Nuke Lab Pays Whistleblower $1M

President Barack Obama exits from Air Force One upon his arrival at the Osan U.S. Air Force Base in Osan, 30 miles south of Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009. Obama arrived in South Korea for the last leg of his four-country Asian tour.
AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

CBS News has learned there's been a $1 million settlement in the case of a former investigator at Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Lab who claimed retaliation for blowing the whistle on mismanagement, fraud, cover-up and corruption at the facility.

The disclosures by Glenn Walp and a second whistleblower, Steve Doran, led to the scrutiny of security failures of U.S. nuclear labs. As a result of the disclosures, 18 top officials at Los Alamos were fired, demoted or transferred including its director and deputy director.

Walp, the lab's former head of the Office of Security Inquiries, was fired in retaliation for documenting the national security breaches.

Mr. Walp's settlement with the University of California, which manages Los Alamos, includes a $900,000 outright payment and three and a half months of salary. In January 2003, the university reinstated Walp and Doran to advise UC's president on oversight of its reform efforts at the lab.

The settlement, "represents a solid victory for all Americans whose hard earned monies were egregiously wasted and misused by leaders and managers at the Los Alamos Lab," said Walp in announcing the settlement. "Hopefully, this settlement will initiate the dawn of a new approach wherein all national lab contractors conscientiously strive to be wise stewards of tax dollars, and aggressively and appropriately address the issues of corruption and crime."

But, as CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports, security problems at the nation's premier weapons labs appear to be far from over.

While Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Lab was fighting its own public security and fraud disasters, a similar scandal was quietly unfolding at a sister lab, Sandia, which also holds some of the nation's most sensitive nuclear secrets.

At Sandia, like Los Alamos, internal investigators say every time they've exposed lax security over the past three years, management has lurched into cover-up mode. The lab investigators won't talk on camera, but reported incredible security breaches to Congress.

Among the breaches reported to Congress:

  • A set of master keys went missing for more than a week - keys that even unlock the glass doors leading to the nuclear reactors.
  • Lab workers got caught taking pictures in a highly classified area, but before internal investigators could get to the computer where the pictures were stored, someone battered it to bits with a sledgehammer - with the specific approval of a lab vice president.
  • And, security forces have been caught sleeping on the job, turning off alarms and stealing and selling lab computers.

    In April of this year, Sandia Vice President Don Blanton downplayed any problems at an internal meeting.

    "We had an incident involving folks snoozing on the job," Blanton said.

    Then, he criticized the lab investigators who went to Congress for help: "Unfortunately, several people within the laboratory - three to be exact - felt the need to go outside the laboratory and express concern."

    The lab's current head of security, who's new to the job since the controversies, says everything's being handled properly.

    "Security is under control, we are on track, we have not compromised on materials or information. At the same time we take these allegations or issues very seriously. We're trying very hard to be responsive to these concerns,'' said security chief Dennis Miyoshi.

    The lab investigators who tried to unearth the crimes have been transferred out of investigations, moved to a rat-infested trailer, their pay raises cut. Despite the problems, the Energy Department is in the process of cutting a new contract with Lockheed Martin which operates Sandia - a contract that costs taxpayers $16 million a year.