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The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Emperor has No Clothes -- Nor Security

By Ann Wright

The city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee and its neighbor Knoxville, are government towns.  Oak Ridge has been called “the closed city,” reminiscent of government cities in the old Soviet Union that were closed to the public because of sensitive weapons production and other activities Soviets wanted to keep from prying eyes.  In the case of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the U.S. government wants to keep the production of nuclear bombs and their components away from public scrutiny.

Oak Ridge is a tough place to challenge the biggest employer in the area, a southern town where dissent is abnormal and prejudices of all sorts run deep in the culture and heritage.

Nine months ago, on July 28, 2012, three persons,  with the snip of four fences found themselves in the Oak Ridge nuclear weapons complex beside the most sensitive and dangerous of all buildings in the nuclear weapons program of the United States--the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF)

Sister Megan Rice, an 83 year old nun from in Washington, D.C, Michael Walli, a 63 year old veteran with two tours in Vietnam and now a “missionary” for the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker house in Washington, D.C and Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, a Vietnam era  Army medical officer and now a Minnesota house painter  were arrested and charged with harming the national defense and causing more than $1000 damage to a government facility. 

The defendants had no thoughts of asking for a venue in any other place; this company town is where exposure to different ideas about nuclear weapons should happen, they believed.

There were 70 prospective jurors called for jury duty. Most had government backgrounds, family members or friends who had worked for the government. Only 3 had ever been to any type of protest, march or demonstration on any issue.

Despite nodding affirmatively that she/he would be able to vote not-guilty if the government did not present evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the elements of the charges had been met, one would hazard an opinion that each juror knew that crosses would be burned in their yards, children would be shunned at school and they would be stigmatized for the rest of their lives for voting not to convict the defendants, those challenging the nuclear weapons of their city and our country.

So, the three defendants went on trial for harming the United States national defense and causing physical damage to a defense facility in excess of $1000.  There was no charge of trespass.

In the early morning of July 28, 2012, the three defendants prayed in a church parking lot, walked a few hundred yards to a perimeter fence of the Y12 complex, carefully snipped the boundary fence to the Y12 National Nuclear Security Complex at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  No alarm sounded, not patrol arrived to check on possible intruders.

Finding no security to stop them, three decided to walk ahead and slowly climbed up a hill in switchbacks as the 82 year old nun had a heart condition and could not walk for long distances.  After frequent stops, the group finally emerged at the top of the hill, along the Oak Ridge line and looked down on America’s most dangerous nuclear facility.  Since no patrol had come to stop them, they kept moving down the hill toward the complex in the valley, called by the “spirit,” they later said.

Soon they encountered three more fences and with the bolt cutters they carried, they cut through the first fence-no alarms, no sensors, sounded.  No patrols arrived, so they cut through the next fence and then the final fence.  They found themselves at the base of a fortress like building.  Taking from their backpacks cans of spray paint, they sprayed some of the walls with biblical sayings “the fruit of justice is peace.”  They hung a banner on the last fence that read “Transform now”. They took their hammers and knocked a small chunk of concrete out of the wall and took baby bottles filled with the blood of a priest who, before he died asked that some of his blood be poured on a nuclear facility to symbolize the blood of those killed by U.S. nuclear weapons during World War II and the testing of nuclear weapons afterwards.

Many minutes into their activities, a guard inside the building finally glanced at a camera screen and noticed that there seemed to be a hole in the fence and something hanging from the fence.  He called for a patrol car to come to investigate.  The first officer arrived and spotted three persons walking toward him.  He then saw the spray painted walls.  With 19 years of working as a security guard at Rocky Flats nuclear facility in Colorado, the guard decided the three were protesters of nuclear weapons and called his assessment to the operations center.  A second security guard arrived and then three were arrested.  After spending several days in the county jail, they were released pending their trial nine months later, May 7-8, 2013.

At their trial last week in the government town of Knoxville, Tennessee, not unexpectedly, the three were convicted in less than three hours by a jury with decidedly different opinions on nuclear weapons than the defendants.  The government’s main argument was that the defendants caused harm to the credibility of America’s nuclear weapons program by exposing weaknesses in the security of the facility.

The defense position that they three had done a public service by revealing the  critical gaps in the security was considered irrelevant.  They were castigated for their actions which brought the production of nuclear weapons to a standstill as new security training was given to everyone at the nuclear complex.  They were held accountable for the delay in a secret convoy that was to have arrived at Oak Ridge, but was delayed because of the crisis in the security of the facility.

And it’s not the first time that senior citizens have embarrassed the nuclear weapons program of the United States.  In November, 2009, five persons,  CatholicSister Anne Montgomery, 84, Father Bill “Bix” Bichsel, 82, Father Steve Kelly, 61, Susan Crane, 67, and Lynne Greenwald, 61, cut through two fences and found their way to bunkers in which nuclear weapons were stored at Kitsap-Bangor Naval Base, Washington, the largest nuclear weapons storage facility in the United States.  They sprayed painted some walls and planted sunflowers and hours later flagged down a security car as they had been out in the rain for hours and were cold. In December, 2010, they were found guilty of criminal trespass, destruction of government property and conspiracy. In 2011, the judge sentenced the five to 2 to 15 months in prison

Jesuit priest Bill Bichsel, 82, to 3 months in prison and 6 months home monitoring.Sister Anne Montgomery, 84, to 2  months in prison and 4 months home monitoring.Lynne Greenwald, 61, to 6 months in prison with 60 hours of community service.Jesuit priest Stephen Kelly, 61, to 15 months in prison.Susan Crane, 67, to 15 months in prison.

In May, 2013, an Air Force investigation revealed a missile launch force in disarray and resulted in the unprecedented removal of 17 launch officers from their duty at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. Weapons safety rules were being violated and codes for the Air Force's most powerful nuclear missiles may have been compromised, among other failings cited in a report. Even the orders of superiors were being questioned, and they were not being shown the proper respect.  "We are, in fact, in a crisis right now," Lt. Col. Jay Folds, deputy commander of the 91st Operations Group, told subordinates in an email obtained by the AP. The group is responsible for all Minuteman 3 missile launch crews at Minot.  Read more here:

Back to Oak Ridge, citing the dangers the defendants caused to national security, the federal judge remanded the three convicted in the Y-12 Oak Ridge trial to the county jail.  It looks like they may end up staying in the county jail until the sentencing hearing in September, 2013, when they, no doubt, will be sentenced to time in federal prison.

No U.S. government official was charged with dereliction of duty for jeopardizing national security in the lack of protection for nuclear weapons at the Y-12 Oak Ridge Nuclear Complex.

About the Author:  Ann Wright served in the US Army/Army Reserves for 29 years and retired as a Colonel.  She also was a US diplomat for 16 years and resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.  She has been arrested for challenging Bush and Obama administrations’ policies of illegal wars, torture, assassin drones and curtailment of civil liberties. She was a witness for the defendants in the Oak Ridge Transform Now Plowshares trial. She is the co-author of  the book “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”


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