Weapons Plant Security Contractor Says Training Mistake Allegation False

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (AP) -- Allegations by a watchdog group that a mistake during a terrorism drill at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn., nearly resulted in guards being fired upon are ``completely untrue,'' according to the company that conducted the drill.

The drill, which occurred Sept. 1 on the 33,000-acre Oak Ridge reservation, featured ``force-on-force'' tests using laser sensor equipment to assess how well Y-12 security can defend against a terrorist attack.

During the exercise, the plant is guarded by another group, a so-called ``shadow force,'' that is armed in case of a true attack.

Both government security contractor Wackenhut Services, which conducted the exercise, and Washington-based Project on Government Oversight agree that an alarm went off during the drill -- sending the shadow force out to investigate.

It's what happened next that's in dispute.

POGO says a mix-up in the alarm station mistakenly led those overseeing the armed guards to believe there were true intruders. ``At that point, the armed shadow force was engaged and came within seconds of firing on the unarmed adversary force,'' POGO says in a statement released Monday.

``Other guards who heard the radio traffic and believed that live ammunition was going to be introduced into the exercise quickly hid so as not to be shot.''

Wackenhut acknowledges the alarm sounded but says all participants were frozen in place until the situation could be evaluated, according to Lee Brooks, the company's deputy general manager.

``At no time was anyone ever even close to being shot at,'' Brooks said. ``They weren't even in close proximity.''

Brooks said that during the incident, one employee -- whom he didn't name -- questioned whether the company's response was conducted according to procedure. Because of that, an ``informal investigation'' by a Wackenhut senior controller and two federal representatives was conducted, he said.

``It was validated that night that everything happened absolutely properly,'' he said.

POGO says no formal investigation was conducted into the incident until Sept. 10. The training exercise should not have continued because a near miss was a serious violation of departmental procedure, the group says.

Wackenhut says the Sept. 10 investigation was the second probe -- the first being the night of the incident -- and it occurred after an anonymous letter ``making the allegations appeared under the door.''

After that, a ``detailed analysis and evaluation'' was done that showed Wackenhut was correct in the way it handled the situation, Brooks said.

Asked for a copy of that investigation's findings, Brook referred The Associated Press to Y-12 officials, saying they were the only ones allowed to release such information. Diane Fields, a spokeswoman for Oak Ridge, confirmed an analysis was done but said it was classified and couldn't give any more detail.

Wackenhut says the anonymous letter likely came from the same employee who earlier raised questions about the procedure.

``We're in the process of rebidding (for the contract),'' Brooks said. ``We have personnel who like to do whatever they can to embarrass us because they're working with competitors.

``We believe that is probably some of the basis for this.''

But POGO consultant Peter Stockton, who was special assistant to former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, says the ``whole issue is the sloppiness of this.''

``When you're running a force-on-force, you need to be extraordinarily careful you don't have live fire, because people have been killed before,'' he said.

This isn't the first time Wackenhut's training methods have drawn controversy.

Last month, as six guards were practicing reload techniques with semiautomatic handguns -- supposedly using inert ammunition that looks like real bullets -- a live bullet was discharged and struck a refrigerator. No one was injured.

And in January, a federal inspector general's report accused Wackenhut's 400-plus contractor guard force of cheating on performance drills.