Foreign nationals from China and Middle East had free rein at U.S. nuclear lab

Although all U.S. nuclear weapons sites were ordered after 9/11 to increase security to defend against the possibility of a terrorist attack, an internal audit by the Department of Energy found that security at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee is grossly lacking. Thousands of foreign nationals from communist and Middle Eastern countries were given unaccompanied free access to the nuclear lab.

Oak Ridge National LabThe non-partisan Washington, D.C. watchdog Judicial Watch reports, October 10, 2013:

A year after an 82-year-old nun made headlines for breaking into the government’s key bomb-grade uranium storage facility a federal audit says security was compromised at a nearby nuclear weapons lab when thousands of foreign nationals from communist and Middle Eastern countries were granted “unaccompanied access.”

Both facilities—Y-2 National Security Complex and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)—store dangerous materials, are run by the U.S. government and are located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Security became a huge issue last August when the Catholic nun, a renowned antinuclear activist, and two other seniors somehow managed to evade what the government calls the “most stringent security in the world” to penetrate the Y-2 plant, which the feds claim is the “Fort Knox of Uranium.”

Unbelievably, the nun and her pals made their way in with flashlights and bolt cutters and went undetected by security for two hours. Once inside, the trio of protestors splashed blood around the nuclear complex and hung banners outside its walls. Incredibly, the facility has a sophisticated $500 million security system that includes high-tech cameras and sensors. There is also a substantial staff of guards and the property is surrounded by huge security towers and special fences.

Though as a nation we may still be reeling from the shock of that major security breach, now comes news of equally disturbing violations at the nearby ORNL. It’s a sprawling 58-square-mile facility where all sorts of scientific and energy research is conducted and it houses uranium and other nuclear materials. Thousands of people work there and, like the Y-2 complex, it’s located dangerously close to a major city, Knoxville.

Each year, under a special government program, the lab hosts thousands of foreign nationals who come to research, collaborate and access scientific information. The nationals come from all over the world, including China, Pakistan and Egypt. They are supposed to be vetted through “counterintelligence consultations” and a Foreign Access Central Tracking System is supposed to monitor them. Inside the nuclear weapons facility the foreigners are supposed to be accompanied at all times to prevent any security breaches.

It turns out that they are not, according to an internal investigation conducted by the Department of Energy Inspector General, which says the foreign exchange program can be beneficial but “may also create certain security risks.” This is especially true because the program was “revised to streamline requirements in order to “expedite foreign nationals’ access” to the laboratories, the IG writes in its report.

Once in the facility, “agreements and individual security plans” were not followed because hosts didn’t always “maintain accountability of foreign nationals as required,” the report says. There is “no assurance that hosts appropriately monitored foreign nationals’ activities as required.” This is downright insane! After 9/11 all of the nation’s nuclear weapons sites were ordered to increase security to defend against the possibility of a terrorist attack.

Instead, we have seen quite the opposite. Just a few months ago, at a separate federally-owned nuclear lab in New Mexico, two employees pleaded guilty to criminal charges for passing classified weapons data to a foreign government that’s hostile to the U.S. The scheme took place at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which has a long and sordid history of grave security breaches that date back to the late 90s.

In 1999 a Chinese communist scientist (Wen Ho Lee) stole nuclear secrets from the facility but was not prosecuted by the Clinton Justice Department because then Attorney General Janet Reno claimed the accusations were racist. Judicial Watch represented the whistleblower, Notra Trulock, responsible for launching an investigation into Lee’s actions. Trulok was the Energy Department’s intelligence operations chief and Clinton administration officials defamed him by accusing him of being a racist in order to cover up Lee’s repeated security violations.


Please scroll down for my response (with lengthy quotes from the Department of Energy Inspector General’s report) to a comment from Oak Ridge National Lab’s Director of Communication David Keim.


19 responses to “Foreign nationals from China and Middle East had free rein at U.S. nuclear lab

  1. They never learn do they? Maybe they should hire National Park Rangers to provide security..LOL!


  2. This story is inaccurate. Oak Ridge National Laboratory is not a “nuclear weapons lab.” It is an open science facility with a long record of appropriately managing access and protecting information. It is not nicknamed “The Fort Knox of Uranium.” That is a reference to the Y-12 National Security Complex, which is an entirely different site. The nun broke into Y-12, not ORNL. At ORNL, inspectors found no examples of foreign visitors obtaining information to which they weren’t entitled.
    David Keim, ORNL


    • To: David Keim, Director of Communications, ORNL

      You wrote: “At ORNL, inspectors found no examples of foreign visitors obtaining information to which they weren’t entitled.”

      You are being disingenuous. At issue is not whether foreign visitors to Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) obtained info to which they weren’t entitled. That wasn’t even the purpose of the Dept of Energy Inspector General’s visit to ORNL. The purpose was to determine if ORNL followed procedures to insure the lab’s security by ensuring that foreign visitors to the lab are accompanied at all times.

