Jury Slaps Defense Giant for Neglecting National Security

By Justin Rood

Feb 26, 2007 9:50am

A jury awarded nearly $5 million to a worker at a top secret research laboratory who was fired after trying to catch foreign hackers stealing sensitive information from U.S. computers. On Feb. 13, a jury in New Mexico concluded Shawn Carpenter had been wrongfully terminated from his job as a computer security expert for the Department of Energy’s Sandia, N.M. laboratory. His bosses had told him not to pursue the hackers or discuss the matter outside of work and fired him after he cooperated with FBI counterintelligence investigators. Sandia National Laboratory develops nuclear weapons for the American military, among other functions. Since 1993, it has been managed by government contracting giant Lockheed Martin.  Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage. After discovering the lab’s computers had been broken into, Carpenter retraced the hacker’s steps, eventually "backhacking" into machines they controlled, where he discovered the sensitive data. Carpenter refused to obey his bosses’ orders to end his efforts and keep the information within Sandia; he instead contacted the FBI and worked for months with counterintelligence agents, who told him his information was aiding numerous ongoing investigations.  Soon after his bosses found out, they fired Carpenter. "I think…he thought that his motive was noble, but I also recall that he was very clearly told the process that had to be followed," a senior executive for the company said in a sworn deposition introduced at the trial.  "We have to be able to trust our employees to do the right thing, to follow our direction." When asked if she thought her corporation had been concerned because Carpenter had put national security ahead of the company’s interests, vice president for human resources Kimberly Sue Adams said no. "Phrased in that way, absolutely no." But jurors didn’t appear to buy it.  After delivering their verdict — twice what Carpenter’s lawyers had requested — they expressed shock and outrage at the company’s actions. "If they [Sandia] have an interest in protecting us, they certainly didn’t show it with the way they handled Shawn," one juror told a reporter for the Albuquerque Journal. "We are of course highly disappointed in the verdict," said Michael Padilla, a spokesman for the lab who said he also spoke for Lockheed Martin. "However, we are considering whether or not to appeal."

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