Not Again: Is the New Border Sensor Program Also a Boondoggle?

Last week it was reported that the Department of Homeland Security stated that advanced border ground sensors would not be produced until “…the next six to nine months” (Robert Beckhusen, “Homeland Security Delays Plan to Place Sensors on U.S.-Mexico Border”, Wired, 11 February 2013). The program to produce these sensors has not been “cancelled” but “delayed” because of problems, according to DHS, with integrating the ground sensors into the Border Patrol’s current communication system.

Other recent failed security technology which never passed muster along our Mexican border includes the SBInet “virtual wall” contracted to Boeing at a cost of more than $1 billion, along with the “advanced spectroscopic portal” operated by Raytheon for more than $200 million. After many long years, each of these programs was finally declared a failure by DHS and abandoned, but not before all taxpayers’ money allotted them was spent.

In light of the fact that our United States Army has successfully deployed thousands of sophisticated ground sensors in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is reasonable to question the competency of the CBP and DHS sensor program.  According to one report, the sensor program has been delayed because of budget cuts and because it lacks the staff to properly oversee the contract.

What remains unclear about the current development of sensors for our Mexican border is how much money has been wasted and who has wasted it.  And why, of equal importance, the CBP and DHS chose or did not choose to put in place the U.S. Army’s proven sensors rather than developing its own high-tech version.

The cost of this apparent boondoggle is not just measured in taxpayer dollars, but the damage to our nation’s welfare and national security by all those who illegally entered this country because our border sensor system cannot distinguish between a human and a cow.  Add to this the  very real concern that Border Patrol agents in their dangerous work continue to risk their lives while waiting for a no-show high tech sensor system which the Border Patrol promises will be ready in, “…six to nine months.”

The time is long past for a border sensor system that works effectively.  Those who bear the responsibility for this decades-long boondoggle should be investigated and punished accordingly.  The United States Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security have far too important a task than to waste our tax dollars on yet another failed technology in the making: first we had the “virtual wall” which did not work; then the “spectroscopic portal program” based upon bad physics; and now the no-show high-tech border sensors.

Three strikes and, at the very least, you should be out.

Posted in Border Security

Napolitano Declares El Paso Border Is Safe

Yesterday Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declared the border at El Paso safe.  She relied on the statistics provided to her by Customs and Border Patrol as well as a national survey ranking El Paso as the “safest big city”.

There is little doubt that, on top of the recession, far fewer undocumented workers are illegally attempting to enter our country by way of the Mexican border.  CBP statistics over the last five years show a marked decline explained at least in part by an huge increase in the number of agents patrolling the line, a new border wall erected in strategic places along the border, and the increased use of surveillance drones.

However, there are at least two factors that went unmentioned at Secretary Napolitano’s press conference in El Paso.  The first is that illegal drugs are continuing to be smuggled into this country by Mexican drug cartels.  The vital indicator of their smuggling success is the price that drug users must pay in our cities far from the border.  That price, regardless of increased confiscation of illegal drugs, remains stable suggesting that while undocumented immigrants find it more difficult to illegally cross our border with Mexico, the crime syndicates have not been deterred.

Secondly, El Paso and San Diego may be the first and second safest big cities in our country, but human smuggling thrives is other areas all along the 2,000 miles of Mexican border.  No doubt Secretary Napolitano can visit selected border cities all she wants to make claims of security and safety, but she should also visit the Lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas along with various communities in New Mexico and Arizona.  These towns, in contrast to El Paso and San Diego, are dangerous places in which to reside.

In spite of Secretary Napolitano’s assertions yesterday, the Mexican border is far from secure for residents not residing in El Paso or San Diego.  Secretary Napolitano’s statements about border security are not only misleading, but suggest to the general public that current Congressional efforts at immigration reform need no include increased funds for the safety and security of border residents.  Such funds, contrary to Secretary Napolitano’s security declarations, are in fact vital and necessary.

