U.S. Has Long Failed to Protect Nuclear Weapon Stockpile
Even for a bloated U.S. government well known for its perpetual inefficiency, this is somewhat shocking; decades of faulty bookkeeping, weak security and lousy oversight has put the country’s nuclear weapon stockpile at risk.
This is incredibly serious and it appears the feds aren’t terribly concerned about making changes. The government agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), responsible for securing the nation’s nuclear weapons—and the facilities where they are housed—has failed miserably. This is obviously detrimental to national security and affects everyone who lives in this country.
The scary part is that the negligence is nothing new, but rather it’s been going on for decades, according to the federal audit that exposed the crisis recently. It was conducted by the Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General and it tells a frightening tale of how vulnerable we really are as a nation. The NNSA is responsible for maintaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent through the application of science, technology, engineering and manufacturing processes.
To fulfill this mission the agency is tasked with continuously assessing and evaluating each of the country’s nuclear weapons systems to certify reliability and detect or anticipate potential problems that come as a result of aging. In other words, the NNSA is supposed to keep a close eye on the weapons. Part of the process is relying on information about how nuclear weapons were built to certify reliability. The crucial data is supposed to be controlled through a formal configuration management (CM) process.
But it isn’t properly done and the inspector general confirms this has been going on for years while authorities stood by. “Problems occurred in the control of nuclear weapons [Configuration Management] because, over the decades of nuclear weapons development, neither NNSA nor its sites treated the maintenance of original nuclear weapons CM information as a priority,” the audit says. The operational problems are so severe that the reliability and safety of U.S. nuclear weapons has been negatively impacted, the report further states.
The crisis is especially bad at the premier nuclear weapons laboratories that are overseen by NNSA because the agency has taken “a management approach that was more reactive than pro-active” in the handling and maintenance of nuclear weapons and their components, according to the DOE watchdog. “Problems occurred in the control of nuclear weapons [Configuration Management] because, over the decades of nuclear weapons development, neither NNSA nor its sites treated the maintenance of original nuclear weapons CM information as a priority.”
Some of the examples listed in the report are downright alarming. For instance, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, long embroiled in major security breach scandals, granted unauthorized access in violation of DOE rules. This includes access to nuclear weapons drawings to entire organizations or functional groups. This is the sort of stuff that’s supposed to be top secret. The lab also used parts for a specific type of bomb that did not conform to design specifications and it failed to ensure that the problem was corrected.
At another New Mexico facility, Sandia National Laboratory, investigators found repeated instances of “ineffective management of classified nuclear weapons drawings, a situation that could lead to unauthorized changes to the drawings.” At the Pantex nuclear weapons assembly plant in Texas, officials couldn’t even find a chunk of the nuclear weapons that federal investigators picked from the stockpile for testing. This is just downright crazy! Who loses nuclear weapons inside a government facility that’s supposed to operate with maximum security?
Judicial Watch has documented the grave security issues at all of these facilities over the years, especially Los Alamos. In fact, JW represented a whistleblower that exposed a major 1999 breach involving a Chinese scientist named Wen Ho Lee who stole sensitive nuclear secrets from the lab. JW has also reported on the government’s perpetual failure to adequately guard the lab’s highly classified material over the years. This includes two Argentine scientists convicted just last summer of passing classified weapons data to a foreign government that’s hostile to the U.S.