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Project on Government Oversight

Livermore Mock Terrorists Exercise Ends in Debacle: TIME Magazine Reports Massive Security Failures

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May 13, 2008

In late April 2008, government mock terrorists tested the security at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, defeated the protective force and gained access to their target – simulated special nuclear materials.

As is being reported on TIME magazine's website.

"Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman was quickly informed of the episode, along with other senior officials in the U.S. nuclear and national security apparatus. ‘People who know about this are very concerned; they are not happy,’ said one senior Congressional aide."

After inquiries by POGO late last week, in a typical move, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) released a statement Friday afternoon that the DOE's Office of Health, Safety and Security tested the Livermore security posture and found "a number of areas that require immediate attention." According to the press release, as a result of the dramatic failure at Livermore, senior NNSA officials have discussed these security issues with Livermore contractor Lawrence Livermore National Security's Board of Governors.

"More than anywhere else in the nuclear weapons complex, it is essential to prevent terrorists from accessing the nuclear materials at Livermore. At Livermore, there are houses, schools and playing fields across the street, and 7 million people within a 50 mile radius," said POGO's Executive Director Danielle Brian. "Suicidal terrorists would not need to steal the materials, they simply could detonate them into an Improvised Nuclear Device on the spot. That is why it is urgent to remove those materials from the Lab, rather than settling for the DOE's drawn out timetable of removing the materials by 2012. We hope this debacle will finally light a fire under DOE and accelerate their schedule."

In March, POGO released its report, "U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Livermore Homes and Plutonium Make Bad Neighbors," in which POGO argued the nuclear materials at Livermore cannot be adequately defended, and therefore must be removed by 2009. For four years, POGO has suggested that Livermore could not be defended because of the encroaching neighborhood. At other nuclear weapons sites, the government is expanding the perimeter around the sites, yet at Livermore, the residential neighborhoods and vineyards have made it impossible. The situation was so bad last year that DOE granted a waiver to Livermore - they didn't have to meet the government's new security requirements.

According to sources, there was one debacle after another during the attack. The highly-publicized Gatling gun, the new gimmick in the effort to increase the visibility of security measures at the lab, malfunctioned. The hydraulic system used to raise the gun from its hiding place inside the back of a small truck failed, making it impossible for the gun to be fired. Sources tell POGO that DOE was shocked that Livermore had not been performance-testing the gun and its hydraulic system. POGO has been critical of the deployment of the Gatling gun at Livermore, in part because of its one-mile military "kill" range where innocent civilians would be at risk (the Gatling gun can actually kill up to two miles, but not with military accuracy).

There were also tactical failures by the security force, in the way the Special Response Teams (SRT) or SWAT teams were deployed. Current and former SRT members have repeatedly raised concerns that they are not trained as teams.

"It is important to emphasize that Livermore's security problems are not the fault of the guard force, who have complained about their lack of training and poor tactics. In fact, two security officers were fired for raising these problems," said POGO's Senior Investigator Peter Stockton. 

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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