July 16, 2007

This Is Way Beyond Unforgiveable

Whenever I read or hear of a hole in our national security network, I tend to rant about it here, sometimes, depending upon its level on the stupidity scale or the negligence index, rather spiritedly. Often when the flaw involves both the Transportation Security Administration and the protection managers employed by U.S. airports, I can’t help but express some grim humour and/or make sarcastic remarks.

I’ve spoken my piece on chemical plants being located inside population centers, the lackluster realities of nuclear power plant security, airport security vulnerabilities due completely to incompetence and irresponsible management, idiots with federal licenses to possess explosives yet no seriously enforced obligations to ensure the security of same, therefore no security, period, and quite frankly, I can only opine that neither the government nor key private sector firms care even a fraction about security compared to their concerns about the “bottom line”.

One thing I’ve learned on my journey through life is that you can never honestly, or at least accurately, say that you’ve “seen it all”. Just as you utter the words, something rather unexpected comes along.

Unfortunately, this same rule applies to the respective depths of human imperfection. I’d say that this unmitigatedly stupid, negligent, unbelievably boneheaded state of affairs proves that just when you think you’ve seen government incompetence at its worst, you’re proven wrong.

Undercover congressional investigators posing as West Virginia businessmen obtained a license with almost no scrutiny from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that enabled them to buy enough radioactive material from U.S. suppliers to build a “dirty bomb,” a new government report says.

Isn’t that nice to know!

Using a post-office box at Mail Boxes Etc., a telephone and a fax machine, the undercover investigators from the GAO obtained the license “without ever leaving their desks,” the report says.

After counterfeiting copies of the license, the GAO undercover agents ordered portable moisture density gauges, which contain radioactive americium-241 and cesium-137 and are commonly used at construction sites to analyze the properties of soil, water and pavement. The investigators ordered 45 gauges — enough to build a bomb with enough radioactive material to qualify as a level-3 threat on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the most hazardous.

3, on a scale of 1 to 5. At least we’ve achieved the middle ground, here. Whew!

The GAO undertook the sting operation at the request of Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), the top minority member of the Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations, which since 2003 has been examining security gaps at the NRC and other federal agencies that could leave the country vulnerable to biological or nuclear attack.

Thank you, Senator Coleman. It’s good that we have a few Republicans around to mind the shop while all the Democrats in Congress are too busy serving subpoenas and pushing a multitude of Constitutional envelopes in their single-minded endeavors to indict Republicans, from the President to the guy who sweeps, for anything they can sneak through the realms of truth and logic, to donate a few minutes of their time to doing what they’re paid to do and governing the country.

Coleman and other critics say the NRC essentially has ignored warnings for years and has done too little to remedy problems that would make it easier for someone to make a dirty bomb. Coleman called the NRC’s efforts since June 1 “baby steps” that are insufficient and particularly outrageous because the agency has taken so long to act despite having been warned of serious flaws for more than four years.

Not to be outdone,

NRC commissioner Edward McGaffigan Jr. said in an interview yesterday that the agency, while concerned about any security weakness, has had to allocate finite resources to what it thinks are the biggest potential threats to public safety. He said terrorists have looked for relatively simple ways to cause massive death and damage. Devices such as the moisture gauges, he said, pose a relatively low-level risk because they require a vast amount of work to fashion into a dangerous weapon.

The pitiful excuse that “Devices such as the moisture gauges pose a relatively low-level risk because they require a vast amount of work to fashion into a dangerous weapon” is indication enough that the man is nothing more than a career bureaucratic cockroach.

Al-Qaeda has long since proven that it is capable of long-term precision planning (see 11 Sep 01) and more recently we’ve learned that terrorist organizations belonging to the Religion of Peace® are well staffed by professionals with advanced degrees. Applying logic to this, we must conclude that there are also plenty of people in the ranks of the Pedophile’s Disciples who know how to use a soldering iron to technological advantage and/or possess other high-tech skills that can be used, through double or triple staffing and a concentration of combined expertise, to render the “vast amount of work” required a short term job.

Speaking as a security professional (semi-retired), I am most alarmed by the lie — yes, and I mean lie, that has emerged from the mouth of a government agency.

“My sole concern, our sole concern, has been the safety of the American people,” he said.

Bullshit! His sole concern has been keeping his expenses down in order to please the beancounters whose backsides he must sample in order to maintain his own career momentum.

When 50,000 or so of his fellow Americans vaporize and a few hundred thousand more succumb to the horrors of radiation sickness, perhaps he’ll be one of the lucky people who are outside the radius of the event. Good for him. On the other hand, maybe he and his family will be dwelling within the hot-zone.

A little gambling, there…with our lives.

Our own government is going to get us killed.

by @ 6:37 am. Filed under Unbelievable!, WTF!!!!?
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9 Responses to “This Is Way Beyond Unforgiveable”

  1. Ken Taylor Says:

    This is not only disturbing but maddening as well. It has been know ever since 9/11 that Al Qaeda has sought the capability to make a dirty bomb and now to find out that all they have to do is use a postage stamp and the NRC will guide them through it and supply the means.

    The second danger here is that since you had the ability to find this out, SO DO THEY!

    First thing to happen here is that the problem gets fixed and I mean now. Then heads should roll with possible criminal prosecution for those who allowed this huge hole in security to happen.

    This is presicely why government needs to be reigned in. It has become so large and out of control that not only does it become a hinderance to our freedoms but because of the huge beurocrocy that it has become things like this slip through the cracks and before you know it thousands of American will pay for this hole with their lives !

