The operators of Oak Ridge National Laboratory have agreed to pay a $120,000 assessment to the federal government after acknowledging that classified information was improperly displayed for years during in-house presentations.
UT-Battelle LLC signed a settlement agreement Aug. 4 with Steven C. Simonson, director of the Office of Enforcement in the Department of Energy's Office of Enterprise Assessments.
The lab operator has taken other steps to address the lapse. ORNL is one of the premier research labs in the United States, known among other things for its supercomputing capabilities.
"We take our responsibility to protect classified information seriously," lab spokesman David Keim said in a statement. "This was a problem that shouldn’t have happened, we self-reported it, and we’re glad DOE supports our corrective measures.”
While the information remained in-house, the Department of Energy still considered the release "security significant."
In March 2016, UT-Battelle, a consortium between the University of Tennessee and Ohio-based Battelle, realized people at the lab had been showing classified information during presentations for about five years within the lab campus itself. It alerted the government and began an internal investigation.
According to the August Settlement Agreement, UT-Battelle thinks the original presentation had been reviewed and cleared. But there's no evidence the presentation ever went through a formal review, according to the settlement agreement.
The nature of the classified information has not been released publicly.
According to a letter from Simonson to ORNL director Thomas Zacharia, the highest classification level of the information was "Secret/Restricted Data, including No Foreign."
Based on UT-Battelle's internal review, it appears the presentation contained classified information in what's called the "notes" section of one slide.
"Revisions in 2012 added two other slides containing classified information, and a previous slide became classified due to new classification guidelines," according to the settlement agreement. "The classified information remained in subsequent presentations, which were presented each year through 2016."
The information also was stored on "unapproved servers, information systems and removable electronic media and were transmitted by unauthorized means," the settlement agreement states. "In addition, classified information was visually presented to uncleared students on a specific program, including three foreign nationals from non-sensitive countries."
Although the settlement agreement is signed by Zacharia, the incident precedes his tenure as lab boss.
"The Office of Enforcement, Office of Science, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory Site Office (OSO) will continue to closely monitor UT-Battelle's implementation of DOE classified information security requirements until the issues associated with the Settlement Agreement are fully resolved," Simson's letter to Zacharia states.