Gray Lady Joins Nuke Lab Chorus


hook_beat.jpgThe New York Times has picked up on the Los Alamos whistleblower assault story, with a nice summary of what we know so far. And unlike most of the other big media reports of Tommy Hook's beating, the paper of record actually gets into why the whistleblower may have been in jeopardy.

Events at Los Alamos have whipped up a perfect storm for intrigue and retribution. There was the case of Dr. Wen Ho Lee, who was suspected of espionage but ultimately pleaded guilty in 2000 to a single charge of mishandling classified data. Then computer disks with nuclear weapons secrets disappeared; the laboratory was shut down for several months last year in an effort to find out what went wrong. Last month, the contract to run the laboratory was opened for the first time to multiple bidders.People who work at Los Alamos are worried. Their way of life is threatened, with Congress breathing down their necks. And whistle-blowers like Mr. Hook say that accounting procedures are in shambles....Mr. Hook's complaints concern the lab's accounting practices. In 2003, he and a colleague, Chuck Montano, released an internal report that showed millions of dollars in fraudulent billing. For example, many local contractors overcharged. Identical bills were paid more than once. Purdue University was awarded $180,000 in unrestricted gifts, which is not allowable under the laboratory's rules.In 2004, the two auditors were removed from their duties. Mr. Montano sat idle for nine months, Mr. Hook for five. In March, they sued the University of California, which manages the laboratory, for whistle-blower retaliation.Both men have been invited to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about how the laboratory has treated them as whistle-blowers.[Lab spokesman Kevin] Roark said there was a widespread perception of accounting problems at Los Alamos but that further investigations contradicted Mr. Hook and Mr. Montano. "We know we aren't a den of thieves," he said.
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