As night follows day, every summer, around the first week of August there are protests at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge. Activists gather to protest and commemorate the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. The groups that usually show up are similar to or in sympathy with the ‘Plowshares” protesters currently on trial in federal court in Knoxville, and facing up to 30 years in prison for injuring a national defense facility and depredation of government property. Theirs was no ordinary vandalism. Roman Catholic Sister Megan Rice, 83, Greg Boejtje-Obed, 57 and Michael Walli, 64, overcame the significant security apparatus, crossed federal boundaries, cut fences and entered Y-12’s inner sanctum, and then spray-painted messages and tossed blood onto the uranium storage facility. Had the security forces acted in accordance with established procedures, lethal force would have been a primary option to deal with such an invasion.
Like every federal judicial district in the U.S., the federal law enforcement establishment in east Tennessee operates a Joint Terrorism Task Force. The lead agency of the JTTF is the FBI and it is comprised of other federal, state and local enforcement personnel. The JTTF’s mandate is not only to react to significant incidents but to anticipate events. That means that the JTTF’s “eyes and ears” should be alerted, in advance, to the persons and groups that are likely to carry out “plowshares” type activities. Was the Y-12 incident preventable in the first place? Probably. No organization, however, works with perfect unison or effect. Most times, we can only hope that injury and damage are minimized. In this case, we were half lucky. The faulty security system has been exposed and hopefully corrected minus a more horrendous act, i.e. theft or exposure. No one was injured except for reputations. Better luck next time.