skies. It captures images nearly in real time, and can maneuver itself to whichever patch of ground that intelligence analysts want to see; satellites operate on a fixed ground track through their orbit, which makes them predictable for those on the ground who want to hide.


All of these arguments could be made about unmanned aircraft, too. But, unlike drones, U-2s fly at 70,000 feet — higher than most ground-based defenses can reach.

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF SURVEILLANCE

Sunday, February 23rd, 2003

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF SURVEILLANCE
Spooked by intrusive government database programs, like the CAPPS-II passenger screening system and Total Information Awareness? Not enough. Read this “day-in-the-life” article, which details the many ways that the government will be able to snoop on you. From the DVDs you rent to e-mail you read to the route you take to work, there’s frighteningly little that will escape the feds’ searching eyes.