Amy Bowers TV Talk

"If Things Could Talk"

Stuff was missing, important stuff. Secrets were missing from a vault at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Nuclear weapons design secrets. Codes to dismantle bombs - not just our bombs, but foreign weapons and terrorist's  arsenals. 

How could that be? How could two computer hard drives loaded with classified information get lost? There was no forced entry reported in X-Division. "X" division??? As in X-Files, X-traterrestrial?  Or maybe X-perimental? 

The hard drives were missing, no one was saying how long they had been gone, and no one was confirming what kind of information was on those drives. A scientist once told me, "In the Church of the Nuclear Weapon, plutonium is the Sacrament." Well, everyone at the Lab got religion that week. On the First Day, lab director John Browne came forward to give interviews to the networks. He said, "After a year and a half of intensive scrutiny, for this to happen is just disheartening." After that, everyone at the lab took Silence as their Penance, and no one would talk. Well, almost no one would talk - on camera, that is. For us, if it's not on tape, it never happened. 

"Are you with the FBI?" I asked a couple of agents as they entered the lab. The FBI were the only people dressed in suits. "How's the investigation going?" 

How could Los Alamos lose a couple of hard drives? Maybe it wasn't important to the Nuclear Emergency Search Team. Maybe it's not as serious as losing something really important - like video from the archive at ABC News. 

I wonder whether it's important if we lose some nuclear secrets. There is supposed to be enough information on the Internet to build an atomic bomb. Maybe it would be a sloppy, unreliable bomb without the secrets. 

After looking at the sandwiches I brought to the satellite truck, correspondent Brian Rooney decided, "The only secret in Los Alamos is where to find a good dinner." We drove down The Hill, as Los Alamos is called, to the town of Poaque for dinner. 

I asked Ian Hoffman, a reporter from the Albuquerque Journal, if I might interview him about the so-called "Lab Culture," a term being used to refer to the Lab scientist's possible indifference to security. Hoffman was reluctant to do an on-camera interview, and found two or three ways to say No. 

On the weekend, I saw Steve Younger, the associate lab director of Nuclear Weapons, park his car at the Lab. I recognized him as one of the prosecution witnesses in a bail hearing held for Wen Ho Lee. He's the former Los Alamos Lab employee indicted for downloading classified files to computer disks, for the benefit of some foreign country or entity which the U.S. attorneys have either been unable or unwilling to name in court. 

Younger was not talking. He was not even acknowledging his own name. "Dr. Younger?" I asked. Nope. Nothing. 

Six days after the announcement that they were missing, the hard drives reappeared at the Lab, on the floor, behind a photocopier, in an area that had already been searched. 

A pair of "Mulder and Scully" type investigators went from the badge office to the administration building, and presumably into the X-Division. The FBI agents were Not Talking. 

Two other "Feebs" checked the windshield on their sedan. "Did you get another parking ticket today?" I questioned. 

"Have you looked to see if there's an image of anyone's face on the copy machine?" I wanted to know. 

No response, not even a "No Comment." 

"Did anyone copy their butt?" I continued. The Feds were mildly amused by this question, but still No Comment. 

Okay, so people were Not Talking. Not to me, not to us. 

In the absence of people-type subjects, we became distracted by objects. "Are you still using that clunker phone?" asked Cindy Barchus, who had updated her cell phone to a StarTAC, and thought I should do the same. Dale Green was already working on a "life-support" adapter to power the tiny cell phone with a large Nicad brick battery. Cameraman Jim Kent demonstrated a mini-monitor which mounts to his camera. Sound tech Rusty Duggan felt compelled to show us his GPS. The CNN sound tech instructed his correspondent on the use of the Palm Pilot. 

I've heard the prostitutes in New York are actually saying, "if you want to show me how your Palm Pilot works, it'll be $25 dollars extra." 

I wish Things could talk. 

The photocopier would tell us who leaned over it and dropped the missing tapes in a place where they could be found. 

The lie detectors would tell us whose answers were deceptive. 

The hard drives would tell us where they'd been. 

We want secrets about espionage, and UFO aliens, and Death Rays. We get - if we're lucky - a photocopied face.

This ended up in ABTV's mailbox. 
It must have been sent by Raoul.


To: All staff, Los Alamos National Laboratory

From: Bill Richardson, Secretary of Energy

Dear staff members:

Due to an unfortunate overreaction by the Republican Congress to our minor difficulties in the security area, we're being forced to tighten up just a bit.  Effective Monday:

1. The brown paper bag in which we store the computer disk drives that contain the nation's nuclear secrets will no longer be left on the picnic table at the staff commissary during lunch hour. It will be stored in "the vault." I know this is an inconvenience to many of you, but it's a sad sign of the times.

2. The three-letter security code for accessing "the vault" will no longer be "B-O-B." To confuse would-be spies, that security code will be reversed. Please don't tell anybody.

3. Visiting scientists and graduate students from Libya, North Korea and mainland China will no longer be allowed to wander the hallways without proper identification. Beginning Monday, they will be required to wear a stick-on lapel tag that clearly states, "Hello, My Name Is . . . ."The stickers will be available at the front desk.

4. The computer network used for scientific calculations will no longer be hyper linked via the Internet to such Web sites as,, or Links to all Disney sites will be maintained, however.

5. Researchers bearing a security clearance of Level 5 and higher will no longer be permitted to exchange updates on their work by posting advanced-physics formulas on the men's room walls.

6. On "Bowling Night," please check your briefcases and laptop computers at the front counter of the Bowl-a-Drome instead of leaving them in the cloakroom. Mr. Badonov, the front-counter supervisor, has promised to "keep un eye on zem" for us.

7. Staff members will no longer be allowed to take home small amounts of plutonium, iridium or uranium for use in those "little weekend projects around the house." That includes you parents who are helping the kids with their science fair projects.

8. Thermonuclear devices may no longer be checked out for "recreational use." We've not yet decided if exceptions will be made for Halloween, the Fourth of July or New Year's Eve. We'll keep you posted.

9. Employees may no longer "borrow" the AA batteries from the burglar alarm system to power their Game Boys and compact-disc players during working hours.

10. And, finally, when reporting for work each day, all employees must enter through the front door. Raoul, the janitor, will no longer admit employees who tap three times on the side door to avoid clocking in late. I know this crackdown might seem punitive and oppressive to many of you, but it is our sworn duty to protect the valuable national secrets that have been entrusted to our care.

Remember: Security isn't a part-time job-it's an imperative, all 37 1/2 hours of the week!



Email Amy Bowers: