- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2008

Armed security agents posing as terrorists broke into a secure area at a nuclear weapons laboratory during a recent test, exposing flaws in the protection of stockpiles of plutonium and uranium coveted by terrorist groups and rogue nations seeking to become nuclear powers.

The “force-on-force” exercise at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California pitted two teams of special-operations-trained commandos: one that attacked use of simulated explosives, and a team of defenders who tried to keep them out, said Bush administration officials familiar with the test.

The test was part of regular drills designed to test nuclear defenses and included the attackers’ use of all-terrain vehicles and torches to cut through metal barriers, the officials said.

A spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the Energy Department unit that oversees the laboratory 50 miles from San Francisco, said the security problems were revealed in the penetration test, which was first reported by Time magazine.

NNSA spokesman Bryan Wilkes declined to comment on the details of the exercise but stated in an interview that the initial results were “disappointing” and “highlighted the need for improvement.”

“This is precisely the reason why we have these kinds of assessments done to test our security,” Mr. Wilkes said. “We are constantly testing our security … to find areas for improvement.”

“The nuclear material at the site is secure, and we have the best security in the government,” he said.

The “attackers” were commandos who are part of security teams that guard other U.S. nuclear facilities in the country and were part of a seven-week review of laboratory security at Lawrence Livermore. The simulated attack took place in late April.

The attacking force also began the exercises inside the laboratory’s perimeter fences and other defenses inside an area called the Superblock, where nuclear material is stored, the administration officials said.

“The attackers were given tremendous insider knowledge, personnel, site access, facility information and communications advantages that would be highly improbable in a real-world scenario,” one official said.

Defenders were limited from firing their weapons inside the area, another advantage for the simulated terrorists.

A Dillon Aero Gatling Gun, capable of firing at high rates, also did not work properly for the defenders because of a hydraulic problem, but the problem has been remedied, the officials said.

Four areas during the security inspection were found to be “effective,” while four had ratings showing the need for improvement, Mr. Wilkes said.

One key lesson was that the laboratory”s protective forces need to train more often within the actual area they are protecting, he said.

“Immediate compensatory measures were put in place after the inspection, including additional security police officers and relocation of material to more secure storage locations,” he said.

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