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Context of '2002: Bush Administration Approves 10 Percent of Funds for Securing Nuclear Facilities'

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The Bush administration cancels the 2004 deadline for automobile companies to develop prototype “supercars” capable of getting as much as 80 miles per gallon. The supercar program—initiated during the Clinton administration—will be replaced with one that focuses on “longer-term technologies,” according to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. The federal government has so far sunk $1.4 billion into the “supercars” program. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/10/2001]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Spencer Abraham

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Energy Department Secretary Spencer Abraham asks for almost $380 million for added security at US nuclear facilities (see February 15, 2004). The Bush administration approves less than 10 percent of that figure, $26.4 million. Items that are not funded include: secure barriers and fences; funds to secure computer programs vulnerable to hackers; equipment to detect explosives hidden in packages and vehicles entering a nuclear site; and the reduction in the number of sites that store bomb-grade plutonium and uranium. [Carter, 2004, pp. 18]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Department of Energy, Spencer Abraham

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Nuclear Threat Initiative logo.Nuclear Threat Initiative logo. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative]The US decides to oversee the removal of two nuclear weapons’ worth of nuclear material from the Vinca Institute in Serbia, part of a defunct Yugoslavian nuclear weapons program. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has cut funding for the government’s nuclear nonproliferation programs so drastically (see January 10, 2001 and After) that it is forced to rely on the efforts of a private foundation. The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), founded by former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn and media tycoon Ted Turner, contributes $5 million to the effort—double the funding contributed by the State Department. US and Serbian authorities, in conjunction with NTI, transport 5,000 rods of highly enriched uranium from the site, most likely to be stored at Russia’s Ulyanovsk Nuclear Processing Plant. “Serbia might have decided to sell this material to Iraq,” says national security expert Joseph Cirincione. “It’s a good thing for all of us that that possibility has now been eliminated.” When the operation is successfully concluded, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, whose department oversees the securing of “loose” nuclear material from around the world, learns of it through newspaper reports. [Nuclear Threat Initiative, 8/23/2002; New York Times, 8/23/2002; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 208]

Entity Tags: Sam Nunn, Nuclear Threat Initiative, Joseph Cirincione, Spencer Abraham, Vinca Institute, Bush administration (43), Ted Turner

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Energy Department’s intelligence agency meet to discuss the draft of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which will be published the following month (see October 1, 2002). Representing the DOE’s intelligence service is Thomas Ryder, who is temporarily filling in as the office’s acting director. Significantly, Ryder is a “human resources guy” with no intelligence background. “Ryder is not an intelligence guy by any stretch of the imagination,” a DOE source will later explain to World Net Daily. “He [has]… no intel background whatsoever. He [works] on all the personnel stuff—paperwork for promotions, hiring contractors, stuff like that.” At the meeting, Ryder is supposed to represent the position of the DOE’s scientists and intelligence officers, who believe that Iraq has not reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. Scientists in the Energy Department as well as officers in the department’s intelligence office want to join the INR in its dissenting vote. One official will later explain to World Net Daily, “Senior folks in the office wanted to join INR on the footnote, and even wanted to write it with them, so the footnote would have read, ‘Energy and INR.’” [WorldNetDaily, 8/12/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004 Sources: Unnamed US official] Instead Ryder will side with the other intelligence agencies who claim that Iraq has reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. An official later tells World Net Daily that when Ryder and his staff were arguing over Iraq’s alleged program during a pre-brief, Ryder told them to “shut up and sit down.” [WorldNetDaily, 8/12/2003 Sources: Unnamed US official] When the voting takes place, Ryder does not sign his department onto the State Department’s dissenting opinion. As a result, the final vote is a near unanimous 5-1. “Time comes for the Iraq NIE, and instead of being hard-charging and proactive and pulling everybody together, he just didn’t know what to do,” one source later says. “He wasn’t a strong advocate. He just didn’t have the background. He didn’t have the gravitas.” The Department of Energy’s position on the issue is considered very important. “Energy’s vote on the nuclear allegation was critical, because the department is viewed as the final arbiter of technical disputes regarding nuclear-proliferation issues,” World Net Daily will note. [WorldNetDaily, 8/12/2003; WorldNetDaily, 8/12/2003 Sources: Unnamed US official] While serving in the temporary DOE position, Ryder, who is said to be close to Secretary Spencer Abraham, receives bonuses totaling $20,500. Energy insiders will say they cannot remember a previous instance where an intelligence chief had been provided with such a large bonus. “That’s a hell of a lot of money for an intelligence director who had no experience or background in intelligence, and who’d only been running the office for nine months,” one official says. “Something’s fishy.” [WorldNetDaily, 8/12/2003]

