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Guard Scapegoated in the Y-12 Security Debacle

The Y-12 National Security Complex, operated by Babcock and Wilcox Y-12 (B&W Y-12) and secured by WSI-Oak Ridge (WSI-OR), went on lockdown after a security breach that a top Department of Energy (DOE) official told POGO was the “worst disaster in the history of the bomb program.” The DOE official added: “We spend $1.2 billion annually on security and what are we getting for it?

Who is held accountable? Of course it’s only one security guard—the one who actually did his job and apprehended the three activists who wandered around the secure areas of the facility. In an August 10, 2012, letter, Kirk Garland—a guard with 30 years of experience at DOE nuclear weapons sites, over 21 years of which were at Rocky Flats and Pantex—was fired for his “failed” responsibilities after discovering the three activists. According to Garland, he was fired for allegedly turning his back on the three intruders, which he doesn’t recall doing. That he did not, in fact, ever turn his back was confirmed by Megan Rice, the now famous 82-year-old nun, who told POGO that she was watching Garland and he never took his eyes off the three activists. Other WSI-OR and B&W Y-12 employees were reassigned to other jobs or were allowed to retire, but only Garland lost his job. Mr. Garland should be reinstated immediately.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which has oversight responsibility of Y-12, announced that operations at the facility would resume, only two-and-a-half weeks after the security breach. Improvements to security and completion of security training were cited as the reasons for resuming operations, but something more than a few days of training should be considered for such a serious security lapse.

What is missing in the corrective actions was any sense that the security breach was the result of larger systemic failures. The real problem is that a significant number of cameras are inoperable and sensor alarms were ignored. According to POGO sources, the cameras haven’t been functioning on the PIDAS (Perimeter Intrusion Detection and Assessment System—a double fence with cameras, sensors and razor wire), or in at least one of the guard towers since February. In addition, according to the sources, the first time the guard in the closest guard tower knew that the three activists were inside the fence was when he heard someone, who he first thought was maintenance crew, banging with hammers on the wall of the building that stores 300-400 metric tons of highly enriched uranium. His camera was out so he couldn’t see exactly who was making the noise, and he apparently did little or nothing to investigate the issue.

Who was aware that the cameras were not functioning? When did they know it? Why didn’t they do something about it? NNSA, WSI-OR, B&W Y-12? Who was aware that there were no compensatory measures to cover for the inoperable cameras (in this case more guard patrols) implemented where the cameras were not working? NNSA (Tom D’Agostino and others at headquarters and the site office), WSI-OR, and B&W Y-12? Who is being held accountable?

NNSA issued a “show cause” letter to B&W Y-12, providing the company with 30 days to show cause why its contract, which has totaled $9.5 billion over the years, should not be terminated for default. The letter highlights numerous security clauses in the contract and requires B&W Y-12 and WSI-OR to address the corrective actions necessary to achieve compliance. Almost laughable, however, WSI-OR is going to report to B&W Y-12, and not to the government. Instead, B&W Y-12 will report to NNSA about corrective actions related to WSI-OR’s performance.

How many more years will it take before NNSA bolsters security at Y-12 and other facilities where it has security responsibilities.