For years, James Doyle worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory as a nuclear weapons monitor, looking at how well nations around the globe were honoring arms reduction treaties. He saw it as saving the world from itself — until the lab abruptly fired him in July.

The move, which the lab blamed on budget cuts, triggered an outcry in nuclear disarmament circles. Doyle himself is fighting the layoff, calling it retaliation over an academic article he wrote saying the U.S. should get rid of its nuclear stockpile rather than maintaining it, one of the lab’s central missions. The controversy has made Doyle a sort of cult figure among anti-nuke advocates.

Now, Doyle, a 55-year-old political scientist from Santa Fe, is taking his newfound fame, along with the reputation that he forged during his 17 years at the lab as an expert on nuclear nonproliferation, in a different direction, but with the same goal.

He plans to team with the nonprofit Nuclear Watch New Mexico, a Santa Fe-based nuclear watchdog group, to monitor U.S. progress on its global commitment to draw down nuclear weapons.

Specifically, Doyle aims to assess federal spending and policy on nonproliferation projects over time to measure whether the U.S. is keeping its promises in global treaties to reduce its arsenal, and to develop nonproliferation monitoring and verification technologies.

“That’s the side of the laboratory that I worked in, so it’s great,” Doyle said of his new mission. “Now I can be an advocate on the outside for the work at the lab that I really thought was valuable.”

But he frets that policymakers and leaders at the national labs don’t value that work as much as they do new production of replacement parts for nuclear weapons.

He intends to study whether that’s true and report his findings to Congress and the United Nations in hopes of influencing policy decisions involving nuclear defense priorities.

The nonprofit Ploughshares Fund, which advocates abolition of nuclear weapons, is financing the project.

Doyle is also fighting the U.S. Department of Energy over his dismissal from LANL. He contends his firing was in retaliation for his persistent challenges to the Energy Department’s classification of an article he’d written about nonproliferation, which the department’s monitors initially approved as declassified for publication, only to change their minds after its public release in an international journal.

As a result of the reclassification, the lab suspended Doyle for one day and stripped him of various high-level security clearances necessary to do his job, before ultimately firing him.

The lab told Doyle his dismissal was a routine layoff. The lab has declined to comment on the firing, citing its policy against publicly discussing personnel issues.

“My contention is that my termination was absolutely retaliation for not giving up on complaining about what I perceived to be impossible classification,” Doyle told The New Mexican. “If I had rolled over and let this go away a year ago, I’d still be working there.”

Instead, Doyle filed a whistleblower complaint against the department, claiming it had made a mistake by declaring his article classified.

Last month, the Energy Department notified Doyle that it had rejected his final appeal to have that complaint heard. However, the Energy Department’s response indicated it was launching an investigation into whether retaliation played a part in Doyle’s firing.

“The department’s senior leadership takes the issue you raise seriously, and will not tolerate retaliation or dismissal of employees or contractors for the views expressed in scholarly publications,” the Energy Department’s letter said.

The letter described steps the department was taking to initiate an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General “into whether Mr. Doyle’s termination resulted, in whole or in part, from the publication of his article in question or the views expressed in it.”

Doyle filed a new whistleblower complaint Oct. 6. Rather than focusing on the classification change, it challenges the lab’s explanation for his firing and accuses LANL of terminating him in retaliation for questioning the retroactive classification of his article. The complaint points out that Doyle was the only person laid off in his 50-person department.

“The timing alone renders this action in a suspicious light,” the complaint says.

According to the complaint, Doyle “was denied access to his computer files and literally escorted out of the building without any notice.”

When news of Doyle’s firing broke, Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s leaders were among the first to publicly offer words of support.

The Federation of American Scientists wrote to President Barack Obama’s Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, urging him to intervene on Doyle’s behalf and calling his termination an affront to free discussion and dissenting voices in policy discussions.

Landing Doyle has added to Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s cachet among nonproliferation circles. Already, the group plans to put his findings on display at a United Nations conference on arms reduction treaties next spring.