  2. The Gray Monk Says:

    In one way I’m relieved to learn that the UK isn’t the only Western Democracy infested with career bureaucrats running technical departments where they don’t even know what it is that they are managing. But it is alarming when you find that, because they are in charge, and can demonstrate that everyone else under them is working the the “Rule Book” that some committee drew up to hide the fact they haven’t a clue, is VERY worrying. Especially in the nuclear field. And I am a supporter of nuclear energy!

  3. BB-Idaho Says:

    Naturally, I was concerned enough about these ‘gages’ to check into the situation. Regarding Americium-241, I got a review in radiation units, the old RAD & REM being replaced by units such as the microCurie, Joules, Ergs, Sieverts, Grays (and my personal favorite) the Becquerel. Explanation here http://www.colorado.edu/EHandS/hpl/RADHandbook/Introduction.html Pretty much confused by the various units of nuclear disintigration, I was unable to come up with how it was decided how many were required to make a DB, If GAO undercover agents think 45 is enough, they are better at dirty bombs than me. Indeed, if 45 of these moisture reading gadgets are worriesome in the wrong hands, it should be noted that these things are routinely stolen or just lost: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/gen-comm/info-notices/2001/in01011.html for example, reports 156 units disappeared 1996-2000. Oddly, this isotope is used in simple smoke detectors, though it is unclear how many of these would be required..for a report on how a Boy Scout tried to collect enough to make a nuclear reactor, see http://www.halfbakery.com/idea/Nuclear_20powered_20smoke_20detector (Seth, you are not the only person who reads a report, reviews the subject, finds other stuff and goes off in a different direction. Hopefully your direction-shifts are not as oblique as my helical tangents)

  4. Seth Says:

    Ken –

    This sort of incompetence is commonplace in our government — remember, the folks who handle most of the day-to-day office stuff are bureaucrats who have no concept of security. If it doesn’t come in a memo, it doesn’t exist.

    When a rank-&-file employee observes and reports a security flaw, he/she is more often than not told to go back to work and not to worry about it, and the report is not followed up on. This has occurred at airports a few times concerning problems that could potentially have serious consequences.

    I don’t expect it would be any different in the nuclear sector, especially in government.

    The problem at hand could be solved easily, but the kinds of people the government hires to run departments have no concept of the “K.I.S.S.” principle, and the fact that they are rarely qualified results in what I’ve seen BB refer to elsewhere as a “safety sieve”. That is probably the most accurate description I’ve yet seen of our Homeland Security apparatus.

    Grey Monk –

    Both our governments are sending appeasement signals to their Muslim populations in one way and another, in the forms of political correctness, surrender syndrome and outright dhimmitude.

    Your civil servants/bureaucrats are probably interchangeable with ours, LOL.

    At least the folks running your security venues seem to be modelled more along the lines of Tommy Hambledon and Bernard Sampson, while ours are more Stanley Roper and Mr. Magoo.

    I also believe nuclear energy is the surest and cleanest way to go.

    BB –

    Going through that link was a combination of studying for a degree in Nuclear Physics and being reminded how easy it is for a science-minded young’un (the “Boy Scout” article mentioned that the only subject he did well in was science at one point — odd that he didn’t do at least almost as good at math) to invite disaster via science, wittingly or not.

    I guess he thought building his own reactor was a really rad idea. I’m saving the link in my reference file for its veritable glossary of measurements. :-)

    Every theft of a device containing a significant quantity of radioactive material (or explosives, for that matter) is the result of irresponsibility on the part of the person in whose possession it is at the time. Unfortunately, potential nuke-making materials have come into common use, from tritium inclusive compasses to construction analysis and engineering applications, smoke alarms to munitions, and there are ways in which virtually anyone with a little bit of money can obtain many of the items, completely under the table, in bulk quantities.

    Believe it or not, my direction shifts, which know no bounds, have actually been an asset in the kind of work I do. I think almost completely outside the box in that regard.

    When I was a kid, I used to zip through those books of mazes they sold back then — they seemed to conform well to my own thought patterns. :-)

  5. Uncle Pavian Says:

    Maybe so, but let’s not forget that if one security guard in Boston had bothered to search Mohammed Atta, instead of just waving him through, we might still be living in a pre-9/11 world.

  6. Seth Says:

    Uncle Pavian –

    Pre- 9/11, the screeners at airports were mostly people who were qualified for only the least skilled jobs and were often there as a last employment resort. Today, they have some training and sense of mission, and are part of the Transportation Security Administration. In short, they know a little bit more than their predecessors about why they’re there and how to do their jobs.

    To offset this, the ACLU has made sure that they are not permitted to give special attention to those most likely to be terrorists.

    Until our airport security attitude becomes as hard-nosed as the Israelis’, air travel here will never be anywhere near as safe as we would like it to be.

  7. Chicagoray Says:

    Good commenting hear and great post Seth. maybe you should be sending your resume to the inept government for some type of security post that would benefit the country no doubt judging from your thorough analysis here.

  8. Chicagoray Says:

    oops, it’s here, not hear

    sorry Seth for the extra post…I had to fix that misspelling there, don’t want to appear as a left wing imbecile :(

  9. Seth Says:

    Ray –


    I would never even consider becoming permanently employed in the bureaucratic quagmire of PC government managed “security”, LOL. The people I would have to take orders from would all be the usual deep pocketed political appointees with no hands-on security experience who rely on tables, charts and graphs rather than tangible realities and frown upon anyone who thinks outside the box. These are people who refuse to fund any preventive measures against any security concerns that have not yet happened anyplace, no matter how extensive their potentials for occurring, and who are incapable of perceiving the combination of malevolence, tenacity, technological savvy and ingenuity that define today’s terrorists.

    I would last about a month before overdosing on pure frustration.


    …don’t want to appear as a left wing imbecile

    Trust me, Ray, that will never happen. :-)