December 3, 2003

Sun Reveals Security Breach

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Earlier this year, Adam Sinovsky ’05, a Sun photographer, gained access to the reactor complex of the Ward Laboratory while on assignment for The Sun. While taking photographs of the building’s exterior on March 6, Sinovsky entered Ward and requested permission to photograph the reactor, which was granted to him by an unidentified staff member.

The photographs, and this incident, have been kept under sealed Sun editor and administrator lips until today.

Sinovsky, who said he was “surprised” by the lack of security clearance that allowed him to take the photos, spent approximately 10 minutes in the complex before another unidentified Ward employee confronted him. According to Sun accounts, the employee asked Sinovsky’s escort “What are you doing letting him take photos?” Sinovsky was then asked to delete the digital photos, which he refused to do, and leave the facility.

He was contacted later that day by Charles R. Fay, vice provost for research administration. “Apparently the staff at the Lab did not understand the restrictions in place that do not permit the taking of pictures of this facility. I regret the confusion,” Fay wrote in an e-mail to Sinovsky.

Fay then explained the Lab’s security standards. “Ever since the Ward research reactor was built and licensed in 1962 Cornell has had to comply with strict federal and state regulations governing the operation of the Lab. As you can imagine, those regulations have been greatly strengthened in the post-911 world,” he wrote.

“Simply put, publication of such pictures is considered a serious threat to the safety and security of the reactor,” Faye wrote. This request was agreed to by The Sun.

“When we got word that one of our staffers was granted access to the reactor without so much as being asked for a press credential, we were worried,” said Nate Brown ’04, The Sun’s editor-in-chief. “We confronted University officials about the situation and, in the end, decided not to publish word of the lapse in security for fear that it would draw undue attention to the Ward Lab and cause a potential threat to the community.”

Brown and other Sun editors cite the decision not to run the photographs and accompanying story as one of the toughest decisions they had to make as an editorial board.

Two weeks later, in an editorial entitled “Minimizing the Threat: University must make safety a top priority,” Sun editors wrote, “Like airports, shopping centers, and other areas where large concentrations of civilians can be found, Universities are often seen as ‘soft targets’ for potential aggressors. … Ridding the Ward Center of hazardous materials will be the first step in minimizing the threat of a local attack.”

The editorial concluded that “The sooner they evacuate the material, the better.”

Archived article by Marc Zawel