“He’s a rock star,” said Jay Coghlan, the group’s executive director.

In his new endeavor, Doyle says speaking his mind won’t be a problem.

“I’ll be a lot more free to weigh in with my opinions and the opinions of outside observers about whether the scope of these activities at the national laboratories are appropriate,” he said. “I’ll be less constrained by knowing a certain program manager or officials in Washington don’t think something has a lot of promise.”

The downside of monitoring nuclear weapons reduction from outside the lab establishment is the restricted access to data and scientists that were easily within reach when Doyle had security clearance. To overcome that, he said, “I hope my relationships pay off.”

Doyle plans to assess whether the Energy Department has invested enough in field testing remote monitoring, radiation detection and confirming that waste can be analyzed without opening containers, among other aspects of the U.S. commitment to weapons reduction.

Doyle and Nuclear Watch New Mexico have an ambitious schedule for completing the work and presenting it to Congress, with an eye on influencing federal spending on steps toward weapons reduction in fiscal year 2016. That would represent an about-face from the current budgeted agenda, which prioritizes stepped-up production of nuclear weapons components — with Los Alamos leading the way — while deep budget cuts are aimed at nonproliferation programs.

“We don’t want another study that’s just going to gather dust,” Coghlan said.

Contact Patrick Malone at 986-3017 or Follow him on Twitter @pmalonenm.

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(25) comments

mary burton riseley

As the co-founder of the Los Alamos Study Group in 1989, and co-Director until 1995 I second all that Cathie Sullivan wrote. Greg has made many valuable contributions to the movement to shrink and ultimately to end nuclear weapons design and production in the United States. I have also known and worked with Jay Coghlan since the early 1990's and have the greatest respect for his intellligence, integrity, and commitment.

Successful movements - whether in civil rights, women's rights, voting rights - always involve collaboration, and that requires mutual respect between the leaders and participants. I am sad that Greg has never and still does not fully realize this.

Cathie Sullivan has expressed all that I would wish to say about this unfortunate conflict. Bravo to her, and all the people still involved in this vital effort step by step to bring about a world without nuclear weapons.

Cathie Sullivan

I have a historical view on Greg Mello’s criticism of the partnership between Jay Coghlan (Nuclear Watch New Mexico) and LANL whistleblower James Doyle. In1989 when Greg and Mary Riseley started the Study Group I was asked to join. I did so and served on Greg’s ‘Board’ for over 10 years: I know early Study Group history well. In 1997 Greg and I were arrested and briefly jailed in Los Alamos for distributing flyers in front of the Lab’s public relations museum (the Bradbury). Greg also led our effort to open up the Museum for an anti-nuclear exhibit - I designed subsequent exhibits for many years. Neither the arrest or Museum work could have happened without Greg’s leadership. Thank you Greg!
After leaving the Study Group before it moved to Albuquerque I joined Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s steering committee on which I served until last June. Without reservation I can vouch for Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch’s executive director, and his integrity, open and transparent process, and, sincere, uncompromising, consistent work towards the abolition of US nuclear weapons –which follows the promise our nation made in signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970. I have never had the slightest hint of the ulterior, conspiratorial agenda with which Greg Mello consistently charges Jay. On the other hand I applaud Jay for strictly avoiding the personal attacks that I feel mar Greg’s outstanding work on nuclear weapons policy, but which have left so many former friends, supporters and colleagues wounded, angry, puzzled and alienated.

Jay Coghlan

Mr. Mello says our 2009 report was either fantasy or ruse. The latter is more slander, with no evidence other than his own prejudiced analysis and unidentified sources. “Fantasy” is also interesting, given that Mello claims to advocate nuclear weapons abolition, but offers no steps on how to get there. That’s real fantasy. Nuclear Watch NM will try again to offer concrete steps toward nuclear disarmament through our new partnership with Lab-fired nonproliferation expert Jim Doyle, which Mello responds to with yet another round of attacks.

