National Security

Published — August 22, 2014 Updated — February 19, 2015 at 1:08 pm ET

Fired Los Alamos nuclear expert files appeal

Whistleblower penned politically unpopular article


James Doyle, a former nuclear policy specialist at Los Alamos, one of the country’s three nuclear weapons labs, ran into trouble after publishing an article calling for the abolition of nuclear arms

A former Los Alamos nuclear policy expert has filed an appeal in a whistleblower case to Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, arguing that the Energy Department had abused its power to label documents secret and retaliated against him for expressing his views.

James E. Doyle was fired July 8 after spending 18 months trying to force Los Alamos officials to reverse their ruling that an article he published in a foreign journal, which questioned the rationale for nuclear deterrence, had diclosed state secrets. The Center for Public Integrity first reported on Doyle’s case last month.

Los Alamos is the oldest of America’s nuclear weapons labs and most of its nearly $2 billion annual budget goes to an effort to extend the shelf life of the country’s aging nuclear warheads.

“This article, while supportive of the current Administration’s nuclear policies, is viewed as expressing opinion contrary to other political forces, including those held by” Los Alamos, wrote Doyle’s attorney, Mark Zaid, in the appeal to Moniz.

The case has drawn intense scrutiny from the community of U.S. disarmament and nonproliferation specialists.

Charles Ferguson, president of the Federation of American Scientists, on August 21 wrote to urge Moniz to ensure that Doyle wasn’t penalized for his “good faith efforts to participate in the national dialogue over nuclear policy.”

Doyle is appealing a June 24 decision by the Department of Energy’s Office of Hearings and Appeals that let stand an earlier ruling dismissing a whistleblower case he filed last year.

Doyle’s appeal to Moniz says his security clearances were suspended or revoked, he was docked a day’s pay and he became “persona non grata” at the lab after he objected to the decision to classify his article as secret.

The August 20 appeal seeks reverse these actions and in effect wipe the slate clean when it comes to Doyle’s job record, but it would not restore his job. Doyle and Zaid say they plan to challenge his firing in a separate whistleblower case, not yet filed.

Officials at Los Alamos and DOE did not respond to requests for comment.

But according to documents in the case, lab officials said they had docked Doyle’s pay and suspended his access to nuclear weapons information for a month after he initially refusing to cooperate in an investigation of his case.

A former supervisor told the Center that Doyle’s main security clearance was later taken away because he no longer needed to work with classified materials. And documents show lab officials told Doyle he was being laid off as part of an ongoing program of job reductions.

A lower-ranking member of the Los Alamos classification office had initially cleared Doyle’s article for publication in late January 2013.

But a few days after Doyle’s article, “Why Eliminate Nuclear Weapons,” appeared online in the British journal “Survival” in early February, someone on the House Armed Services Committee staff raised concerns with the lab that he had spilled secrets.

The head of the lab’s classification office reviewed the article and ruled that it contained secret information after all.

In the appeal, Zaid wrote that the government had violated its own rules in reclassifying Doyle’s article, because, he wrote, it did not follow procedures for marking as secret a publication already in the public domain.

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