It's media spin in overdrive: Major security breaches have jeopardized the vital work going on at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where scientists toil to protect America.

But after many years of monitoring key weapons policies, Jacqueline Cabasso dismisses the uproar as "a sideshow." Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, is a perceptive expert on nuclear arms issues. Her views don't come near the conventional media wisdom.

"The real scandal," she told me, "is that while the media focuses attention on a couple of lost and found hard drives, the U.S. weapons labs -- Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia -- are spending billions of taxpayer dollars busily developing new and improved nuclear weapons, almost completely shielded from public scrutiny or even awareness. Moreover, the U.S. is continuing to brandish these weapons on a daily basis."

Meanwhile, as far as most journalists are concerned, the purposes of America's weapons laboratories are sacrosanct. The professional thing to do is to echo the assumptions of politicians like Florida Republican Porter Goss, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who likes to describe Los Alamos as a bastion of "creativity." In a recent interview on CNN, Goss extolled the lab's mission of "creating the innovation, the creativity, the breakthrough that you need to develop these kinds of weapons and have this kind of progress."

For several decades, a macabre form of creativity has flourished at the Los Alamos and Sandia labs in New Mexico and at Lawrence Livermore in California. The default position of media coverage is that these are fine institutions; the alarm is about dysfunction, not function.

So, from coast to coast, news outlets marked the summer solstice with an outpouring of fiery complaints about Los Alamos -- without the slightest questioning of its mission. "Management there remains shockingly lackadaisical," fumed a New York Times editorial. "Tighter oversight cannot come soon enough." With such fixations on secrecy, there is virtually no light shed on the fact that America's massive nuclear weapons program is devoted to being able to incinerate the planet. (Only if duty calls, of course.)

Behind the countless news reports about Los Alamos is a prolonged infatuation with notions of protective secrecy. Long ago, Albert Einstein saw the folly. On April 30, 1947, he wrote of atomic weapons: "For there is no secret and there is no defense; there is no possibility of control except through the aroused understanding and insistence of the peoples of the world."

But the usual news accounts and commentaries, amplifying the voices of policymakers in Washington, refuse to ask why the United States continues to design, test and deploy nuclear weapons. In the universe of mainstream media, Einstein's observations are upside down: We keep hearing that there is a secret and there is a defense. This posture allows the U.S. government to go unquestioned by citizens, while nuclear design labs stay busy. Their creations -- if used as intended -- will destroy millions or billions of human lives. That's an odd concept of creativity.

To Cabasso, the media preoccupations are ludicrous. "While the absurd question of who took the hard drives, and why, dominates the national news," she says, "Armageddon is still just the push of a button away. Today, U.S. Trident submarines are quietly patrolling the world's oceans at the same rate as the height of the Cold War, armed with thousands of the deadliest weapons ever conceived, on hair-trigger alert."

As an opponent of nuclear proliferation and an advocate of nuclear disarmament, Cabasso sees enormous danger in the status quo: "While the U.S. relentlessly relies on nuclear weapons as the 'cornerstone' of its national security -- and the currency of global domination -- it goes to extraordinary lengths to demand that other nations forego this option. This unsustainable 'do as we say, not as we do' nuclear policy is the real threat to our national security."

Considering what's at stake, the narrow range of media discourse about nuclear weapons is outrageous. Forget the hard drives. The most serious problem at the Los Alamos laboratory is its function. "In the interests of our human security," Jacqueline Cabasso points out, "a comprehensive, open, publicly accessible national debate on nuclear weapons and national security is desperately needed and long overdue." Info link:

Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media.