We seek to shrink the nuclear weapons complex, thereby cutting congressional pork support. With allies, we fought hard against a new Kansas City Plant (KCP) for manufacturing nonnuclear components, but lost. NNSA now touts the new KCP as an example of how the nuclear weapons complex should be rebuilt through “alternative financing” from for-profit developers.

The Study Group supported the new KCP, vociferously opposing our argument that the site should be shut down entirely, with dramatically shrunken curatorship operations relocated to Sandia. The new Plant will supply ~85% of all components needed for exorbitant “Life Extension Programs” that will not only indefinitely preserve existing nuclear weapons, but also give them new military capabilities. How does Study Group support of the new KCP square with nuclear weapons abolition?

The Lawrence Livermore Lab in California could possibly be stripped of its weapons programs over the next decade, which would be a huge step toward nuclear disarmament. Will the Los Alamos Study Group oppose that as well?

Greg Mello

Jay, that assumption of an immediate arsenal decline to 500 warheads was just part of what made that report a fantasy -- or ruse. There was never any chance of that happening then. As if a couple of nonprofits could snap their fingers and "presto!" the arsenal would be 10x smaller. Fitting into existing buildings was another. If wishes were horses beggars would ride.

Of course you didn't wait for that stockpile decline to begin active consolidation work, including NRDC-led litigation in DC District Court, preceded by zero public involvement in New Mexico -- except by our own organization. You "stated" that major new facilities wouldn't be needed, but they would have been, as our analysis showed.

Chris, there's no innuendo or hearsay here. You accurately describe the SW nuclear complex you sought below. Also, you may remember that you yourself told me the goal was to concentrate the weapons complex in New Mexico and Texas. That was during a reception in the lobby of the Reserve Officers Association, across from the Hart Building.

For details please see for example:

There is more analysis available in our on-line 2008 and 2009 archives.

Don't blame the victim here. This was a shameful episode. It failed, for the solid reasons we stated at the time. The disarmament part of it, as you say below, was an assumption.

Christopher Paine

For those readers desiring to know what the April 2009 report, "Transforming the U.S. Strategic Posture and Weapons Complex for Transition to a Nuclear Weapons-Free World," actually said, rather than Mr. Mello's distorted summation of it, see I regret his continued reliance on ad hominem innuendo and anonymous hearsay to make his points. Needless to say, a report outlining for the incoming Obama Administration why it should bypass DOE's expansive and costly 2008 plan for modernizing the Nuclear Weapons Complex, and instead implement ten-fold nuclear reductions, shrink the complex from eight to three sites, slash nuclear weapons R&D, adopt highly restrictive technical protocols for modifying weapons, and consolidate "residual capabilities" needed to support a transitional 500 warhead stockpile at three facilities in New Mexico and Texas, hardly meets Mello's warped description "that the goal of the NRDC-led consolidation effort was to consolidate as much of the nuclear warhead complex into New Mexico and Texas as possible." As for the (ridiculous) charge that Nuclear Watch had a secret plan to "load up New Mexico with additional nuclear weapons work," the report explicitly specified the opposite, noting that "a dramatically reduced and technologically stable stockpile should result in reducing the overall level of activity at each of the three remaining sites," (except for a welcome increase in dismantlements at Pantex) and then reiterated: "Before any major missions are transferred from one site to another, within the weapons complex, there must be due process in all potentially impacted communities."

Jay Coghlan

Mr. Mello and I agree that people are not entitled to their own facts, and then he invents his own or omits important facts. Nuclear Watch NM has never been “richly paid”, continually struggling since 1999 to stay alive. Yes, with respected colleagues we completed a study in 2009 that argued the U.S. nuclear weapons complex should be collapsed to three sites in Texas and New Mexico, down from 8 sites across the country. The crucial fact Mello omits is our underlying assertion, the core from which other things flowed, that U.S. nuclear weapons should be slashed from 5,000 warheads to 500.

