Wackenhut's Nuclear Security Contract Questioned by Members of Congress, GAO

WASHINGTON -- The following was issued by Service Employees International Union:

The nuclear industry's use of controversial private firm Wackenhut to train and manage the attacking teams used in security drills at U.S. nuclear plants is coming under increasing criticism from government investigators and Republican and Democratic members of a key Congressional Committee overseeing nuclear security.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Republican and Democratic lawmakers raised questions and concerns about Wackenhut at a September 14 hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations, chaired by Republican Congressman Christopher Shays.

Testimony focused on the controversial decision by the nuclear power industry's trade association, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), to contract with Wackenhut to train and manage adversary teams used in simulated attacks to test security at nuclear power plants -- half of which are guarded by Wackenhut personnel. The tests, called "force-on-force" drills, are used by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to evaluate the plants' security. With Wackenhut now involved in testing itself and its competitors, the new arrangement is a clear conflict of interest.

"A proposal to hire an attacking force from the same company used to protect several plants raises legitimate concerns about the integrity of future mandatory force-on-force exercises," said Rep. Shays (R-Conn.).

GAO Director of Natural Resources and Environment, Jim Wells said in his official testimony, "Although NRC is taking action ... to establish an adversary force trained in terrorist tactics, NRC is not establishing the force in a manner that provides confidence that the force will be independent and highly trained, and will endeavor to find weaknesses in the facilities' security. NRC delegated the task of establishing the adversary force to an organization -- the Nuclear Energy Institute -- that represents the licensees of nuclear power plants. The company the Institute selected [Wackenhut] currently provides security guards to about half of the nuclear power sites to be tested. The company's relationship with the industry raises questions about the force's independence. Of further concern, this company was recently involved in a controversy over similar tests."

Wackenhut was caught cheating on a security drill held in June 2003 at a Department of Energy nuclear weapons site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

"Wackenhut provides security for close to half of the nuclear power plants," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). "By allowing them to provide the attack teams, a company with a troubling track record will be basically policing themselves."

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), said, "To anyone with a shred of common sense, it was a poor choice."

"The NRC must not permit this farce," added David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a leading nuclear watchdog group.

The hearing came on the heels of a report last week on NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw that raised concerns about the Wackenhut conflict of interest. Articles also have appeared in the New York Times, Wall St. Journal, and other news outlets.

"Given Wackenhut's security record, we are playing nuclear Russian roulette," said Stephen Lerner, Security Director of SEIU, America's largest security officers union. "Just like when airports were guarded by private companies with poor security records, we are asking for trouble."