Federal Agents Responsible for Transporting Nukes Were Drinking on Mission, Says Inspector General

By Fred Lucas | November 23, 2010 | 1:01 PM EST

A shipment of highly enriched uranium being unloaded in the United States. (National Nuclear Security Administration photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Federal agents responsible for transporting nuclear weapons and nuclear materials abused alcohol while on a “secure transportation mission,” according to the Energy Department’s Office of Inspector General.

An investigation by the IG’s office found “the occurrence of 16 alcohol-related incidents” involving agents of the Office of Secure Transportation (OST).

A spokesman for the OST said in a written statement that the OST agents were not driving while they were drunk.

The OST was established in 1975 as a division of the National Nuclear Security Administration. The agency, according to the IG report, “conducts transportation missions in support of national security, including secure transportation of nuclear weapons, weapon components and special nuclear material through the use of a professional force of federal agents.”

The IG report said that one OST agent was arrested for public intoxication during a mission and two others were handcuffed and detained by police after an unspecified event in a barroom.

“Of the 16 incidents, two were of greatest concern because they occurred during secure transportation missions while the agents were in Rest Overnight Status, which occurs during extended missions where convoy vehicles are placed in a safe harbor and agents check into local area hotels,” says the IG report.

“In 2007, an agent was arrested for public intoxication, and in 2009, two agents were handcuffed and temporarily detained by police office after an incident at a local bar,” the report says.

The report states that the OST took “appropriate action” in these two incidents. It also says there are a total of 597 OST agents.

“However, in our judgment, alcohol incidents such as these, as infrequent as they may be, indicate a potential vulnerability in OST’s critical security mission,” the report says.

The report did not say how many agents total were involved in the 16 separate instances. Nor did it give specific dates, names or locations of the 16 incidents.

A staff member for the IG’s office told CNSNews.com Tuesday that the office was not at liberty to discuss any details of the incidents. She also would not say if the agents drinking on what the IG’s report called “secure transportation missions” were in fact in the process of transporting nuclear weapons from one location in the United States to another.

The staff member from the IG’s office said that the so-called “safe harbor” where the agents had left their vehicles in the two incidents where they were arrested or detained was “a secure and protected site where they park the vehicle overnight and is not vulnerable to being broken into or that type of thing.” The staff member would not say if the “safe harbor” was specifically a military base, but only that it was a “secure, protected site in a safe harbor for truckers.”

NNSA Spokesman Damien LaVera said in a written statement: “NNSA’s Office of Secure Transportation maintains a highly trained, highly professional force that has safely and securely transported nuclear materials more than 100 million miles without a single fatal accident or any release of radiation.

“The Inspector General review did not find any evidence of a systemic problem, nor was there any evidence that any of our agents were driving while intoxicated while on duty,” LaVera continued.

“Of hundreds of agents, the report identifies just two cases involving NNSA personnel being intoxicated while on overnight stops during official missions. As the report notes, appropriate disciplinary action was taken in both of these cases, and NNSA has established even tougher rules on alcohol use and a new alcohol testing requirement. NNSA takes each of these cases very seriously, and is working to evaluate the Inspector General’s report and make additional improvements to the program.”

All OST agents participate in a 21-week agent candidate training program to assist them with preventing the theft, sabotage, or takeover of protected material. The agents also participate in a security and reliability program called the Human Reliability Program (HRP) that is “designed to ensure that they meet the highest standards of reliability and physical and mental suitability.”

The NNSA website says, “The federal agents who do this work are trained to defend, recapture, and recover nuclear materials in case of an attack. Because of the highly skilled agents, NNSA was able to safely and securely complete 100 percent of its shipments without the compromise or loss of any nuclear weapons and components or a release of radioactive material. The agents are world-renowned, and have even worked with some countries on their efforts to safely and securely transport international and regional shipments.”