      The following direct quotes (in italics) are from pp. 1-2, 3, 4, 5 of the 13-page Inspection Report titled “Unclassified Foreign National Visits and Assignments at Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” of the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Inspector General, Office of Audits and Inspections. Emphasis in bold are mine:

      During calendar year 2012, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Oak Ridge), which is managed by UT-Battelle, LLC, hosted approximately 6,400 foreign nationals. Such visits and assignments can be beneficial to the Department but may also create certain security risks. In October 2010, Department Order 142.3A, Unclassified Foreign Visits and Assignments Program, was revised to streamline requirements and re-evaluate processes to expedite foreign nationals’ access to the Department’s national laboratories. Oak Ridge implemented Department Order 142.3A through its Site Security Plan, which describes the assets that require protection, and the programs, organizations and procedures that provide protection for these assets. The Department Order and Site Security Plan require the Laboratory to assign a host to each foreign national.[…]

      Our inspection revealed that improvements are needed in the implementation of the Department’s Foreign National Visits and Assignments Program at Oak Ridge. We determined that contrary to Host Agreements and individual security plans, hosts did not always maintain accountability of foreign nationals as required. In addition, we found that Oak Ridge Office of Counterintelligence (Counterintelligence) officials did not ensure that required Counterintelligence consultations had been documented and completed in the Department’s Foreign Access Central Tracking System (FACTS) for foreign nationals prior to their visits. […] there was no assurance that hosts appropriately monitored foreign nationals’ activities as required.

      We determined that 7 of the 16 hosts we interviewed did not maintain contact with foreign nationals during their entire stay as required by Host Agreements and individual security plans. During interviews, we were provided examples in which foreign nationals returned to work at different Oak Ridge user facilities than their hosts’. Furthermore, according to hosts, advanced notification of return visits by the foreign nationals was not always provided. Occasionally, the hosts were not made aware of the return visits until after the foreign nationals had arrived on site. In one instance, a foreign national arrived and departed while the host was absent from Oak Ridge. Because the host was not notified in a timely manner, procedures requiring the delegation of an alternate were not followed. […]

      Hosts informed us that foreign nationals had been provided access to approximately 20 buildings, some with 24-hour access, for over 2 years. This access had been provided so foreign nationals could attend meetings, conferences and have access to a re-tooling laboratory on an as-needed basis. Although Department Order 142.3A does not specifically require that hosts accompany foreign nationals at all times, hosts indicated that because of the unlimited and open access granted to the foreign nationals
      they were unable to ensure that the requirements dictated in the Host Agreement and individual security plan were met. […] Foreign nationals were provided unaccompanied access to numerous buildings and as such, hosts were unable to ensure that the requirements in the Host Agreement and individual security plan were met. […]

      Collectively, these issues have the potential to increase Oak Ridge’s security risk that sensitive information and national security assets could potentially be lost or compromised. […]

      The Oak Ridge Site Office concurred with the report recommendations and identified actions it had planned or had already taken to address our recommendations.

      You can read the Report for yourself in PDF format here or go to:


      As to the nature of Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL):

      While you are correct in saying that ORNL is not a “nuclear weapons lab,” you are also being disingenuous because in saying ORNL is “an open science facility,” you are downplaying the security risks. While ORNL is not a specifically “nuclear weapons” lab, it most certainly is a high-level — in fact THE highest-level — NUCLEAR RESEARCH lab. The following is from Wikipedia:

      Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is a multiprogram science and technology national laboratory managed for the United States Department of Energy (DOE) by UT-Battelle. ORNL is the largest science and energy national laboratory in the Department of Energy system by acreage. ORNL is located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, near Knoxville. ORNL’s scientific programs focus on materials, neutron science, energy, high-performance computing, systems biology and national security. ORNL partners with the state of Tennessee, universities and industries to solve challenges in energy, advanced materials, manufacturing, security and physics. The laboratory is home to several of the world’s top supercomputers including the world’s second most powerful supercomputer ranked by the TOP500, Titan and is a leading neutron science and nuclear energy research facility that includes the Spallation Neutron Source and High Flux Isotope Reactor. ORNL hosts the Titan supercomputer; the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, the BioEnergy Science Center, and the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light-Water Reactors.


      You are correct about “Fort Knox of Uranium” being the nickname of Y-12, not ORNL. Thank you. I’ve deleted that reference from the post.

      Lastly, please re-read my post. I did not call ORNL a “nuclear weapons lab.” Judicial Watch did, in their lamentably sloppily-written article. I suggest you take the matter up with Judicial Watch.


    • David, your term, “The Fort Knox of Uranium,” yielded the following list of links in Google. All of them seem to think ORNL is “The Fort Knox of Uranium.”