Thus, instead of the “additional nuclear weapons work” that Mello claims, we sought only to have residual “curatorship” operations consolidated at the Pantex Plant and the Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories. We explicitly stated that nuclear weapons programs should not be expanded at these three sites, with the crucial exception of dismantlements at Pantex. We further stated that new major facilities were not needed.

We also clarified that even this dramatic shrinkage of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex was to be only an interim step towards global abolition. It would have been a fiscally sound and technically feasible move, saving the American taxpayers many billions of dollars, while demonstrating to the world good faith progress toward the NonProliferation Treaty’s mandate for universal nuclear disarmament.

See Transforming the U.S. Strategic Posture and Weapons Weapon Complex for Transition to a Nuclear Weapons-Free World at

Jay Coghlan

Alexandra Pyle

Thanks to Chris Paine for being the voice of reason.

Greg Mello

Just tuning back in here. Folks are entitled to their own opinions of course but not their own facts. The goal of the NRDC-led consolidation effort, in which Nuclear Watch was richly paid to assist, was to consolidate as much of the nuclear warhead complex into New Mexico and Texas as possible. That's what the report cited below says, that's what was said at the press conference in Washington that my wife and I attended, and that's what the NRDC principal told me. Tritium and uranium work were to be transferred to LANL from SRS and Y-12, respectively, and non-nuclear manufacturing to Albuquerque from Kansas City. Livermore and the Nevada National Security Site would be closed.

Fine. It was an irresponsible plan, a poor plan, in that it depended on entirely fanciful assumptions, but folks are entitled to that. But there were more serious problems. For example, Nuclear Watch, a project of SRIC that does not have a board of directors, never told people in New Mexico that their plan was to load up New Mexico with additional nuclear weapons work. Building uranium and tritium processing facilities, as well as a huge non-nuclear manufacturing plant (roughly the size of Intel) was required, a fact denied by the authors.

The Ploughshares Fund is a bigger problem. A senior government official opined this year that Ploughshares had been the primary reason disarmament NGOs have lost strength. I agreed.

Christopher Paine

The Mello/Neils attacks on Nuclear Watch New Mexico and its Executive Director Jay Coghlan are indeed scurrilous and libelous. It is the sad (and destructive) lot of sectarians to transform every difference in political tactics and strategy into charges of betraying the cause and personal attacks on the motives and character of those with whom they disagree. I have worked and litigated with Nuclear Watch New Mexico and Jay Coghlan for almost 20 years, and their dedication to the cause of nuclear disarmament is simply beyond question. I was for much of that period also a close collaborator of Greg Mello and the Los Alamos Study Group, and for a brief period even served on the LASG Board. I was compelled to resign from that position because of LASG's increasingly strident and unwarranted attacks on other progressive organizations and individuals working on nuclear waste and disarmament issues in New Mexico. I too then became the object of shrill and increasingly bizarre personal attacks from Mello and Neils. I join others in this conversation in urging them to cease and desist and engage in a civil dialogue on how to move our nation and the world towards nuclear disarmament.
Christopher Paine
Senior Nuclear Policy Adviser and Former Nuclear Program Director
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
Washington, D.C.

Khal Spencer

Since this is still simmering.

Jay Coghlan

Please note how Greg Mello and Peter Neils of the Los Alamos Study Group make libelous assertions based on their account of hearsay from unidentified sources. Their latest invective is in response to the news of Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s good fortune of being able to team up with acclaimed nonproliferation expert Jim Doyle, recently fired by the Los Alamos Lab for advocating nuclear weapons abolition. Why so mean spirited? I have long been puzzled by the Study Group’s self-righteousness, claiming to advocate for nuclear weapons disarmament while attacking many in the same field who could otherwise be their allies.

Jay Coghlan
Nuclear Watch New Mexico

Alexandra Pyle

Mr. Neils, I was on the Steering Committee of NukeWatch at that time and I traveled to DC on my own dime to oppose the CMRR. Every member of the organization's staff and steering committee submitted oral and written comments against CMRR; and I personally edited and laid out publications decrying the wasted money, proliferation and pollution that CMRR would mean to the public. Your vague remarks about hearsay from "people in Washington-based NGOs" are another pathetic Study Group conspiracy theory. I am astounded that you have so little commitment to your peers, and to the community we have tried to build as we work to oppose nuclear weapons. Quit slandering people you don't know.

