The government's ability to protect its sensitive nuclear facilities is being questioned after three protesters breached a weapons plant in Tennessee. Now the Energy Department's inspector general says security guards at the plant cheated on a security exam by getting the questions early.
Security guards at a Tennessee nuclear weapons plant where security was recently breached got advance copies of exam questions designed to test their protection capabilities, an internal investigation has confirmed.
Energy Department Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman's office reported Wednesday the questions were widely distributed in August before an upcoming test of the contractor guards at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
"Our inquiry confirmed that the security knowledge test, including answers to the test questions, had been compromised and that it had been distributed in advance of the test to numerous ... captains, lieutenants, and security police officers, the very people whose knowledge was to have been evaluated as part of this process," Friedman wrote.
"Specifically, despite the fact that the document was labeled as a test and was initially distributed via encrypted email to individuals appointed as "Trusted Agents," (Oak Ridge) officials treated the document as if it were a training aid, mentioned its receipt at daily Protective Force supervisor meetings, and widely distributed it to a variety of officers," he added.
The Oak Ridge plant garnered national headlines in August when three protesters, including an elderly Catholic nun, compromised security and defaced a building on the site that houses the nation's bomb-grade uranium.
The report cast additional blame on the Energy Department, saying it "eyes on, hands off" approach to contractor management required sending the test to the security firm for review and input.
"Our analysis also led us to conclude that there was a more fundamental issue involving the lack of in-depth security knowledge and involvement of federal oversight officials," the report said.
The report warned similar compromises may have occurred at other sites.
"Federal officials at many other sites lacked the knowledge necessary to provide informed feedback on knowledge testing materials and as such, the materials were provided directly to contractors," the report said. "In our view, federal officials should have an active role in reviewing, commenting and controlling testing material."
Energy Department officials agreed to implement some of the inspector general's recommendations, but disputed the conclusion that their "governance process was a contributory cause of the knowledge test compromise."