Nuclear weapons lab employee fired after publishing scathing critique of the arms race

Douglas Birch

James E. Doyle’s ordeal with Washington began one morning in early February last year, when his supervisor stopped by his desk at Los Alamos National Laboratory and told him that senior managers wanted copies of all his publications.

The 55-year-old political scientist asked the reason for the request, and he eventually was told that someone at the House Armed Services Committee wanted to see the publications. But Doyle said officials refused to tell him who it was or why.

Later that day at the lab’s New Mexico campus, he said, two members of a Security Inquiries Team abruptly arrived with a special, silver-colored briefcase for secure documents, and pulled out an article he published a few days earlier on the website of a London nonprofit group.

Related: Los Alamos National Lab budget

They claimed that the article, an impassioned critique of the political theories undergirding the nuclear arms race and a defense of President Obama’s embrace of a nuclear weapons-free future, contained classified information.

The assertion astonished Doyle, since the laboratory’s security authorities had already reviewed the article and declared it unclassified. But it was the start of a series of events in which Doyle first had his pay docked and his security clearance withdrawn, and then eventually was fired.

He got that final news last month -- on July 8, a day after the Center for Public Integrity asked the Energy department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, which runs the nation’s nuclear labs, about the dispute over his article. “I was shocked,” he said, shortly afterward. “I am still shocked.”

Related: Dana Allin on Doyle's article for Survival

Experts say Doyle’s treatment raises questions about the commitment of the nuclear weapons labs — which face increased competition for resources amid declining military interest in their key product — to intellectual independence in their workforce. Top lab and Energy Department officials have responded to the case by urging that all writing by their employees on topics related to their work be subjected to pre-publication review, even when written on their own time.

Doyle, officially a contractor, said he was told that he was being let go as part of a program of layoffs at the New Mexico lab. But he says he believes the sudden firing was instead part of a Washington-inspired campaign of retribution for his refusal to stay on message and support the lab’s central mission, namely its continued development and production of nuclear arms, at a cost of almost $2 billion per year there.

“Classification has been used against me for the purposes of censorship of the article and retaliation against me for writing the article,” said Doyle, who is now looking for work with two children in college and another headed there.

Related: Wolfsthal on Doyle

Los Alamos officials did not respond to several requests for an interview with an official who could discuss the case. Derrick Robinson, a spokesman for the Energy department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees Los Alamos, said he was seeking official comment. But none was received by the time of publication.

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Copyright 2014 The Center for Public Integrity. This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.