A drug raid on a the home of a scientist at the Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory in New Mexico turned up what appeared to be classified documents taken from the facility, the FBI said.
Police discovered the documents at the scientist's home while making an arrest in a methamphetamine investigation, according to an FBI official in Washington who spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because of the sensitive nature of the case.
The police alerted the FBI to the documents, prompting a federal search of the unidentified female scientist's home. The official would not describe the documents except to say that they appeared to contain classified material.
Asked about the raid, FBI special agent Bill Elwell in Albuquerque, New Mexico, confirmed that a search warrant was executed 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 spokesman for the Los Alamos National Laboratory would not 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. The judge apologized to Lee for his ordeal.
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 the disks never existed.
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 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.
"Los Alamos has always seemed to be rewarded for its screw-ups," Brian said. "We're waiting with bated breath to see if anything has changed."
The idea that police found classified documents at a home where a drug sting was being conducted is disturbing, she said.
"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 US 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.