Nu­clear lab flunks ter­ror­ist ex­er­cise Drill ex­poses de­fense flaws

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Bill Gertz

Armed se­cu­rity agents pos­ing as ter­ror­ists broke into a se­cure area at a nu­clear weapons lab­o­ra­tory dur­ing a re­cent test, ex­pos­ing flaws in the pro­tec­tion of stock­piles of plu­to­nium and ura­nium cov­eted by ter­ror­ist groups and rogue na­tions seek­ing to be­come nu­clear pow­ers.

The “force-on-force” ex­er­cise at Lawrence Liver­more Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory in Cal­i­for­nia pit­ted two teams of spe­cial-op­er­a­tionstrained com­man­dos: one that at­tacked use of sim­u­lated ex­plo­sives, and a team of de­fend­ers who tried to keep them out, said Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials familiar with the test.

The test was part of reg­u­lar drills de­signed to test nu­clear de­fenses and in­cluded the at­tack­ers’ use of all­ter­rain ve­hi­cles and torches to cut through metal bar­ri­ers, the of­fi­cials said.

A spokesman for the Na­tional Nu­clear Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion (NNSA), the En­ergy De­part­ment unit that over­sees the lab­o­ra­tory 50 miles from San Fran­cisco, said the se­cu­rity prob­lems were re­vealed in the pen­e­tra­tion test, which was first re­ported by Time mag­a­zine.

NNSA spokesman Bryan Wilkes de­clined to com­ment on the de­tails of the ex­er­cise but stated in an in­ter­view that the ini­tial re­sults were “dis­ap­point­ing” and “high­lighted the need for im­prove­ment.”

“This is pre­cisely the rea­son why we have th­ese kinds of as­sess­ments done to test our se­cu­rity,” Mr. Wilkes said. “We are con­stantly test­ing our se­cu­rity [. . . ] to find ar­eas for im­prove­ment.”

“The nu­clear ma­te­rial at the site is se­cure, and we have the best se­cu­rity in the gov­ern­ment,” he said.

The “at­tack­ers” were com­man­dos who are part of se­cu­rity teams that guard other U.S. nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties in the coun­try and were part of a seven-week re­view of lab­o­ra­tory se­cu­rity at Lawrence Liver­more. The sim­u­lated at­tack took place in late April.

The at­tack­ing force also be­gan the ex­er­cises inside the lab­o­ra­tory’s perime­ter fences and other de­fenses inside an area called the Su­perblock, where nu­clear ma­te­rial is stored, the ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said.

“The at­tack­ers were given tremen­dous in­sider knowl­edge, per­son­nel, site ac­cess, fa­cil­ity in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions ad­van­tages that would be highly im­prob­a­ble in a real-world sce­nario,” one of­fi­cial said.

De­fend­ers were lim­ited from fir­ing their weapons inside the area, an­other ad­van­tage for the sim­u­lated ter­ror­ists.

A Dil­lon Aero Gatling Gun, ca­pa­ble of fir­ing at high rates, also did not work prop­erly for the de­fend­ers be­cause of a hy­draulic prob­lem, but the prob­lem has been reme­died, the of­fi­cials said.

Four ar­eas dur­ing the se­cu­rity in­spec­tion were found to be “ef­fec­tive,” while four had rat­ings show­ing the need for im­prove­ment, Mr. Wilkes said.

One key les­son was that the lab­o­ra­tory’s pro­tec­tive forces need to train more of­ten within the ac­tual area they are pro­tect­ing, he said.

“Im­me­di­ate com­pen­satory mea­sures were put in place af­ter the in­spec­tion, in­clud­ing ad­di­tional se­cu­rity po­lice of­fi­cers and re­lo­ca­tion of ma­te­rial to more se­cure stor­age lo­ca­tions,” he said.

“No ma­te­rial or sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion at Lawrence Liver­more Na­tional Lab is at risk, and the se­cu­rity at the site re­mains strong,” he said.

All plu­to­nium at the fa­cil­ity will be re­moved in four years, he said.

