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Project on Government Oversight




Wackenhut Guards Almost Shot During Nuclear Security Test

October 23, 2004 


Wackenhut security guards almost came under “friendly-fire” during a September 1 security drill at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has learned. According to one guard who witnessed the incident: “The shadow force was stopped only seconds before they fired on the unarmed adversaries. That could have resulted in a major loss of life.” The incident comes on the heels of several controversies plaguing Wackenhut, which is the nation’s largest security provider at nuclear power plants and weapons facilities.

DOE’s force-on-force tests assess the ability of nuclear facilities to defend against terrorist assaults. In the tests, both mock terrorist adversaries and security guards are outfitted with laser sensor equipment which simulates gunfire. A shadow force continues to guard the facility during the test and is armed with live ammunition. Security controllers communicate by radio to ensure that there is no confusion about who is involved in the exercise.

The “near miss” incident was highly unusual because controllers at both the central alarm station and with the mock terrorist adversaries are supposed to know in advance how and when the mock terrorists will approach the facility. Shortly after the exercise started, the central alarm station indicated over the radio system that a handful of armed individuals were detected close to the fence line, and asked whether those individuals were part of the exercise. Someone on the net indicated that the armed individuals were not part of the drill. At that point, the armed shadow force was engaged and came within seconds of firing on the unarmed adversary force. Other guards who heard the radio traffic and believed that live ammunition was going to be introduced into the exercise quickly hid so as not to be shot – and reemerged after things were sorted out. 

Despite the near miss, Wackenhut continued the exercise. DOE force-on-force experts have told POGO that continuing the exercise after a near miss was a serious violation of departmental procedure. There was no investigation of the September 1 incident by Wackenhut or DOE until Sep 10. POGO has been told by DOE experts that this was a “total” failure by Wackenhut. According to procedure, there should have been an immediate termination of all exercises until this incident was investigated and remedied.

The almost friendly fire incident follows other controversies involving Wackenhut. Earlier this year, DOE’s Inspector General found that Wackenhut managers had been cheating on such force-on-force exercises for two decades at the Y-12 nuclear facility in Oak Ridge , TN. Also at Y-12 last month, six Wackenhut guards were practicing reload techniques with their nine millimeter semiautomatic hand guns with dummy bullets. A live round of ammunition was introduced into one of the clips and the guard shot a hole in the refrigerator. This incident is still under investigation by DOE. In recent months, POGO, Congress and others have criticized a decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to allow Wackenhut to provide the adversary teams for force-on-force drills at America ’s 64 nuclear power plants. POGO has noted that this is a blatant conflict of interest given that Wackenhut provides security for roughly half of those plants (follow the link). Wackenhut has also been criticized for partnering with Native Alaskan corporations which have no security experience in order to acquire no-bid government contracts. In May, 2004 DOE cancelled one of these contracts which was estimated to be worth $100 million over five years.

“This incident underscores growing concerns about Wackenhut’s ability protect government facilities against terrorist attacks. I hope the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy take note and demand higher standards for their security tests at nuclear facilities,” said POGO’s Executive Director Danielle Brian.

Wackenhut has been plagued by a number of performance controversies in recent years as well. One of the most notable was the loss of its security contract at Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant outside New York City after an investigation revealed that only 19% of the security officers interviewed felt that “they could adequately defend the plant after the terrorist event of September 11th” (follow the link).  

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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