A key job requirement for federal agents ferrying nuclear weapons around the United States —no surprise here— is that they shouldn’t have “anger management” issues.
Incidents of “hostility or aggression toward fellow workers or authority [or] uncontrolled anger” represent rules infractions that must be reported to top officials overseeing the nuclear couriers, according to the government’s personnel manual for them.
But the commander of a nuclear courier squad based in Oak Ridge, Tennessee – where the uranium portions of H-bombs are fabricated, stored, and periodically moved to other federal sites – allegedly threatened to kill one of his colleagues two years ago, and senior officials did not learn about it for five months, according to a recent inspection report by the Department of Energy’s top auditor.
Moreover, the commander in question repeatedly engaged in related misconduct, without more senior officials being promptly informed, the report said. “Each of the seven incidents” described by the commander’s colleagues during the auditor’s investigation “involved physical or verbal altercations,” the report said. The misconduct began as long as a decade ago, but it wasn’t reported up the chain of command.
“Additionally, we found that other [courier] agents engaged in unsuitable, reportable behavior,” said the November 2014 account by Energy Department deputy inspector general Rickey R. Hass. His report was initially declared “Official Use Only” by the Energy Department, but was publicly released in recent days in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by a trade publication known as Greenwire.
The commander in question was not named, and he denied “the threat allegation,” the report said. But when senior officials eventually were informed, he was suspended, and today he remains on administrative leave. (A spokesman for the department declined to make him available for an interview.) The report noted that on two other occasions, in 2004 and 2008, the commander got into physical altercations with couriers, according to the accounts of those who worked with him, but senior officials said these also were not properly reported.
The alleged misconduct is embarrassing for a group of military and special forces veterans that arguably performs one of the nation’s most sensitive tasks – securely transporting nuclear bombs and weapons-usable nuclear materials among several dozen government factories, storage sites, and military installations nationwide, such as missile and bomber bases and submarine ports.
The stated mission of the little-known courier group, the Office of Secure Transportation – an entity within the department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)— is to “defend, recapture, recover” the bombs or explosives they transport. The unit is proud of never having lost an H-bomb to accident or theft – not even one. A plutonium-carrying truck rolled onto its side in a 1981 Colorado icestorm, and a truck carrying two warheads rolled onto its side in a 1996 Nebraska icestorm, but neither accident released radiation or blew anything up.