God I’m so glad we’re still taking our shoes off at the airport and having our e-mails read by the NSA:
The hammering on the wall of America’s premier storage vault for nuclear-weapons grade uranium in pitch-darkness six weeks ago was loud enough to be heard by security guards. But they assumed incorrectly that workmen were making an after-hours repair, and blithely ignored it.
Minutes earlier, a perimeter camera had caught an image of intruders — not workmen — breaching an eight-foot high security fence around the sensitive facility outside Knoxville, Tenn. But the guard operating the camera had missed it. A different camera stationed over another fence — also breached by the intruders — was out of service, a defect the protective force had ignored for 6 months.
In theory, the pounding might have been the work of a squad of terrorists preparing to plant a powerful explosive in the wall of the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF), a half-billion dollar vault that stores the makings of more than 10,000 nuclear bombs. Instead, it was a group of three peace activists, including an 82-year old nun, armed only with flashlights, binoculars, bolt cutters, bread, flowers, a Bible, and several hammers.
Are you kidding me? The story goes on to report that the activists “waited 15 minutes or so for the Mayberry-style guards to make an appearance.”
Here’s the worst part: we’ve outsourced security and operations at this facility to two private contractors, WSI-Oak Ridge and Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services. So y’all can just stop throwing up your hands and saying the government can’t do anything right because this is yet another epic private contractor fail. Babcock & Wilcox has pocketed more than $5 billion to operate this facility in East Tennessee over the past 10 years.
This part really got me:
[...] Inside the HEUMF, which the activists were able to deface, and pit with hammers — but not breach — the harvested material is stored in thousands of barrels and small casks placed on racks, in the open, according to an NNSA video tour of the inside.
Given the obvious risks, the HEUMF’s designers initially envisioned it buried underneath a large earth berm, a relatively cheap approach to nuclear security that has been zealously embraced by the nuclear mandarins in Tehran. But at the last moment before construction started, the NNSA reversed course and opted instead to build its aboveground “prison,” based on advice that doing so would be quicker and cheaper to build and easier to defend.
That advice came from Babcock & Wilcox, which had already secured the guard force contract, according to a 2004 DOE report. The cost savings claim was discredited at the time by security experts from Sandia National Laboratories and by Friedman’s Inspector General office; he concluded that constructing the aboveground version would cost an extra $25 million, and staffing it with a guardforce four times larger would cost taxpayers an extra $177 million over its lifespan. It would also need extra cooling.
NNSA allowed Babcock & Wilcox “to continue redesigning the facility even when initial attempts to reduce the cost and improve the security of the facility failed,” Friedman complained. Michael C. Kane, then an NNSA executive and now a top Energy Department official, told him in a letter, however, that NNSA and its local site managers were convinced an aboveground “Defense-in-Depth security design” was the best course.
Nobody could have anticipated that the for-profit entity which got the operations contract would build a facility that cost more to operate! I’m so shocked!
I really don’t want to hear how much shinier/sparklier/cheaper/better private contractors are. I also don’t want to hear about the budget deficit from phony fiscal hawks who are pocketing tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from these private companies. And finally, I don’t feel good knowing that our nuclear weapons programs are being handled by private, for-profit corporations. This is atrocious. If I were King I’d make this shit illegal.
But hey, war and nuclear weapons are just another “job creating enterprise,” right? That swords into plowshares stuff is so hippie-dippie! There’s money to be made, y’all! Come on!
Here’s the icing on the cake:
Over the years, NNSA has steadily said less and less to Babcock & Wilcox about how to do its work. It eliminated its regional office in 2002 and turned oversight over to an office located on-site. The philosophy it has adopted recently — with the strong support of lawmakers on Capitol Hill — is called the Contractor Assurance System. It essentially means that the government cannot tell the company how to operate or guard the site; it can only hold the company responsible when it fails to accomplish its mission.
I’m not holding my breath on that “holding the company responsible” stuff. The staff on site has been “reassigned or retired” and that should be sufficient, right? Your tax dollars at work!
By the way, the peace activists who revealed this dangerous security failure are facing felony charges.