Los Alamos police answered a call at Royal Crest mobile home park last Tuesday about a possible fight between a man and a woman, CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports. When officials arrived, they said they saw methamphetamine paraphernalia and began seizing evidence.
According to records filed by the Los Alamos Police Department, police confiscated three USB port computer memory sticks. Sources tell CBS News that those memory sticks — small portable computer storage devices — are believed to contain classified information from the nation's top nuclear weapons lab.
Officials arrested a 20-year old man on drug charges along with his girlfriend and the female owner of the trailer. Officials are also checking out reports that one of the women may have had secret clearance to work at the lab in the so-called Dynamic Experiments Program.
Police alerted the FBI to the secret documents, which agents traced back to a woman linked to the drug dealer, officials said. The woman is a contract employee at Los Alamos National Laboratory, according to an FBI official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.
The official would not describe the documents except to say that they appeared to contain classified material and were stored on a computer file.
Sources tell CBS News the documents were found on a computer flash drive — the very type of memory device banned from the lab two years ago. At that time, the Energy Department prohibited all devices that can be easily copied, Attkisson reports.
FBI special agent Bill Elwell in Albuquerque, N.M., confirmed that a search warrant was executed on Friday night, but he refused to discuss details.
"We do have an investigation with regard to the matter, but our standard is we do not discuss pending investigations," Elwell said.
A lab spokesman declined to comment.
Los Alamos has a history of high-profile security problems in the past decade, with the most notable the case of nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee. After years of accusations, Lee pleaded guilty in a plea bargain to one count of mishandling nuclear secrets at the lab.
In 2004, the lab was essentially shut down after an inventory showed that two computer disks containing nuclear secrets were missing. A year later the lab concluded that it was just a mistake and.
But the incident highlighted sloppy inventory control and security failures at the nuclear weapons lab. And the Energy Department began moving toward a five-year program to create a so-called diskless environment at Los Alamos to prevent any classified material being carried outside the lab.
Even though Los Alamos is now under new management, Danielle Brian, executive director of the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight said the lab has not done much to clean up its act.
"The problem is when you actually have those materials that are supposed to be protected inside the lab and you find them outside the lab in the hands of criminals — that should worry everybody," Brian said.
The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in Albuquerque were "evaluating the information obtained as a result of the search warrant," Elwell said.
The federal charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of a year in prison and up to a $100,000 fine.