A local drug investigation by the Los Alamos, N.M., Police Department has turned into an FBI counterintelligence investigation and has top nuclear security officials in Washington worried about security at the nation's nuclear labs.
When local police in Los Alamos responded to a domestic disturbance at a trailer park on Oct. 17, they initially believed that they had stumbled across a small methamphetamine lab.
According to the search warrant in the case, when police responded to the incident, they found drug paraphernalia, several glass pipes and a small propane torch. Officers obtained a search warrant and arrested Justin Stone on a previous bench warrant. They found several pieces of computer hardware containing information they believed to be from Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory.
According to the police statement issued today, "During the course of the search, officers realized some of the items seized appeared to belong to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Los Alamos Laboratory Security Division was contacted for analysis and confirmation."
According to law enforcement sources and court records, Stone's girlfriend is a contract employee at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The FBI has dispatched a team of more than a dozen agents to determine how the files wound up in the trailer park.
During the search, according to documents obtained by ABC News, police recovered three computer memory sticks and a compact disc containing photographs. The computer devices are currently being analyzed by FBI technicians.
"There is no question this should have been taken far more seriously a long time ago by Los Alamos. The fact that this could still be happening is just absurd," said Danielle Brian, at the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group based in Washington.
Security at Los Alamos, home of the first atomic bomb, has been scrutinized in recent years after several security breaches:
In 1999, a weapons scientist was accused of stealing nuclear weapons secrets. He eventually pleaded guilty to mishandling classified information.
In 2000, the FBI investigated missing hard drives at the lab. The drives, which belonged to a Nuclear Emergency Search Team, were found days later behind a photocopy machine.
In 2004, an administrative error led security officials to believe that computer disks containing nuclear secrets had been misplaced, and operations at the lab were ordered to essentially shut down. An FBI investigation would conclude the disks never existed.
Other security breaches at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Y-12 nuclear weapons production facility and storage site exposed a series of lost security keys at both sites.
In congressional testimony in 2005, Linton Brooks, the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said the 2004 incident "revealed serious problems with security management at Los Alamos."
Today the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration launched internal investigations into the apparent security breach.
In written a statement, Los Alamos Director Michael Anastasio said: "I regard this matter as one of utmost concern to all of us."
"I have directed NNSA's chief of defense nuclear security to personally investigate the facts at Los Alamos, and I have sent a headquarters cyber security team to ensure that there is full compliance with current departmental directives," NNSA administrator Brooks said today.
After the 2004 incident Los Alamos and the Department of Energy instituted policies to reduce the amount of files and materials that can be placed on a computer disk.