Members of a U.S. House subcommittee grilled federal officials during a Wednesday morning hearing on the July 28 security breach at the Y-12 National Security Complex, calling it “appalling” and an “all-out failure,” and asking who had been fired and who was responsible for various problems—such as security cameras that didn’t work.
Some of the harshest criticism came from U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican who represents the 7th District in middle and west Tennessee.
She cited a Washington Post report published online on Tuesday that said government investigators had warned of lax security at the site in classified reports nearly two years ago. Among the issues identified then were security cameras that didn’t operate, sloppy equipment maintenance, and poorly trained guards, the Post reported.
Some of the issues identified in that report are similar to those identified after this summer’s security breach, when three anti-nuclear weapons activists allegedly sneaked into the plant early in the morning, evaded guards, cut fences, and spray-painted slogans and splashed blood on the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, where bomb-grade uranium is stored.
Federal officials have said the cameras have now been fixed, one of many steps taken since the unprecedented security breach.
But Blackburn suggested it was too little, too late.
“You fixed them after you were embarrassed, and you fixed them two years too late,” she told U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Daniel B. Poneman during a two-hour hearing of the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.
The intrusion by the three protesters, including an 82-year-old nun, was not just a security breach, Blackburn told DOE officials and Thomas D’Agostino, National Nuclear Security Administration administrator. It was also a breach of public trust.
“You are charged with keeping that facility safe,” Blackburn said. “The ineptness and the negligence is mind-boggling.”
House representatives pressed to learn who was responsible for fixing various problems, including the inoperable cameras, but they didn’t always seem satisfied with the answers they received.
“This is classic bureaucratic pass-the-buck,” Blackburn said.
Poneman said the security breach was unacceptable, and federal officials have acted swiftly to find and correct problems. He cited a long list of changes that have been made, ranging from camera repairs and a temporary suspension of nuclear operations to an increase in guard patrols and a series of staff and management changes.
“Lapses in security will not be tolerated,” Poneman said. “We will leave no stone unturned to find out what went wrong.”
We have added some new information in a more recent story. It’s available here.