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.
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 But it was the start of a series of events in which Doyle first had his pay docked and his security clearance withdrawn, and then eventually was fired.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.”
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.
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.
Doyle’s treatment has nonetheless already attracted criticism from former Obama appointees and from his editor at Survival, a journal published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies where the article appeared in February 2013.
“It sure looks like he’s being fired for supporting the President’s policy,” said Jon Wolfsthal, a special adviser on nuclear matters to Vice President Joseph Biden from 2009 to 2012 who knows Doyle.
“Nobody would go after this article on classification grounds unless they were pursuing a political agenda, and it is amazing to attack someone politically for writing an article in support of a policy of the president of the United States,” said Matthew Bunn, a former White House official under President Clinton and now a nonproliferation expert at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
“The classification system, of course, is not supposed to be used for political purposes,” Bunn said. “It is only to prohibit the release of information if it would damage the security of the U.S. And there’s nothing in this article that could in any way damage the security of the United States.”