Foreign Nationals Get Free Rein at U.S. Nuclear Lab
A year after an 82-year-old nun made headlines for breaking into the government’s key bomb-grade uranium storage facility a federal audit says security was compromised at a nearby nuclear weapons lab when thousands of foreign nationals from communist and Middle Eastern countries were granted “unaccompanied access.”
Both facilities—Y-2 National Security Complex and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)—store dangerous materials, are run by the U.S. government and are located in Oak Ridge Tennessee. Security became a huge issue last August when the Catholic nun, a renowned antinuclear activist, and two other seniors somehow managed to evade what the government calls the “most stringent security in the world” to penetrate the Y-2 plant, which the feds claim is the “Fort Knox of Uranium.”
Unbelievably, the nun and her pals made their way in with flashlights and bolt cutters and went undetected by security for two hours. Once inside, the trio of protestors splashed blood around the nuclear complex and hung banners outside its walls. Incredibly, the facility has a sophisticated $500 million security system that includes high-tech cameras and sensors. There is also a substantial staff of guards and the property is surrounded by huge security towers and special fences.
Though as a nation we may still be reeling from the shock of that major security breach, now comes news of equally disturbing violations at the nearby ORNL. It’s a sprawling 58-square-mile facility where all sorts of scientific and energy research is conducted and it houses uranium and other nuclear materials. Thousands of people work there and, like the Y-2 complex, it’s located dangerously close to a major city, Knoxville.
Each year, under a special government program, the lab hosts thousands of foreign nationals who come to research, collaborate and access scientific information. The nationals come from all over the world, including China, Pakistan and Egypt. They are supposed to be vetted through “counterintelligence consultations” and a Foreign Access Central Tracking System is supposed to monitor them. Inside the nuclear weapons facility the foreigners are supposed to be accompanied at all times to prevent any security breaches.
It turns out that they are not, according to an internal investigation conducted by the Department of Energy Inspector General, which says the foreign exchange program can be beneficial but “may also create certain security risks.” This is especially true because the program was “revised to streamline requirements in order to “expedite foreign nationals’ access” to the laboratories, the IG writes in its report.
Once in the facility, “agreements and individual security plans” were not followed because hosts didn’t always “maintain accountability of foreign nationals as required,” the report says. There is “no assurance that hosts appropriately monitored foreign nationals’ activities as required.” This is downright insane! After 9/11 all of the nation’s nuclear weapons sites were ordered to increase security to defend against the possibility of a terrorist attack.
Instead, we have seen quite the opposite. Just a few months ago, at a separate federally-owned nuclear lab in New Mexico, two employees pleaded guilty to criminal charges for passing classified weapons data to a foreign government that’s hostile to the U.S. The scheme took place at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which has a long and sordid history of grave security breaches that date back to the late 90s.
In 1999 a Chinese communist scientist (Wen Ho Lee) stole nuclear secrets from the facility but was not prosecuted by the Clinton Justice Department because then Attorney General Janet Reno claimed the accusations were racist. Judicial Watch represented the whistleblower, Notra Trulock, responsible for launching an investigation into Lee’s actions. Trulok was the Energy Department’s intelligence operations chief and Clinton administration officials defamed him by accusing him of being a racist in order to cover up Lee’s repeated security violations.