Posted in Border Security

Special House Group Revealed on Immigration Bill

The New York Times reported yesterday that there is a bipartisan group of House Congresspersons working on an immigration bill.  The special bipartisan group is composed of Representatives Gutierrez, Becerra, Lofgren, Yarmuth, Carter, Diaz-Balart, Johnson, and Labrador.  The group, which represents a wide spectrum of viewpoints in both political parties, has been meeting in secret for more than three years.  Their goal is to pass new immigration reform before Congress recesses in August.

Add this to a group of Senators who recently proposed in four pages their basic requirements for new immigration legislation.  At the same time President Obama is getting ready his own legislation in case Congress falters.

In the meantime those opposed to reform of the antiquated Immigration and Reform Act of 1986 seem intent on focusing the public on minute details rather than the principle points proposed by legislators.  And there are going to be lots and lots of details.

But the bottom line in the immigration debate, a debate intentionally tabled by both parties since 2006, is that our present immigration system has been badly broken for a very long time.  On this all seem to agree.

We need to be very vigilant, however, that the growing debate, which is sure to become more impassioned as time goes by, does not get bogged down in the endless minutia, but rather maintains a focus on the need for real and fair reform.  That means compromise and that means President Obama must provide leadership as the national debate heats up.

We should all demand an immigration system that is fair, efficient, and supportive of our national economy.

Posted in Immigration

No culpen al guardia de seguridad en Y-12

Por: Robert Lee Maril y Rachael Lee

Traducido por: Juan F. López

Mientras parece que se le ha aplicado un torniquete a la cobertura corriente principal de la noticia de la violación de seguridad en el Complejo de Seguridad Nacional Y-12 en Oak Ridge, Tennessee, documentos del gobierno, publicados solamente varios meses antes de esta ruptura monumental  del 28 de julio, insinúan metidas de patas burocráticos y sistemáticos en la Administración de Seguridad Nuclear Nacional (NNSA por sus siglas en ingles) y en los contratistas privados que emplean.  Reportes iniciales de los medios y el gobierno sobre esta instalación nuclear con alta seguridad  enfocaban  la culpa en un solo guardia de seguridad, pero ahora aparenta que esta brecha en el sistema en Y-12 es otro monumental tropiezo en una larga serie de despilfarros de seguridad en la década,  sintomáticos de problemas de mal manejo dentro de la NNSA, incluyendo la relación de estos con sus contratistas privados.

Solamente usando cortaalambres y lámparas de mano, la Hermana Susan Rice, de 82 años de edad, y otros dos aliados de mayor edad, exitosamente circunvalaron “un mecanismo de seguridad extensiva que depende en una fuerza protectora bien entrenada y equipada, tecnología avanzada, y una variedad de fortificaciones físicas” con un precio anual a los contribuyentes de $150 millones a solamente veinte pies de 179 toneladas de uranio enriquecido hasta finalmente ser arrestados por un guardia de seguridad.

La respuesta inmediata de la investigación de Gregory H. Friedman  sobre la fractura en el sistema de seguridad en Y-12 – Friedman es el Inspector General del Departamento de Energia – documentó una amplia gama de problemas, desde cámaras de seguridad que estaban inoperables y sin mantenimiento hasta equipo de seguridad adicional que mal funciono o no estaba mantenida propiamente, ineptitud del contratista de Y-12 para Personal de Seguridad, la compañía WSI-Oakridge, y la compañía B&W Y-12  for Management and Operation.  También se acusó al fallido “modelo de gobierno” para seguridad que existe entre y dentro de estos contratistas privados y el NNSA.  (Ver: A Special Report: Inquiry into the Security Breach at the National Security Administration’s Y-12 National Security Complex.  La culpa también fue puesta en el guardia de seguridad que arresto a los tres intrusos y que luego fue inmediatamente despedido tan pronto el incidente se convirtió  público.  El reporte de Friedman sugiere que ocho acciones diferentes sean establecidas de inmediato.

Pero cinco meses previo a la brecha de Y-12, un testimonio de Gene Aloise ante el Subcomité de la Casa en Fuerzas Estratégicas de la Comisión de los Servicios Armados, documentaba más de diez años de serios problemas de seguridad en Y-12 y otras instalaciones bajo el manejo del NNSA, usando varios contratistas privados (Observations on NNSA’s Management and Oversight of the Nuclear Security Enterprise, Statement of Gene Aloise, Director Natural Resources and Environment, United States Government Accountability Office, GAO-12, 2/16/12).

