The Los Alamos National Laboratory didn't need another emergency. But the disappearance of computer hard drives containing highly classified information about American and foreign nuclear weapons has given it one.
This latest incident, following the probe of former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, who's charged with criminally mishandling top-secret data, underscores the laboratory's ongoing security problems. Tightening security at this lab and others involved in the design of nuclear weaponry has, rightly, become a national priority.
And the labs aren't the only places subject to security lapses. The State Department recently had its own lost-hardware scandal, when a laptop computer loaded with classified information mysteriously vanished. The case of former CIA chief John Deutch, who shifted classified data into an unclassified home computer, has also heightened concerns.
Mistakes like the missing hard drives at Los Alamos may be inadvertent - attributable, in that case, to the chaos of an approaching forest fire.
Nonetheless, they point to a need for tougher precautions and more diligent checking to narrow the scope for human error - or spying. The cold war may be over, but the need for secrecy in national security is not.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society