The NNSA said in a state­ment May 9 that a re­cent “se­cu­rity as­sess­ment” iden­ti­fied sev­eral ar­eas need­ing im­prove­ment.

Lawrence Liver­more is part of the nu­clear weapons com­plex and con­ducts re­search on plu­to­nium pits used in nu­clear weapons.

Lab­o­ra­tor y spokes­woman Susan Houghton said some per­son­nel were re­as­signed as a re­sult of the se­cu­rity re­view and one im­me­di­ate step will be to in­crease the train­ing of the pro­tec­tive force of­fi­cers. “We’ve ac­cel­er­ated train­ing, and we’re train­ing against more real-world threats,” she said.

The anti-nu­clear group Project on Gov­ern­ment Over­sight (POGO), which mon­i­tors se­cu­rity at En­ergy De­part­ment fa­cil­i­ties, said in a state­ment that the pen­e­tra­tion drill shows the prob­lems of se­cu­rity at the fa­cil­ity.

“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,” POGO said, not­ing that the group has been crit­i­cal of the de­ploy­ment of the gun be­cause of its one-mile range that poses a dan­ger to nearby res­i­dences.

The group also stated that spe­cial re­sponse teams of armed se­cu­rity guards were in­volved in tac­ti­cal fail­ures dur­ing the drill.

“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,” said POGO se­nior in­ves­ti­ga­tor Peter Stock­ton. “In fact, two se­cu­rity of­fi­cers were fired for rais­ing th­ese prob­lems.”

Time mag­a­zine, which first re­ported the pen­e­tra­tion drill in its Mon­day edi­tions, stated that the at­tack­ing force was able to pen­e­trate Build­ing 332, which con­tains about 2,000 pounds of plu­to­nium and weapons-grade ura­nium.

The mock ter­ror­ists gained ac­cess to a pay­load of sim­u­lated fis­sile ma­te­rial inside the fa­cil­ity.

A POGO re­port on Lawrence Liver­more se­cu­rity prob­lems last year stated that con­tract se­cu­rity guards are not equipped to ad­e­quately se­cure the site and have lim­ited ca­pa­bil­i­ties to com­mu­ni­cate with lo­cal po­lice.

“As a re­sult, co­or­di­nat­ing an ef­fort to re­cap­ture stolen [spe­cial nu­clear ma­te­rial] is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble,” the re­port said.

A POGO re­port from March stated that the lab­o­ra­tory has been un­able to meet U.S. gov­ern­ment se­cu­rity re­quire­ments and was given a waiver from the En­ergy’s nu­clear se­cu­rity ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“This ac­tion comes at a time when ex­perts warn that the threat of nu­clear ter­ror­ism is grow­ing,” the re­port said.

Michael Leiter, act­ing di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Cen­ter, told a Se­nate hear­ing last week that al Qaeda in par­tic­u­lar is con­tin­u­ing to seek un­con­ven­tional weapons.

“Most trou­bling is the judg­ment they will con­tinue to try to ac­quire and use chem­i­cal, bi­o­log­i­cal, ra­di­o­log­i­cal or nu­clear ma­te­ri­als in at­tacks,” Mr. Leiter said.

Other se­nior U.S. intelligence of­fi­cials have said that one threat sce­nario is for ter­ror­ists to set off a ra­di­o­log­i­cal bomb — a con­ven­tional bomb laced with nu­clear ma­te­rial to en­hance its lethal­ity.

Steal­ing or con­struct­ing a nu­clear bomb for use in an at­tack would be more dif­fi­cult but not im­pos­si­ble.

“More than any­where else in the nu­clear weapons com­plex, it is es­sen­tial to pre­vent ter­ror­ists from ac­cess­ing the nu­clear ma­te­ri­als at Liver­more,” said Danielle Brian, POGO’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. “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 [En­ergy De­part­ment’s] drawnout timetable of re­mov­ing the ma­te­ri­als by 2012. We hope this de­ba­cle will fi­nally light a fire un­der [the En­ergy De­part­ment] and ac­cel­er­ate their sched­ule.”

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