El testimonio de Mr. Aloise, Director de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales, enfocaba en una década de sobrepasos en costos e itinerarios en un sinnúmero de proyectos de contratistas privados bajo la supervisión del NNSA, pero también la Oficina de Responsabilidad Gubernamental (GAO por sus siglas en ingles) encontró que “el descuido de seguridad del NNSA en la empresa de seguridad nuclear había sido cuestionada”.  Entre los problemas en todo el sistema de seguridad que fueron documentados en instalaciones nucleares supervisadas por el NNSA se encuentras las instalaciones en Los Álamos, Nuevo Mexico, y los Laboratorios Nacionales Lawrence Livermore, cercanos a San Francisco.  Por razones de seguridad, las instalaciones nucleares en Los Álamos fueron clausuradas en el 2004, mientras que en el 2005 los Laboratorios Lawrence Livermore fueron también cerrados.

El testimonio de Mr. Aloise documentó que el NNSA fue en realidad creado para arreglar problemas cruciales en el Departamento de Energía (DOE por sus siglas en ingles).  “Por ejemplo,” dijo Mr. Aloise, “nosotros designamos el manejo de contratos en el DOE como un área de alto riesgo de fraude, desperdicio, abuso, y mal manejo por la evidencia en el departamento de manejo inadecuado y descuido de sus contratistas.  En enero de 1995, reportamos que los laboratorios del DOE no tenían misiones claramente definidas que enfocaran sus recursos considerables en lograr los objetivos cambiantes y las prioridades nacionales  del departamento.”  De seguido, el Congreso (Estados Unidos) designo al NNSA como una “agencia semiautónoma” para… “arreglar los problemas de seguridad en los laboratorios nacionales.”

Mientras Mr. Aloise testificaba que el NNSA había hecho progreso en resolver algunos problemas, “el NNSA y la Oficina de Manejo Ambiental de DOE se mantienen en nuestra lista de alto riesgo.”  Y el NNSA, cual tuvo un presupuesto de $10.5 billones en el 2011, casi “… 40% del total del presupuesto del DOE,” se han convertido en el centro de mal manejo de seguridad con respecto a los contratistas privados.

Por ejemplo, el fallo en el sistema de seguridad físico que en parte permitió a tres ciudadanos de la tercera edad poder forzar su entrada en lo que en un momento fue considerado como “una de las instalaciones más seguras de los Estados Unidos” (Friedman, “Inquiry into the Security Breach at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Y-12 National Security Complex”) no aparenta ser un problema único en Y-12, pero uno que está presente en por lo menos otra de las instalaciones del NNSA.  En su testimonio, Mr. Aloise se refiere al reporte del GAO del 2009 documentando “diversas y numerosas deficiencias de seguridad en Livermore,” particularmente identificando los sistemas físicos de seguridad en los Laboratorios Nacionales Lawrence Livermore, incluyendo alarmas y sensores problemáticos.

De hecho, por lo menos dos años antes de la brecha en Y-12, sensores rodeando las zonas de alta seguridad en la instalación se activaban a diario con falsas alarmas.  Esto en parte explica la reacción negligente del personal de seguridad de WSI-Oakridge la noche de la brecha, cuando las alarmas sonaron una vez mas (ver “Security lapses at nuclear complex identified two years before break-in,” Washington Post ( ) , 17 de agosto del 2012).

En adición, Mr. Aloise documentó en su testimonio que en el 2008 su oficina reportó que “problemas significativos de seguridad en Los Álamos no habían recibido atención suficiente.”  Este reporte, de acuerdo al testimonio de Mr. Aloise, se enfoco en las fallas de la instalación en Los Álamos en guardar piezas clasificadas de forma segura y proteger la red de computadoras clasificadas.  Más aun, este mismo reporte indica que a pesar que en  Los Álamos habían tomado pasos para implementar iniciativas para resolver las preocupaciones de seguridad reconocidas, ellos todavía, “…no han desarrollado una necesaria infraestructura estratégica a largo plazo para asegurarse que los arreglos pudieran ser mantenidos en el futuro.”

