Letter To The Editor: Don’t Take Photos On Lab Property

Los Alamos
After three months I am picking up this letter I wrote and didn’t send so that I can warn others in Los Alamos about what can happen if you take a photo from the wrong place. I can’t warn tourists who might get caught in this mistake, but I can tell locals.
I had a 7 o’clock meeting at the lab cafeteria. When I came out, the mountains were gorgeous. I got my camera out of the car and walked to the end of the parking lot to take a photograph.
A guy in a pickup stopped and yelled that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures there, and I asked “not even of the mountains?” He didn’t answer and went on, and I thought that was the end of the issue. I had no idea that one couldn’t snap a photo in an open area at the lab, although I did know that workers could not take their cell phones into secure areas.
I got in the car and had driven perhaps a half mile when a whole string of vehicles with flashing red lights came up behind me. I pulled over assuming that some terrible accident had happened and was amazed when the man in the car directly behind me got out, putting on a heavily padded camouflage vest before coming up to me. (bullet proof?) I opened the door, and he said I had to put the window down instead, but it was frozen shut.
I was mystified and absolutely terrified. He said they had a report that I was taking pictures on lab property. I said I had been, simply of the mountains, and that I had no idea I was doing anything wrong (the old lady who always goes 40 down and up Totavi hill because it’s the law had obviously committed a terrible crime). He asked if I used my cell phone or a camera, and I got my digital camera and showed him the pictures. He said he’d have to take it back to his supervisor who was at the back of the line. He did and then walked back and asked for my ID, which he took to the last vehicle again. Then my phone number was needed.
Finally the guard who’d been so nice to me all the while this was going on, obviously aware that I was terribly distressed and telling me not to worry, said he had to go get his supervisor to talk to me. Several guards walked up behind my car and got the license number, as well as looking all around the car through the windows.
The supervisor, who looked very young to me, was polite and said I was free to go—also saying that this happens all the time!
People in this town need to know that this could happen to them when they have no idea that they’re committing an infraction of the “law”. Maybe the other people who got stopped for this issue didn’t get this kind of treatment. Perhaps the fact that we have a new security force and that the head of the security company happened to be in town (See Thursday’s LA Daily Post) provided the impetus for this very extreme reaction.
We need the security people to keep our town safe, and I appreciate how very nice the first guard was. He was just doing his job. Harassing a 77-year-old lady wouldn’t need to be a job requirement, I think, and I suddenly was very grateful that I don’t have a weak heart. People sometimes have heart attacks and even die when under this kind of stress.
I’ve been in Los Alamos for 48 years but have never worked at the lab. Where are the signs that let the innocent tourists and ignorant locals know that this is a “no no”?