Y-12 camera didn’t work, hammering trespassers mistaken for maintenance

Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility

Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (Photo courtesy of NNSA/B&W Y-12)

Note: This story was last updated at 10:40 p.m.

A special federal report published Wednesday documents alleged failures that allowed three anti-nuclear weapons activists to sneak into the Y-12 National Security Complex on July 28, penetrate a high-security area, and spray-paint slogans and splash human blood on a building that stores bomb-grade uranium.

Among the findings: A critical security camera in an area penetrated by the protesters hadn’t worked for about six months, and guards assumed the trespassers were maintenance workers when they used hammers to beat on the walls of the uranium storage building, officially known as the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.

The failures in the $150 million security system at Y-12, which has “long enjoyed a reputation as one of the most secure facilities in the United States,” raised serious questions, said the 18-page report by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Inspector General.

“We identified troubling displays of ineptitude in responding to alarms, failures to maintain critical security equipment, over-reliance on compensatory measures, misunderstanding of security protocols, poor communications, and weaknesses in contract and resource management,” said the report, signed by Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman.

The report elaborates on some of the charges contained in an Aug. 10 letter from National Nuclear Security Administration Contracting Officer Jill Y. Albaugh to Darrel Kohlhorst, former president and general manager of B&W Y-12, which manages and operates the plant for the NNSA. But it also has new information on issues ranging from the negative impact of “constrained” federal funding to the guards’ use of cell phones for communications, and not encrypted radios.

“When combined, these issues directly contributed to an atmosphere in which the trespassers could gain access to the protected security area directly adjacent to one of the nation’s most critically important and highly secured weapons-related facilities,” the report said.

In a section describing the guards’ response, which was deemed inadequate, the report said a security officer wasn’t dispatched promptly after alarms activated on July 28. When a guard finally arrived, he didn’t immediately secure the scene or “neutralize the trespassers.” In fact, the guard did not notice the trespassers until they approached his vehicle and “surrendered” to him, the report said. It said the guard did not draw his weapon and allowed the trespassers to “roam about and retrieve various items from the backpacks they had apparently brought into the area.”

A second guard stationed inside the HEUMF didn’t properly respond to the intrusion, the report said. The officer used an unauthorized technology, a pan-tilt-zoom camera, to assess the security zone. The officer also didn’t detect the trespassers, even though two of them had entered the security zone through a hole they had cut in one fence surrounding the HEUMF and were cutting through another one, the report said.

Meanwhile, a third guard silenced an alarm without looking out a gun port or viewing glass to assess the situation, the report said.

“In short, the actions of these officers were inconsistent with the gravity of the situation and existing protocols,” the report said.

While the guards mistook the hammering trespassers for maintenance workers, guards reported that maintenance workers often arrived in the dark and without warning, although there is an established process for approving work at Y-12.

The report was also critical of the maintenance of security equipment at Y-12. Many technological features “critical to the security of HEUMF and other nuclear-related facilities at Y-12 were inoperable and/or not properly maintained,” the report said. Federal officials and contractor executives knew there was a real backlog of security equipment that needed repairs or didn’t work.

“We found that security equipment repairs were not always treated as a priority at Y-12,” the report said.

If the features on one device had been working, the trespassers would have been detected immediately after entering the security zone surrounding the HEUMF—and before they reached it, the report said.

The report raised concerns about contract management, contractor governance, and federal oversight at Y-12. Contractor officials expressed concern that constraints on federal funding had hurt security controls at Y-12, the report said.

The report concluded by pointing out steps that Y-12 and NNSA have taken since July 28 to improve security. It said Y-12 has implemented features to help reduce false alarms, and the NNSA has consolidated site operations and security under a single contract. In addition, more fortifications have been installed around the HEUMF to delay potential intruders.

“Ironically, the Y-12 breach may have been an important ‘wake-up’ call regarding the need to correct security issues at the site,” the report said.

In his response to the report, NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino said the security breach was completely unacceptable, echoing comments made by Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

“We have taken swift and decisive action to strengthen security and to replace key personnel, but these steps are just the beginning of the structural and cultural changes that we intend to make,” D’Agostino said. “The general manager of the plant, along with the leaders of the guard force, were removed, and the guards who failed to detect the breach were suspended. Security cameras have been fixed, guard patrols have been increased, and the entire workforce is undergoing additional security training.”

Federal officials have previously pointed out other steps they’ve taken, including temporarily suspending nuclear operations and issuing a show cause letter to B&W Y-12, giving the company 30 days to explain why its contract should not be terminated.

The three trespassers—Greg Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice, and Michael R. Walli—have been charged with property destruction, property depredation, and trespassing. They are seeking to delay an Oct. 10 trial in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.


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  • AlgorithmicAnalyst

    The way to improve security is to have special teams constantly testing such security, by simulating such break ins, etc. That will not only detect security weaknesses, but keep security contractors on their toes, knowing they are liable to be tested at any time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/coinsplus.kelsey Ck Kelsey

    I think the company tried to do with cameras what should be done by people . Just cutting costs is not enough,you must maintain your cameras and have personnel for them to work. Just saying. I think Management took their eye off the ball probably.

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