A pesar que el solitario guardia de seguridad en Y-12 se ha convertido en el chivo expiatorio conveniente para los medios, tal parece que la irrupción notoria en Y-12 por la Hermana Megan Rice y sus confederados no puede ser culpa en el pobre desempeño de un guardia de seguridad.  Lo que es más cierto es que la brecha en Y-12 refleja las preocupaciones de los problemas sistemáticos de seguridad en las instalaciones del NNSA.  La monumental brecha en Y-12 es mejor entendida como el resultado final de unos fracasos  organizacionales y gerenciales de toda la vida entre y dentro del DOE, NNSA y los contratistas privados de este.  De hecho, la NNSA parece ser agobiado por los mismos problemas que dieron paso a la creación de esta organización en el año 2000.

Posted in En Espanol (Spanish Translations), Y-12

Bechtel at the Y-12 Security Breach

After Sister Megan Rice, age 82, and two confederates, both senior citizens, too — the three were armed with nothing but wire cutters and flashlights — broke into the Y-12 Nuclear Complex at Oakridge, Tennessee, in the predawn hours of 28 July 2012,  full blame was immediately placed upon a lone security guard.  The guard was fired.

By its eventual actions in terminating WSI-Oakridge and B&W Y-12, the NNSA demonstrated that a lone security guard was not responsible for the security breach.  The long history of problems between NNSA and its contractors at nuclear facilities throughout the country suggests that firing individuals like the lone guard or even contractors is not necessarily a successful tactic, but rather one designed to temporarily silence critics.

At fault is the systemic relationship between the NNSA and its contractors that continually has given rise to a wide variety of safety and security issues at various nuclear facilities, including Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore.  A consultant report two months before the security breach at Y-12 pinpoints the “nuclear safety culture” among NNSA and its contractors as the locus of this problem, an agency and contractor culture which presumes that contractors are meeting all security and safety concerns while, in fact, contractors are much more concerned with meeting production deadlines, their bottom line, and leave security and safety standards to the NNSA.

At the same time, Bechtel has dodged the corporate bullet.  In fact, Bechtel is the major partner with B&W Y-12, the management and operations contractor fired by NNSA for its part in the security breach at Y-12.  But while B&W took the brunt of the blame when terminated, its partner Bechtel mysteriously dodged any responsibility for the monumental breach at Y-12.

Now Bechtel emerges unscathed from this monumental scandal as a major partner with Lockheed in the ten-year $22.8 billion UPF-Pantex projects.

Ultimately, Sister Megan Rice’s three-hour jaunt past the highly touted security system at Y-12 highlights the decade-long problematic relationships between NNSA and its contractors.  While Sister Rice and her co-conspirators face trial in May, Bechtel, a major contractor sharing responsibility for the documented security lapses at Y-12 that permitted facile access by an 82-year-old nun, just received a federal contract worth more than $22 billion.

It is simply incredible that Congress has ignored a closer examination of these events.

Posted in Y-12

The Obama Record on Immigration

The second inauguration of President Obama today is an event that will be long remembered.  But if our President really desires a meaningful historical legacy in the area of human rights, he will provide capable leadership on realistic immigration reform.

To date Obama’s record, in spite of his rhetorical claims, is abysmal.  Remember before the events of 9/11 that President Bush was about to push through Congress new legislation that, among other things, would have provided for a labor management program for Mexican workers in the United States as well as other concrete reforms to the Immigration and Reform Act of 1986.

After 9/11 President Bush and both political parties made a deal to leave immigration reform untouched even though by 2006 the problems that states faced, especially border states, had grown severe.  During the summer of 2006 our political leadership turned immigration reform into an “international security” problem: until such time as our southern border with Mexico was magically declared “operationally secure”, any kind of immigration reform at the federal level was off the table.

