Up in Arms

Published — September 16, 2014 Updated — Today at 12:47 pm EST

DOE official seeks probe of dissident analyst’s dismissal by nuclear weapons laboratory

The overseer of U.S. nuclear weapons production requests an Inspector General’s review of the firing of Los Alamos analyst James Doyle

Introduction

A senior Energy Department official has requested a special probe of claims by a U.S. nuclear weapons analyst that one of the nuclear weapons laboratories canceled his security clearances and fired him as punishment for publishing a critique of longstanding U.S. weapons policy.

The request by Under Secretary for Nuclear Security Frank Klotz for an inquiry by the DOE Inspector General into the dismissal in July of James E. Doyle by Los Alamos National Laboratory was disclosed in a Sept. 15 letter from another department official to Doyle’s attorney, Mark Zaid.

In the letter, Poli Mamolejos, director of the DOE’s Office of Hearings and Appeals, wrote that DOE’s “senior leadership takes the issue you raise seriously, and will not tolerate retaliation or dismissals of employees or contractors for the views expressed in scholarly publications.”

Doyle, a political scientist, was fired in July, shortly after the Center for Public Integrity inquired about the department’s handling of an article he published in the British journal Survival that challenged the tenets of nuclear deterrence and supported President Obama’s call for movement towards a nuclear weapons-free future.

That message conflicted with the laboratory’s principal work developing nuclear weapons, but the laboratory’s security experts cleared it for publication. Then, after hearing complaints from a Republican staff member of the House Armed Services Committee, more senior laboratory officials opted to classify the article retroactively, dock Doyle’s pay, and cancel his clearances.

In the letter, Marmolejos wrote that Klotz had asked the Inspector General, Gregory H. Friedman, to examine whether Doyle’s termination “resulted, in whole or in part, from the publication in question or the views expressed in it.”

Marmolejos said Secretary of Energy Moniz had delegated the review of Doyle’s 2013 whistleblower case to Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman. Poneman, Marmolejos said, had ruled against Doyle’s claim that Los Alamos had “improperly classified” his article in violation of the rules governing government secrecy.

Poneman essentially upheld Marmolejos’ earlier decision, which ruled that Doyle’s appeal didn’t meet the department’s standard for whistleblowers because it didn’t disclose “substantial” law-breaking by the lab.

Reached by phone while on vacation in New Mexico, Doyle said he had not yet seen Marmolejos’ letter and would study it when he had a chance. He said he was concerned that the ruling that his article was properly classified could make it more difficult for him to pursue his claim of retaliation by the lab.

None of the others involved — Friedman, Klotz, and officials at Los Alamos, or their spokesmen — returned phone calls seeking comment on Sept. 15. Last year, Los Alamos officials told Doyle that his article should never have been cleared for publication. When he was terminated in July, he was told he was being laid off as part of a program of staff reductions prompted by budget concerns.

“By handing it off to the Inspector General, they are creating the possibility of an impartial review,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. “I think that’s a positive step, because it takes it out of the narrow framework of regulatory compliance and addresses the core question. Was he retaliated against? And are there procedures in place to protect the independence and intellectual integrity of employees, especially at the national labs.”

Read more in National Security

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