[ISN] Security Flaws Exposed at Nuke Lab

From: InfoSec News (alerts@private)
Date: Tue May 13 2008 - 23:10:19 PDT


By Adam Zagorin
Time in partnership with CNN
May 12, 2008

If you were a terrorist looking for weapons-grade nuclear material in 
America, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory might be a good 
place to start. At the core of the nuclear-weapons research facility 
about an hour's drive from San Francisco stands the "Superblock," a 
collection of buildings surrounded by multi-story steel-mesh fencing, a 
no-man's-land, electronic security gear, armed guards and cables to 
prevent a helicopter landing on the roof. These defenses are in place 
largely to protect Building 332, a repository for roughly 2,000 pounds 
of deadly plutonium and volatile, weapons-grade uranium - enough fissile 
material to build at least 300 nuclear weapons. But a recent simulated 
terror attack tested those defenses, and sources tell TIME that the 
results were not reassuring.

One night several weeks ago, according to TIME's sources, a commando 
team posing as terrorists attacked and penetrated the lab, quickly 
overpowering its defenses to reach its "objective" - a mock payload of 
fissile material. The exercise highlighted a number of serious security 
shortcomings at Livermore, sources say, including the failure of a 
hydraulic system essential to operating an extremely lethal Gatling gun 
that protects the facility. Experts contacted by TIME - including 
congressional staff from both parties informed of the episode, and 
experts personally familiar with safeguards at Livermore - all said that 
the test amounts to an embarrassment to those responsible for securing 
the nation's nuclear facilities, and that it required immediate steps to 
correct what some called the most dangerous security weaknesses ever 
found at the lab.

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman was quickly informed of the episode, 
along with other senior officials in the U.S. nuclear and national 
security apparatus. "People who know about this are very concerned; they 
are not happy," said one senior congressional aide.

"It is essential to prevent terrorists from accessing nuclear materials 
at Livermore," said Danielle Brian, the executive director of the 
Project on Government Oversight, an independent nonprofit that recently 
issued a study of the lab's security. "Suicidal terrorists would not 
need to steal the fissile material, they could simply detonate it as 
part of an improvised nuclear device right on the spot." Some 7 million 
people live within a 50-mile radius of the laboratory - a fact that has 
prompted at least one panel of experts to recommend moving its 
nuclear-weapons material elsewhere.

According to a former senior officer familiar with the details of 
security at Livermore, simulated attacks are staged approximately every 
12 months. The attack team's objective is usually to penetrate the 
"Superblock," after which the attackers are timed to determine whether 
they can hold their ground long enough to construct a crude "dirty bomb" 
that could, in theory, be detonated immediately, or can buy themselves 
enough time to fabricate a rudimentary nuclear device, approximating the 
destructive power of the low-yield weapons dropped on Hiroshima and 
Nagasaki in 1945. A third option in the simulation is for the attackers 
to abscond with the nuclear material into the heavily populated San 
Francisco Bay area.


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