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Project on Government Oversight




Nuclear Weapons Complex Vulnerable To Terrorist Attack

October 15, 2001 


A new report, "U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Security at Risk," by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has revealed serious security flaws at nuclear weapons facilities around the country. These flaws, which leave U.S. weapons-grade nuclear material vulnerable to sabotage and detonation by terrorists, put the entire country at risk.

The Department of Energy (DOE) analyzes and tests the security of nuclear weapons facilities by conducting simulations and mock force-on-force exercises, often using U.S. military forces as adversaries. According to experts who have conducted these tests in the past, the government fails to protect against these attacks more than 50% of the time - although the exact figure is classified.

"When our security efforts do not protect our weapons-grade nuclear materials against over half of the mock terrorist attacks, it is well past time for a reassessment of our security tactics," stated Danielle Brian, POGO Executive Director.

For example, in mock attacks on the nuclear weapons complex, the "terrorists" have been able to successfully "steal" enough material to make multiple nuclear weapons, "kill" enough protective force members to throw the remaining force into disarray, and had enough time to construct and "detonate" an Improvised Nuclear Device.

Furthermore, POGO has uncovered a disturbing trend of cheating and dumbed-down mock attacks favoring DOE's protective force. For example, several times the protective forces have been warned by DOE Headquarters against the indiscriminate "killing" of scientists, lab employees, and each other during mock attacks, in the hopes of hitting their targets as well. These instances are regularly counted as wins for the protective force.

DOE's disregard for proven threats to nuclear security and its institutional bull-headedness have thwarted the efforts of reformers, time and time again. DOE employees and others who have raised security concerns have largely been ignored and subjected to retaliation over many years.

In recent weeks, POGO has been working with policymakers in an attempt to remedy these problems. Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT), the Chairman of the House National Security Subcommittee, has announced the initiation of a Congressional investigation in response to POGO's findings: "In this critical environment, it is important for the Department of Energy to assure the integrity of basic security measures for the protection of nuclear weapon facilities and the nuclear materials they contain against both internal and external threats."

"Our report shows a long standing pattern of DOE's indifference to and even contempt for security reforms. Particularly in light of the recent terrorist attacks, we believe it is time for outside oversight to correct these problems," said Brian. The POGO report outlines a number of possible long term solutions. Brian added, "We have been recommending to the National Security Council and other policymakers two near-term security measures. Military units with SWAT capabilities should be brought in immediately to protect nuclear weapons and material at selected fixed sites. In addition, nuclear materials and weapons should not be transported on public highways until security is upgraded."

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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