Report: Two Years After Y-12 Break-In, U.S. Nuclear Security Still ‘Chaotic’

A National Nuclear Security Administration technician from the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., inspects casks of highly enriched uranium aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 in February 2012. The Government Accountability Office says NNSA officials do not have a clear vision for how to improve security after a 2012 break-in at the Y-12 facility.
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino
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Douglas P. Guarino
July 2, 2014, 10:52 a.m.

Two years after an 82-year-old nun was able to in­filt­rate a nuc­le­ar weapons site in Ten­ness­ee, the U.S. ap­proach to se­cur­ing such fa­cil­it­ies re­mains “chaot­ic,” a gov­ern­ment re­port re­leased this week sug­gests.

The re­port to Con­gress by the non­par­tis­an Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice quotes un­named Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials de­scrib­ing the agency’s cur­rent ap­proach in this man­ner. “Dys­func­tion­al” is an­oth­er ad­ject­ive the uniden­ti­fied of­fi­cials have used to char­ac­ter­ize the situ­ation, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

For their part, GAO ana­lysts said the agency’s lack of a “clear vis­ion” since the Ju­ly 2012 in­cid­ent — in which the nun and two fel­low peace act­iv­ists went un­detec­ted as they ap­proached stores of bomb-grade urani­um — could prove prob­lem­at­ic.

“After the Y-12 se­cur­ity breach, NNSA took a num­ber of ac­tions de­signed to im­prove its se­cur­ity per­form­ance and over­sight but did so without first de­vel­op­ing a clear vis­ion and path for­ward for its se­cur­ity pro­gram and an im­ple­ment­a­tion strategy, in­clud­ing mile­stones and re­spons­ib­il­it­ies for car­ry­ing them out,” the GAO re­port states.

“For ex­ample, NNSA ini­ti­ated ac­tions to re­in­state [En­ergy De­part­ment] se­cur­ity dir­ect­ives, which it had pre­vi­ously re­placed with its own se­cur­ity po­lices; [and] star­ted, then dis­con­tin­ued, a se­cur­ity in­spec­tion pro­gram and re­or­gan­ized its headquar­ters se­cur­ity of­fice twice,” the re­port says.

However, without a clear “road map,” the agency “risks put­ting in place short-lived or in­ef­fect­ive re­sponses to its se­cur­ity prob­lems, on which GAO and oth­ers have re­por­ted for more than a dec­ade,” the re­port adds.

Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee on Monday is­sued a state­ment about the GAO re­port, which also ex­am­ines NNSA se­cur­ity ef­forts pri­or to the Y-12 in­cid­ent.

“The re­port con­firms the com­mit­tee’s con­cerns that the 2009 and 2010 se­cur­ity re­form ef­forts, while mak­ing some op­er­a­tion­al and ef­fi­ciency im­prove­ments, may also have in­creased se­cur­ity risks,” the law­makers said, adding that com­mit­tee lead­ers share GAO con­cerns about a lack of a clear plan go­ing for­ward.

“We will con­tin­ue our over­sight of DOE and NNSA’s se­cur­ity re­forms, in­clud­ing GAO’s re­com­mend­a­tions, to make sure any se­cur­ity im­prove­ments can be sus­tained,” ac­cord­ing to the state­ment, is­sued jointly by Rep­res­ent­at­ives Fred Up­ton (R-Mich.) and Tim Murphy (R-Penn.).

Up­ton serves as En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee chair­man, while Murphy heads the pan­el’s Over­sight and In­vest­ig­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee. The pan­el has gen­er­ally differed with fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans on the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee about how best to re­spond to the Y-12 break-in.

NNSA of­fi­cials agree with the GAO re­com­mend­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. They told the study’s au­thors that they have already be­gun an ef­fort to cre­ate a “se­cur­ity road map” for their agency, which they hoped to com­plete by Decem­ber.

The GAO au­thors said the agency re­sponse was “en­cour­aging,” but ad­ded that NNSA should de­vel­op an im­ple­ment­a­tion strategy for the road map and reg­u­larly mon­it­or its pro­gress.

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