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Originally published Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Los Alamos' lax security draws ultimatum in House

Lawmakers threatened Tuesday to strip the Los Alamos National Laboratory of classified operations or even shut it down after a decade of...

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers threatened Tuesday to strip the Los Alamos National Laboratory of classified operations or even shut it down after a decade of security lapses.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., said he had sat through nearly a decade of hearings in which the Energy Department and the northern New Mexico nuclear weapons lab had promised to fix security problems.

The lawmakers blistered the lab for its most recent security breach in which a contract worker walked out with hundreds of pages of classified documents. The documents turned up during a drug raid last October involving a man who rented a room at the worker's home.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said that if problems cannot be solved this time, he will ask that Los Alamos lab, the birthplace of the atomic bomb, be shut down.

"There is an absolute inability and unwillingness to address the most routine security issues at this laboratory," Barton said.

Barton, Dingell and others on the House Energy and Commerce Committee introduced a measure Tuesday to strip the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of its primary security responsibilities and turn them back to the Energy Department. They expressed concerns that the NNSA has not fixed security problems at Los Alamos despite tens of millions of dollars spent on improvements.

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., also called for a comprehensive audit of all services performed at Los Alamos. He wants to evaluate whether its size and mission are too large and whether many of the classified operations should be moved to another lab.

A new management team was installed at Los Alamos less than a year ago, in part to reverse years of security and safety problems.

The embarrassing October incident involving the classified documents resulted in a shake-up in the agency that oversees the lab. Linton Brooks, already reprimanded for an earlier incident, resigned this month as NNSA chief.

Lab officials have said none of the material found during the drug raid was top secret. A lawyer for the employee, a 22-year-old archivist, has said she had taken it home to catch up on work.

Security problems at the lab date back to the late 1990s. They include the disappearance of two hard drives containing classified material that later were found behind a copy machine, and the disappearance of two computer disks that forced a virtual shutdown of Los Alamos. It later was learned those two disks never existed.

Administration officials urged lawmakers to give the new management team more time to turn things around.

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