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U.S. nuke security procedures 'compromised'

An inspector general for the U.S. Department of Energy says guards responsible for securing the nation’s most critical nuclear weapons laboratory were able to cheat on tests of their knowledge of proper security procedures – with the government’s help.

The issue was described as “scary” by Judicial Watch, the Washington-based government corruption watchdog.

The group said that even though the federal government claims the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., has the “most stringent security in the world,” officials there allowed the answers to a test for security guards to be compromised.

“Our inquiry confirmed that the security knowledge test, including answers to the test questions, had been compromised and that it had been distributed in advance of the test to numerous [security officers], the very people whose knowledge was to have been evaluated as part of this process,” said Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman in his report dated just days ago.

Judicial Watch noted that the review was triggered by an invasion an 82-year-old Catholic nun and two others staged on the facility several months ago. They “managed to penetrate the facility and go undetected by security for two hours.”

Armed with flashlights and bolt cutters, the anti-nuclear protesters “splashed blood around the nuclear complex and hung banners outside its walls.”

Concern was raised because the site is the nation’s main storage facility for bomb-grade uranium and makes uranium parts for every warhead in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Judicial Watch said.

There’s already a $500 million security system there that includes cameras and sensors plus a “substantial staff of guards,” as well as huge security towers and special fences.

Judicial Watch said that when officers and supervisors share advance test copies with others, “the guards aren’t necessarily qualified to do this delicate job of protecting the compound.”

“Even worse is that the advance test copies came from a [Department of Energy] official, the report says, and that the cheating has been going on for years and isn’t necessarily limited to the Oak Ridge facility,” Judicial Watch said.

It was while an inspector was doing “performance testing” after the nun’s invasion that an inspector found a “security knowledge test in the patrol vehicle of [an Oak Ridge official] who was escorting him.”

“The test was one that had been scheduled to be administrated to a sample of the Protective Force officers on the following day. The inspector immediately raised concerns regarding that appeared to be a compromise of the upcoming test,” said the report.

The IG wrote, “Our inquiry confirmed that the security knowledge test, including answers to the test questions, had been compromised.”

The IG’s report noted that in 2004, a similar inspection found that “there had been a pattern over time of site security personnel compromising protective force performance tests.”

In that situation, personnel were allowed to view computer simulations of four test scenarios in advance of the tests.

That the site could be a target for terrorists is unquestioned, because of its work with nuclear projects. The site also provides the nation the ability to dismantle old nuclear weapons.

On the site’s web page, officials confirmed recently that Y-12 complex itself had assumed direct responsibility for the “protective force” that previous had been managed by a subcontractor, WSI Oak Ridge.

Y-12 is running by the Babcock and Wilcox Co and Bechtel National Inc. for the National Nuclear Security Administration.