      • Results of Google search for “The Fort Knox of Uranium”
        (first page of results)

        Breach of security at ‘Fort Knox’ of uranium sets off alarms | Reuters…/us-usa-security-nuclear-idUSBRE88B06E20120912‎
        Sep 12, 2012 – … July 2012, three aging anti-nuclear activists, including an 82-year-old nun, cut through fences surrounding the Fort Knox of uranium storage, …
        82-Year-Old Nun Breaks into the ‘Fort Knox of Uranium’ to Expose ……/82+year+old-nun-breaks-into-the-fort-knox-of-uranium-t…‎
        Sep 14, 2012 – Oh, man. This is some straight-up Homer Simpson shit right here. Security guards at the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility—which …
        the Fort Knox of Uranium – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel › Blogs › News and Opinion Blogs‎
        Apr 30, 2013 – The story, “The Prophets of Oak Ridge,” by Dan Zak is written in chapters and lavishly illustrated with photos and graphic novel-style …
        At The Fort Knox Of Uranium, With Bottles Of Blood |‎
        Apr 30, 2013 – On the other side of Pine Ridge was Bear Creek Valley — cradle of the Y-12 National Security Complex, the “Fort Knox of Uranium,” birthplace …
        82-year-old nun and two others breach ‘Fort Knox of Uranium,’ stay ……/82-year-old-nun-and-two-others-breach-fort-knox-of-u…‎
        Aug 22, 2012 – The Y-12 National Security Complex, which some liken to the highly secure Fort Knox, likening it to the “Fort Knox of Uranium,” is where some …
        Breach of security at “Fort Knox” of uranium sets off alarms – Chicago … › Featured Articles › Uranium‎
        Sep 12, 2012 – … activists, including an 82-year-old nun, cut through fences surrounding the ” Fort Knox” of uranium storage, and U.S. lawmakers want to.
        Break In & Security”the Fort Knox of uranium” – PrisonPlanet Forum;wap2‎
        Break In & Security”the Fort Knox of uranium”. (1/1). Ambriel: After “Fort Knox” break-in, U.S. nuclear stockpile security in focus
        Nuclear power | Homeland Security News Wire…‎
        Aug 22, 2012 – Three protesters arrested inside the “Fort Knox of Uranium” // Source: The Y-12 National Security Complex, where nuclear weapons …
        The Fort Knox of Uranium – Blogs – Knoxville News Sentinel › … › Frank Munger’s Atomic City Underground
        Mar 11, 2008 – photo Brett Pate/B&W Construction of the new $549 million storage complex at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant is now 74 percent completed, …
        Fort Knox of Uranium: night & day – Blogs – Knoxville News Sentinel › … › Frank Munger’s Atomic City Underground‎
        Jul 25, 2010 – B&W Y-12 photos Y-12 is often called the Fort Knox of Uranium, and the good stuff — bomb-grade uranium — is being consolidated at the new …


  3. Of course this confirms that Bill Clinton and former energy secretary and governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson did not have the best interests of the United States of America at heart. If Notra Trulock is considered a racist for reporting on communist espionage than so am I for fighting them; then, however, both Clinton and Richardson are traitors.


  4. A. James Gregor, Ph.D. & Professor

    I am somewhat surprised that a professional charged with the responsibilities of a Director of Communications would elect to handle queries from a responsible citizen in such a fashion. The governance of our nation is predicated on an openness and a flow of communication between the “political class” and its citizens–calculated to maintain, and where necessary, to restore mutual confidence and respect. The Founders of our political system were convinced that our form of government could not survive without the active interest and participation of informed citizens. It is the obligation of all those charged with public relations to work to maintain that confidence. To be dismissive of the public’s concern is to be derelict of one’s responsibilities. The fact that the Department of Energy warned of the real possibility of threats to our national security at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory is of sufficient importance to prompt citizen concern. Under any conceivable circumstance that concern should elicit reassurance rather than dismissal from any responsible spokesman for the facility under scrutiny. No one would expect a parsing of phrases (a “nuclear research facility” as distinct from a “nuclear weapons laboratory”)–when the question is whether or not our nation’s defense security might in any way be compromised. Questions that turn on our nation’s security require much more than a haughty dismissal.


  5. Pingback: Foreign nationals from China and Middle East had free rein at U.S. nuclear lab |

  6. Pingback: Giving Our Nuclear Secrets To Our Enemies | PatriotsBillboard

  7. This must be the “transparency” Barry Obama was talking about in the run-up to the ’08 election.



  8. excellent and informational post. You have set forth the grave fact that national security has been compromised. Mr. Keim, I suggest you read more carefully; attention to detail and the issue and meaning of a communication is necessary in order to understand the communication. As a director of communications, you should communicate more carefully and be able to understand the substance of someone’s communication. Not only are you dismissive, but you have missed the point. Clearly, your response suggests that our security is in questionable hands, a further breach of security for our nation. It is my hope that there are other competent individuals entrusted with communications insofar as our nation’s security is concerned.


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