Sunday, August 5, 2012

There Is No Such Thing As Absolute Security

Two of the three Plowshare protesters leave Blount County Jail.  Not your average Batman types, but just as effective.

I had to laugh and laugh when I read about this incident.  It is a classic example of ego getting a massive comeuppance.  This is not a story about a high tech James Bond or Batman breaking into a mysterious scientific facility protected and secured by the latest lethal gadgetry.  It's a story about an 82 year old nun, a house painter, and a gardener breaking into the US' most secure nuclear weapons facility using low tech wire cutters, and turning a storage unit known for it's elaborate security into a sort of graffiti splashed railroad car.  I imagine there are very important people at very high levels of government asking the same question I have--but not laughing about it:  "How in the world did these three people manage to do this?

Activists, including 82-year-old sister, halt work at nuclear site

Work has halted at one of the key facilities in the country’s nuclear weapons complex following an act of civil disobedience July 28 by three Catholics, including an 82-year-old religious sister.
The Y-12 National Security Complex, the nation’s only facility for manufacturing, processing, and storing weapons-grade uranium, has temporarily stopped operations and has moved all its nuclear material into secure vaults following the action, which saw the three Catholics cut through a series of fences before making their way to the complex’s reportedly most secure facility.

The three, who call themselves the Transform Now Plowshares, said they wished with their action to "indict the U.S. government" for its nuclear weapons modernization program and for planning to build a new facility at the Y-12 site in Oak Ridge, Tenn., according to friends of the activists. (It's certainly an indictment of the security program at Oak Ridge.)

In the last several years, activists in the area have been protesting the planned new facility for the complex, called the Uranium Processing Facility, which the National Nuclear Security Administration says is needed to replace aging buildings and facilities, some of which date to 1945.
Federal estimates have placed the price tag of the new facility, one of three planned by the security administration, at about $6.5 billion.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) released a statement Wednesday saying the temporary closure of the nuclear site was “necessary to ensure continued confidence in safe and secure operations at Y-12.” (Uhmmm, I think this incident has  pretty much shot my confidence in the safe and secure operations at Y-12.)
“During the stand down period, which is effective today and is expected to end by next week, all special nuclear materials will be moved to vault-type facilities on site, all nuclear operations will be halted, and contractor security personnel will undergo training and refresher instruction,” the statement continues.

According to reports in the Knoxville News Sentinel, which first covered the protest, the activists were found outside the facility July 28 after they had hung banners, splashed blood and painted messages on the wall of the storage site.
Before they were arrested, the activists offered to share bread with the guards at the site and sang, the News Sentinel reported.

The three activists -- Sr. Megan Rice, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus; Michael Walli, a member of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker community in Washington, D.C.; and Greg Boertje-Obed, a former U.S. Army officer from Duluth, Minn. -- had their second court appearance regarding their protest Thursday.

They are expected to appear again Friday afternoon for a detention hearing in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Tennessee in Knoxville. At that hearing Magistrate Judge C. Clifford Shirley is to determine whether they can continue to be held in prison pending trial or if they can be released on bail.

This incident has has serious repercussions at Oak Ridge, heads have rolled, people put on leave or transferred, investigations upon investigations have commenced.  Energy Secretary Stephen Chu is on site and so is General Rodney Johnson who is in charge of security at the Pantex nuclear warhead assemply facility in Texas.  I suppose it's good to know that the people in charge of these kinds of things are hoppin' to it and gettin' that barn door closed now that the horses have left.  In the meantime the Plowshare 3 are keepin' quiet about how they got that barn door open. 
Two of the three have been released, Sr Megan Rice and 63 year old Michael Walli.  The third, 57 year old Greg Boertje-Obed elected not to petition for release and remains in Blount County JailCharges against the three now include felony destruction of property as well as misdemeanor trespass and that carries a potential five year sentence and 250,000 fine.

Federal Magistrate Judge G. Clifford Shirley held a hearing about whether to release the two pending their October 9th trial and decided in spite of the Federal DA's insistence, the two did not represent a threat to the community, given they were a nun and a Catholic worker and pretty committed to their spirituality of non violence.  He did order them to surrender their passports and  report to a Parole Officer.

Comments from conservatives following this story on NCR insist these three protesters accomplished nothing with these actions, that their actions were stupid and futile.  I suspect the people who just got fired would beg to differ.  Not too mention, these protesters proved in spades there is no such a thing as an absolutely secure facility, which is what we more or less have to have in a nuclear world.

I guess in the end, this isn't really that funny, but it does make a very important point, and it is the point these protesters were attempting to make:  It's time we seriously looked at getting rid of these arsenals before the less spiritually enlightened are the ones breaking through the 'impenetrable' security defenses--and not just in the US, but across the globe.


  1. Pretty cool. Do they have plans to try the same at Russian, Chinese, and Israeli facilities, or just US ones?

  2. I was thinking the CIA might offer them a little black ops mission to Iran.

  3. I think that the three did us all a big favor by showing just how insecure these facilities are. It puts the spotlight on the situation of the tremendous danger having these arsenals. The price tag for this sort of "security" is mind boggling and some are getting rich by what I truly believe only makes us weaker and more susceptible than ever of a great catastrophe somewhere.

    Great point here: "It's time we seriously looked at getting rid of these arsenals before the less spiritually enlightened are the ones breaking through the 'impenetrable' security defenses--and not just in the US, but across the globe."

    There are some wacky people out there and having nukes around only complicates matters more. I wonder just how long people will keep their heads in the sand about budgeting billions for these nuclear warheads that are lethal to millions and billions of people. It is complete insanity to have them around at all, imho. I think that each day is like a ticking time bomb with nukes in the world. I hope to God that no one has to witness that kind of destructive force. As long as they are around, we are all vulnerable. There is no such thing as security with nukes.