Peter Neils

When LASG was trying to foment opposition to the now-deferred CMRR Nuclear Facility, representatives of the Study Group spoke with several people in Washington-based NGOs who told them that Mr. Coghlan had urged them NOT to oppose CMRR-NF.

The back story is, of course, that at the time NWNM and its DC partners were working for ratification of the START follow-on treaty and CMRR was one of their bargaining chips. NWNM was, at the time, also cooperating with DOE/NNSA in the construction of the first phase of the CMRR.

The eventual version of the treaty that was ratified mandated few, if any actual cuts to deployed arsenal, since one long range bomber was counted as one nuclear weapon, in spite of the obvious problems implicit in that caveat. Russia was already in compliance when it signed the treaty, so it wasn't hurt. It was a massive smokescreen, and anyone familiar with the issue knew it. Any organization that told you to call your senator and urge them to support START was supporting the unprecedented commitment to weapons infrastructure reinvestment.

Now organizations that supported $200 billion in nuclear weapons infrastructure a few years ago for a treaty that was, in essence, a force maintenance treaty have "uncovered" this largesse. Now that's ground-breaking work!

NWNM is not the only organization that is trying to backtrack on this issue, just the most visible one here in NM.

To point out these contradictions is hardly sad, it seems more like a breath of fresh air.

Alexandra Pyle

Enough already, Greg. This is just sad, and it makes you look bad. Get back to work on something constructive.

Greg Mello

One of Coghlan's plans to increase nuclear weapons activities at LANL is described on his web site at and in this news article in Amarillo:

Read them carefully, and you will find throwaway wishes about disarmament that completely misread the Obama administration as well as the facts on the ground, embedded in what was hoped would be a serious proposal for consolidation of the warhead complex, for example transferring all of Y-12's uranium processing to Los Alamos. Coghlan misrepresented all this at the time and he is doing so today.

Pat Shackleford

I hope those interested will read both articles Greg Mello linked above, as they will then NOT arrive at the twisted analysis he has, which falsely misrepresents the established efforts and intent of Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

Jay Coghlan


I don't know who you are, but thank you for your comment.
Jay Coghlan
Nuclear Watch New Mexico

Alexandra Pyle

I've given time and money to every anti-nuclear nonprofit in New Mexico for over 25 years, including generous contributions to the Study Group in years past. I'm a founding member of NukeWatch and its longtime director of publications. Unbelievable that Mr. Mello wastes so much energy slandering groups that work alongside his. Is he jealous when anyone else gets funding or coverage?

After spending my entire adult life working FOR FREE on this issue; paying out of my own pocket to go to Washington; testifying at every hearing; researching, reading, writing against nukes...I am FURIOUS to hear NukeWatch called a secret pro-weapons cabal. It's a crazy, delusional flat-out lie.

The weapons complex survives because so many Congressional districts want the pork when the work is spread out all over. Mello is still fuming about a NukeWatch report showing that consolidating nukes programs into fewer locations will gradually deprive DOE of Congressional funding. But he either didn't read or didn't understand the report. Instead he seized on it as an opportunity to misinterpret and discredit what he sees as a rival non-profit.

Activists should cooperate, not snipe. Shame on you, Greg Mello! The New Mexican calls you for a quote on any nuclear subject, even topics you don't know much about, like WIPP (where many of us have greater expertise)--aren't you satisfied? And your former Board president Mr. Neils was in quite the hurry to pile on (misspellings and all) and add to the LIES. Grow up, Study Group!

Michael Murray

I am reminded of 1139 when Pope Innocent III outlawed the crossbow as a weapon. Really, he was more naive than innocent. How did that work out, anyway? Nuclear weapons are here for the forseeable future. That genie is out of the bottle.

