Three peace activists, including an 82-year-old nun, perpetrated what is being called the most significant security breach of a U.S. nuclear weapons facility in the country’s history. And now, somewhat understandably, the hiring practices of the contractor that provides security at the Y-12 nuclear weapons facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, have been called into question. As has the competency of the guards who may have been cheating on security tests.
The scrutiny comes from the U.S. Department of Energy in the wake of the security breach at the plant, in which the trio of anti-nuke protestors were able to cut through four separate perimeter fences and reach a building, which is said to contain as much as 400 metric tons of weapons-grade uranium. It is the country’s only warehouse for the bomb-making material.
Joshua McConaha, a spokesperson for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), told Security Director News “there was no chance the activists could have gained access to the facility.”
Peter Stockton, a nuclear security expert who works for the Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group Project On Government Oversight, isn’t so sure though. He calls the event “shocking” and feels the significance of this security breach can’t be overstated.
He said of the security guards, “They’re supposed to be able to repel approximately a dozen well-trained terrorists, heavily-armed with inside knowledge … and they had a little trouble with a nun.”
“They’re supposed to be able to repel approximately a dozen well-trained terrorists, heavily-armed with inside knowledge … and they had a little trouble with a nun.”
So now to the cheating part. Following the security breach, the feds said they decided to review, among other things, the hiring practices of the contractor that provides the people tasked with securing the Y-12 facility, WSI Oak Ridge, the G4S Government Solutions subsidiary (formerly Wackenhut Services Inc.).
As part of this review, the government apparently wanted to give the guards a security quiz, or test, to find out how much they know about security and stuff. A federal report said inspectors found both the questions to that security quiz – as well as the answers – sitting in a security patrol car before the test was given. They believe the questions and answers may have been given out to guards to help them perform well during the review.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu called the security breach “unacceptable and deeply troubling,” and some heads have already rolled. The National Nuclear Security Administration suspended the security officers involved in the breach, as well as three members of the leadership team at WSI Oak Ridge.
Then after the test cheating news broke, the man who was named director of the Y-12 Protective force after the breach occurred was “reassigned.”
There had been some impetus in Washington on the part of the House Armed Services Committee’s to reduce oversight of the weapons facilities, preferring to leave it in the hands of these contractors. This breach has presumably tabled that discussion, at least for the moment.
What do you think about all this? Had you even heard about it? I hadn’t. From a staffing perspective, what about the hiring practices and the cheating thing? How seriously do you take this? What would you do to tighten up the procedures? Do you think the breach could have been aided by someone on the inside? One of the guards perhaps?