Entity Tags: Thomas S. Ryder, Spencer Abraham, Bureau of Intelligence and Research

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Aerial view of Los Alamos test site.Aerial view of Los Alamos test site. [Source: DefenseTech.org]Rich Levernier, a specialist with the Department of Energy (DOE) for 22 years, spent over six years before the 9/11 attacks running nuclear war games for the US government. In a Vanity Fair article, Levernier reveals what he shows to be critical weaknesses in security for US nuclear plants. Levernier’s special focus was the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory and nine other major nuclear facilities. The Los Alamos facility is the US’s main storage plant for processing plutonium and obsolete (but still effective) nuclear weapons. Levernier’s main concern was terrorist attacks. Levernier’s procedure was to, once a year, stage a mock terrorist attack using US military commandos to assault Los Alamos and the other nuclear weapons facilities, with both sides using harmless laser weapons to simulate live fire. Levernier’s squads were ordered to penetrate a given weapons facility, capture its plutonium or highly enriched uranium, and escape. The facilities’ security forces were tasked to repel the mock attacks.
Multiple Failures - Levernier is going public with the results of his staged attacks, and the results are, in the words of Vanity Fair reporter Mark Hertsgaard, “alarming.” Some facilities failed every single test. Los Alamos fell victim to the mock attacks over 50 percent of the time, with Levernier’s commandos getting in and out with the goods without firing a shot—they never encountered a guard. And this came when security forces were told months in advance exactly what day the assaults would take place. Levernier calls the nuclear facilities’ security nothing more than “smoke and mirrors.… On paper, it looks good, but in reality, it’s not. There are lots of shiny gates and guards and razor wire out front. But go around back and there are gaping holes in the fence, the sensors don’t work, and it just ain’t as impressive as it appears.” The Los Alamos facility houses 2.7 metric tons of plutonium and 3.2 metric tons of highly enriched uranium; experts say that a crude nuclear device could be created using just 11 pounds of plutonium or 45 pounds of highly enriched uranium. Arjun Makhijani, the head of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, says the most dangerous problem exposed by Levernier is the possibility of terrorists stealing plutonium from Los Alamos. It would be a relatively simple matter to construct a so-called “dirty bomb” that could devastate an American city. Even a terrorist attack that set off a “plutonium fire” could result in hundreds of cancer deaths and leave hundreds of square miles uninhabitable.
Involuntary Whistleblower - Levernier is not comfortable about being a whistleblower, and until now has never spoken to the press or Congress about his experiences. He finds himself coming forward now because, after spending six years trying unsuccessfully to persuade his bosses at the DOE to address the problems, they refused to even acknowledge that a problem existed. Shortly before he spoke to Hertsgaard, he was fired for a minor infraction and stripped of his security clearance, two years before he was due to retire with a full pension. He has filed a lawsuit against the DOE, charging that he was illegally gagged and improperly fired. He is speaking out, he says, in the hopes of helping prevent a catastrophic terrorist attack against the US that is entirely preventable. Levonier asserts that the Bush administration is doing little more than talking tough about nuclear security (see February 15, 2004). [Carter, 2004, pp. 17-18; Vanity Fair, 2/15/2004]

Entity Tags: Mark Hertsgaard, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Arjun Makhijani, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Vanity Fair, James Ford, Rich Levernier, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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