That left states like Arizona between a rock and a hard place.  Let to their own, the Republican dominated Arizona legislature began churning out laws that were designed to make the lives of illegal immigrants living in Arizona as painful as possible.  At the same time Sheriff Arpaio was given free rein on the streets of Phoenix.  The Arizona immigration laws began to spread to other border and non-border states until finally the Supreme Court was forced to rule on their constitutionality; in general their decision was a reminder to the states that immigration law was responsibility of the federal government.

Of course all these missteps could have been avoided if during his first term President Obama had begun a thoughtful and fair process of immigration reform which seriously considered problems faced both by the states, including lack of funding, while simultaneously considering such issues as the needs of the children of illegal immigrants locked out of public educational institutions.

After their losses last November some Republicans are now willing to begin the process of negotiations of immigration laws to appear more open to their Latino constituency.  President Obama must provide the leadership and the political will to bring other Republicans and conservative Democrats to the table by offering concessions where necessary.

With the exception of President Obama’s executive order that is a precursor to the Dream Act, immigration reform since 1986 has remained a dream.  It is now time for President Obama to act and in so doing to begin the process of bringing these 11 million immigrants into our society while, at the same time, maintaining and supporting the rights of all American citizens.

On this inauguration day it is legitimate to question whether President Obama can achieve meaningful immigration reform in the next four years.

Posted in Immigration

NNSA and Contractors’ ‘Nuclear Safety Culture’ Spawns Y-12 Breach

It was the security guard who first arrested Sister Rice and her two accomplices who was immediately identified by name and fired after the Y-12 security breach.  This in spite of the fact that the Y-12 nuclear facility is described as, “…an extensive security mechanism that relies on well-trained and extensively equipped protective force, advanced technology, and a variety of physical fortifications”.  Annual security costs at Y-12 are $150 million.

The security breach at Y-12 is more accurately understood not as the fault of a single guard, but as one among a number of facilities under the purview of the National Nuclear Security Administration experiencing repeated security and safety lapses The NNSA, a semi-autonomous agency created by Congress in 2000 to address serious issues that the DOE was unable to resolve, is also responsible for cost and schedule overruns by private contractors.

Two months before the breach at Y-12, outside consultants hired to assess the “nuclear safety culture” in the construction of a new building in the stages of advanced planning at Y-12, the Uranium Procession Facility (UPF), expressed concerns about the responsibility for different safety and security issues between and among the NSAA, Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Y-12 (B&W Y-12), and the four subcontractors hired in the design phase of the UPF project

According to the independent consultants, the NNSA, on-site manager B&W Y-12, and its four contractors, Merrick & Company, Jacobs Engineering, CH2M Hill, and URS Corporation, all failed to take ownership of vital safety and security issues and, instead, were allowed to presume others responsible.

In short, “The safety culture experts determined that the willingness to raise concerns and identify problems across the UPF Organization is not as pervasive as it should be to ensure that the organization is preventing events and learning form its performance.  Negative perceptions around feeling free to challenge management decisions and believing that constructive criticism is encouraged may be contributing to the behavior.”

It is the responsibility of NNSA to hire a site manager that clearly oversees all sub-contractors and defines responsibilities for all safety and security issues.  At the same time, it is Congress that must provide the final oversight of NNSA, including the responsibility for the security breach at Y-12 and the errant nuclear safety culture that spawned it.

Posted in Y-12

Y-12 Security Guard is Fall Guy for NNSA

Mainstream news regarding the breach of the nuclear facilities at Y-12 National Security Complex at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, has virtually ceased.  However, government documents-published only a few months prior to this monumental rupture on July 28th of the most highly secured nuclear facilities in our land-suggest a vast range of systemic bureaucratic blunders.

Initial reports at the time focused blame on one security guard, but it now appears that the security breach at Y-12 is another yet another monumental misstep in a decade-long series of security and safety boondoggles symptomatic of management dysfunction within the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

Using only wire cutters and flashlights, Sister Susan Rice, 82 years of age, and two other senior confederates successfully bypassed “an extensive security mechanism that relies on well-trained and extensively equipped protective force, advanced technology, and a variety of physical fortifications” with an annual price tag to the taxpayer of $150 million. The three peace activists then spent three hours just twenty feet from 200 tons of bomb grade plutonium.

