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UC Discussing Fine in Security Breach Case


The University of California is protesting a $3 million fine over a security breach at Los Alamos National Laboratory in which classified documents were found in a drug raid at a trailer.

University spokesman Chris Harrington said the school filed a notice of its intent to seek judicial review of the fine because it wants to protect its legal rights.

“It is important to note that the university has not decided to appeal the decision,” he said.

John Broehm, a spokesman for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, said the agency does not comment on pending legal issues, but said the fine is the largest it has ever issued.

The fine came after authorities found more than 1,000 pages of lab documents at the home of a former employee of subcontractor. The documents were found during an October 2006 police raid aimed at another person living there.

The university has denied violating Energy Department requirements and said it was not responsible because a subcontractor’s employee, not a university employee, committed the breach. The school also noted it was not the lab manager at the time.

NNSA said the university was responsible for “structural management deficiencies.”

The University of California ran the lab for the DOE until June 2006, when a consortium that includes the university took over. The DOE issued a $300,000 fine against that operator, Los Alamos National Security LLC. The lab already has paid the fine, said a spokesman, Kevin Roark.

The university was assessed a larger fine because investigators determined the security deficiencies that led to the incident were established during its tenure. Investigators also said the new managers did nothing to correct problems.

“The significance or gravity of the security breach is a central factor in proposing” the high penalty, the notice said.

The notice, issued in September, called for UC to respond within 30 days.

The university and the DOE have been discussing the notice, and UC’s filing allows those talks to continue, Harrington said.

He said he could not comment on the discussions. According to a letter from a lawyer for the university to the DOE they have been going on for several weeks.

The University of California committed five security-related violations and Los Alamos National Security committed seven, according to a letter from the NNSA.

Jessica Quintana, a then-22-year-old archivist for a lab subcontractor, took 1,219 pages of documents and a dozen computer data devices from the lab to her home including 1,001 pages and four computer data devices classified as secret, the notice of violation said.

Quintana pleaded guilty in May to a single misdemeanor count of negligent handling of classified documents.

UC “failed to correct a known vulnerability” by not adequately overseeing the archiving of classified material by Quintana and did not have physical checks to keep material from being taken out of the “vault-type room” where scanning was done, the notice of violation said.

The U.S. House earlier this year slashed $300 million from Los Alamos’ $2.2 billion budget, signaling exasperation over repeated security problems.

Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican,

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