Wyden, Dorgan Raise Security Concerns at Army Explosives Plant
Whistleblowers Allege Negligence, Deception by Security Contractor
Washington, DC - After learning of disturbing allegations of lax security at the Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Kingsport, Tennessee, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) are calling for an immediate investigation into the practices of Wackenhut Corporation, the private contractor responsible for security at the facility. The Holston plant produces explosives used in U.S. weapons systems, including the Sidewinder, Hellfire, Tomahawk and Javelin missiles. As one Army spokesperson has explained, "I think you can safely say if it goes boom, it comes from here."
"I was very disturbed to hear of the alarming state of security at one of our nation's leading explosives facilities. This is an invitation to disaster," Wyden said. "If the contractor is not up to the job, it's critical that the Army take the steps necessary to secure these weapons away from the hands of terrorists."
"I think that we should all be alarmed by whistleblower reports that one of our country's most sensitive explosive facilities has had its security breached," stated Dorgan. "This does not speak well for our ability to secure key facilities after the events of September 11, and calls for a thorough investigation by the Inspector General."
Current Wackenhut employees approached the Senators with serious allegations of systemic failures to secure the Holston plant. The accounts include unlocked buildings; the frequent discovery of holes cut into perimeter fencing; expensive, specialized equipment left unused; and civilians in rowboats gaining access to the plant by water. The whistleblowers also alleged that Wackenhut deliberately misleads government investigators during drills and inspections. During one inspection, it is contended that the contractor went so far as to represent an on-site mailman as a plain-clothes patrol officer.
Earlier this year, Senators Wyden and Dorgan requested that the Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) investigate allegations by Wackenhut whistleblowers of similar, serious security problems at the DHS Washington Headquarters. Soon after the request, Wackenhut was replaced by another contractor.
The following is a text of the Senators' letter to the Inspector General of the U.S. Army:
September 25, 2006
Lieutenant General Stanley E. Green
United States Army
Dear General Green:
We have been contacted by a group of current and former employees of Wackenhut Corporation, the private contractor that handles security for the Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Kingsport, Tennessee, who describe serious security lapses at the plant.
As you know, the Holston plant produces explosives used in U.S. weapons systems, including the Sidewinder, Hellfire, Tomahawk and Javelin missiles. As one Army spokesperson has explained, "I think you can safely say if it goes boom, it comes from here."
These whistleblowers tell us that Wackenhut provides lax security at this key facility and have described several specific incidents. The whistleblowers' accounts include the following:
Wackenhut has failed to secure the facility. Civilians in rowboats have gained access to the plant by water. Holes cut in the fence around the perimeter are frequently found. Buildings containing high explosives are often left unlocked. Expensive specialized equipment, including an x-ray machine and explosive detection technology, purchased to secure the facility is not used.
Wackenhut does not take security breaches seriously. Guards rarely patrol some of the buildings containing high explosives. And to save gas, Wackenhut has cut back on perimeter patrols.
Wackenhut has misled investigators during drills and inspections. For instance, hydraulic vehicle barriers are installed for official inspections and then removed once the inspections are completed. Similarly, during one inspection, the company enlisted the on-site mailman (a Wackenhut employee) to do a "plain clothes perimeter patrol." Wackenhut did not disclose the mailman's actual job responsibilities to inspectors.
Given the threat of terrorism facing our country and the dangerous explosives manufactured at this facility, these allegations raise grave concerns.
We would note that earlier this year we requested that the Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security conduct an investigation of allegations by Wackenhut whistleblowers of similar, serious security problems at the DHS Washington headquarters. Subsequent to our request, Wackenhut was dropped from that contract, and replaced with a different contractor.
In view of the above, we request that you conduct a prompt investigation of these allegations. Because of the sensitivity of these alleged security breaches, we will forward you the detailed information we have obtained from the whistleblowers under separate cover. Please have your staff contact Gabriel Adler in the Dorgan office at (202) 224-5781 or Alex Perkins in the Wyden office at (202) 224-5233 to arrange this.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Sen. Ron Wyden
Sen. Byron Dorgan