Testimony five months prior to the breach at Y-12 by Gene Aloise before the House Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Committee on Armed Services, documents more than ten years of serious security problems at Y-12 and other facilities under the NNSA and a private contractors.  The lone security guard at Y-12 was nothing but a scapegoat for larger security and safety decisions over which he had no control or responsibility.

Mr. Aloise’s testimony documented that NNSA was in fact originally created to fix crucial problems which the Department of Energy (DOE) was unable to address in a satisfactory manner.   The security guard at Y-12, the first fired, was a temporary distraction masking much larger issues of mismanagement at Y-12 and other nuclear facilities under NNSA.

Now more than ten years further on, it is the NNSA itself that bears close examination by Congress and the public to insure the on-going security and safety of our nuclear facilities.

Posted in Y-12

Double Travesty of Justice from a Helicopter

Two issues among many immediately raise their ugly heads when I think of the senseless deaths of two illegal immigrants near La Joya, Texas.  The first is that the Texas Department of Public Safety thinks it knows more about stopping drug loads, which this was not, than the Border Patrol.  The Border Patrol, mandated by Congress in 1924, has a set of professional procedures that all of its agents closely must follow or face the consequences.  Such procedures do not include shooting out the tires of a suspected drug smuggler from a helicopter.  If the federal agency trained to intercept drug smugglers does not have a shoot-from-the-helicopter policy, why would the Texas Department of Public Safety?

Second-and there really is a much longer list here-why would the Texas Rangers be called in to investigate this tragic shooting?  If anyone knows Texas history, they will remember that the Texas Rangers were initially disbanded in the 1920s for systematic racist killings of hundreds of Mexicans and Mexican Americans along the Texas border. Then there is the 1960’s case brought against Texas Ranger Captain Allee, a case so egregious against border migrant farm workers attempting to improve their wages and working conditions that it is a landmark to the brutality and incompetence of Texas Rangers.  There are much more recent cases demonstrating this same trend. The Texas Rangers have no credibility along the border

The Border Patrol should be left to what it does best, which is guard the border and interdict smugglers.  This also means the Texas Department of Public Safety troopers should do what they do best, which does not include interdicting drug loads along the Texas border. As for the Texas Rangers? Let their institutional history be a guide to the wisdom of allowing this law enforcement agency to investigate any misdeeds against Latinos by law enforcers in other agencies.

Posted in Customs and Border Protection, Immigration

Tuesday’s Elections

Tuesday’s elections come at a momentous time, a time when the country is clearly divided by those who continue to grow in wealth and those who are stagnating or falling increasingly into poverty.  Although there are those who firmly believe that global warming is a myth, the impact of Sandy is very real; however,  it remains to be seen to what extent Sandy may be spun into just an “extreme” weather event rather than what it in fact appears to be-a product of global warming.

There is, besides an income gap, repeated evidence of racism throughout our society.  Then there is the issue of government-sponsored medical care for all Americans and how to best deliver it. The list goes on and on….two diametrically opposed parties and constituencies with little in agreement except pieces of American foreign policy.

Lurking in the background  are the Super Pacs, a first, that are undermining our democracy.  This election, as suggested by many, has been “post-truth”, a version of Steven Colbert’s “truthiness”.  Both sides were guilty of neglecting facts in the name of electing their slate.

There are many Americans who believe President Obama must be replaced, that he has done little to nothing for this country over his first term.  At the same time, it seems clear now that the Republicans seem much more interested in the welfare of their own party and its agenda than the best interests of the country as a whole.

If this is not the case, then the Republicans will have plenty of time to demonstrate their intentions if Romney is elected Tuesday night.  And if Romney loses, then the Republicans will have four years to show that they care less about “anybody but Obama”, more about the future of every American regardless of party affiliation.

Who holds the highest office in this country does matter.  Soon we will know who that will be. I continue to hope that these momentous elections will not be decided by anyone but the voters.

Posted in The ELECTION