Lessons Learned at Y-12?

I was initially very concerned that operator error was rampant at Y-12, but it now seems that I vastly underestimated the incompetency of federal and private management. The Y-12 Security Breech is much worse than Cheech and Chong could have ever imagined in their wildest stand-up comedy routines or loopy films filled with satire and irony about the human condition.  On the one hand, the public is informed that the Y-12 Security Complex at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, has “an extensive security mechanism that relies on well-trained and extensively equipped protective force, advanced technology, and a variety of physical fortifications” at a cost this year alone of $150 million.  This annual price tag presumably goes to protect and insure the security of this vital nuclear facility.

On the other, when in the early morning hours of July 28thth an 82 year old nun and her two senior citizen buddies broke into Y-12, which processes and stores uranium, they directly ran into the embodiments of Cheech and Chong at all “layers” of this elaborate security system.   Arrested only after Sister Megan Rice and her two accomplices Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed literally hailed a passing guard like most New Yorkers a reluctant cabbie, a Y-12 guard failed to draw his weapon and even allowed the three suspects to retrieve their packs before finally calling for back-up.

Now there is a new report in which Gregory H. Friedman, Inspector General of the Department of Energy, investigates this incident in “A Special Report: Inquiry into the Security Breach at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s y-12 National Security Complex”.

This report summarizes that, “… we identified troubling displays of ineptitude in responding to alarms, failures, to maintain critical security equipment, over reliance on compensatory measures, misunderstanding of security protocols, poor communications, and weaknesses in contract and resource management.  Contract governance and Federal oversight failed to identify and correct early indicators of these multiple system breakdowns.”

What we have in this heavily sanitized and vetted self-report- after the jargon and post-facto rationalizations and justifications are swept away-is more or less the following set of problematic circumstances: 1. The surveillance cameras did not work because they had been broken for weeks or months and there was no enforced policy in place to maintain them when inoperable; 2.The three suspects had to turn themselves in because, after three hours, not a single guard at Y-12 knew they had broken through three security fences, cameras, and other security devices; 3. In addition to the security equipment identified, there was other classified equipment that also did not work or was not properly maintained or operated; 4. The security contractor, which is a subsidiary of the corporation that built the security system, stands accused of a large number of security lapses and “proceedings” against them have been initiated; 5. Federal oversight, the so-called “governance model”, failed at multiple levels including self-reports characterizing the security system as satisfactory even though there was a serious “communications” problem inherent in the “governance model” and between the “governance model” and contract management; 6. One type of surveillance camera utilized was not suited for this particular security task, but the on-going problem was never rectified.

The list goes on and on.  The report actually has an outcome labeled lessons learned!  How about this lesson? Don’t hire Cheech and Chong as your plant managers, guard supervisors, guards, and federal employees tasked with oversight of the security at this or any nuclear facility.  That would be a good start.

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