Khal Spencer

Weapons are discarded when they are obsolete or have more blowback than they are worth. Dreadnaughts (i.e., battleships) were the late 19th and early 20th Century's naval superweapons. On Dec. 6th, 1941, American admirals still thought the pivotal battle for the Pacific would be an open ocean battle between U.S. and Japanese battleships. But aside from Jutland, the battle to sink the Bismarck, Surigao Strait, and perhaps another battle or two, they turned out to be highly overrated except for shore bombardment, for which they were excellent, AA screens for the real superweapons (aircraft carriers) and target practice for naval air power.

Poison gas was discarded as a warfighting weapon; its too unreliable for anything other than a terrorist weapon due to the fickleness of the wind.

We don't know what will make nukes obsolete but I doubt, unfortunately, it will be good will among nations. Perhaps cyberwar. MAD doesn't seem to have had the same effect on nukes as a change of wind did on mustard or chlorine, although the blowback would be the same. Whatta crazy world.

Peter Neils

This piece is fascinating, in that NWNM's Jay Coughlan is intimately associated with a national effort to bring MORE missions tho Los Alamos and Sandia, and lobbyed extensively for increased funding for LANL, contradicting, except in whatever delusional fog he can conjure up, common sense. Mr. Coughlan's organization, NWNM, is in fact, not really an organization at all. It is a "project" of the Southwest Resource and Information Center in Albuquerque. SRIC, one of the principals of which has stated unequivocally that his vision is consolidate the entire nuclear weapons complex to Amarillo, Texas, Albuquerque, and Los Alamos, New Mexico, is well know for their work on nuclear waste issues. Their qualifications to offer information of any value on nuclear policy remains questionable..

Khal Spencer

Is anyone else thinking about that Monty Python skit about the Judean People's Front vs. the People's Front of Judea.

Bill Weldon


Jay Coghlan

Thank you to the New Mexican for your excellent article on the new partnership between fired LANL nonproliferation expert Jim Doyle and Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

With respect to Mello’s comments, he has a long history of misrepresenting the positions of people and organizations that don’t automatically follow what he claims is best. It does the nuclear weapons abolition movement no good, and should cease.

I note the delicious irony in today's hard copy New Mexican that the article on Jim Doyle and Nuclear Watch New Mexico is located side-by-side to "Transcripts point to scientist's loyalty." That article reports that hearing transcripts finally declassified after 60 years vindicate the Los Alamos Lab’s first director J. Robert Oppenheimer, whose security clearance was stripped following allegations by Edward Teller and others.

I believe that Jim Doyle’s position on nuclear weapons abolition will also be vindicated some day. I just hope it will be far quicker than 60 years.

Jay Coghlan
Nuclear Watch New Mexico

Greg Mello

This article was painfully superficial and misleading but as is often the case, time and space limitations prevented a more thoughtful look.

We who have been doing for decades precisely what Doyle now wants to do are cautiously hopeful about his future work. His new friends have been undercutting disarmament for two decades.

The innocuous article that got him fired – there is no question about that – was vague and naïve about the future, but the meat of it was a solid assembly of scholarly critiques of deterrence. It directly contradicted the core nuclear ideology honed by LANL, which is constantly repeated like a twisted catechism.

Recently a senior government analyst opined that the Ploughshares Fund was the single biggest reason for the failure of the disarmament movement in the U.S. Ploughshares is utterly untrustworthy, highly divisive, and fully supported the modernization program it now claims to critique.

I say "claims" because Ploughshares is tightly connected to the State Department, the White House, and the Democratic Party, and has consistently worked to maintain nuclear weapons institutions while, like Obama, says it "seeks" nuclear disarmament -- someday. Nuclear Watch is their local agent and, secretly to New Mexicans, has worked to increase LANL's nuclear missions.

The prescriptive part of Doyle's paper is technically and politically naive. It would delay disarmament. That part of his paper is beginner's work. It fits right into Ploughshares' game. Jim, give us a call.

Welcome to the discussion.

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