Breach of nuclear facility endangered US security
Last updated 15:09 08/05/2013
Three peace activists, including a now 83-year-old nun, endangered US national security last year when they breached a secure facility where enriched uranium for nuclear bombs is stored, a federal official testified on Tuesday at their trial.
Steven Erhart, site manager for the heavily guarded Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, said the July 2012 break-in disrupted operations at the primary US site for processing and storage of enriched uranium.
"The 15-day shutdown put everything behind in terms of nuclear operations," Erhart told jurors in the federal court in Knoxville. "It hurt our credibility and that credibility is tied to nuclear deterrence."
Michael Walli, Greg Boertje-Obed and nun Megan Rice, who are charged with sabotage and destruction of federal property, cut several fences, walked through the complex for hours and spray-painted slogans and hammered on the walls of the facility. When confronted by a single guard, Kirk Garland, they offered him food and began singing.
"We were filled with love and compassion for the people working at the facility," Rice testified on Tuesday. "I sort of had the intuition that for 70 years you couldn't keep up 24-7 observation."
Defence attorneys said the activists, who belong to a group called Transform Now Plowshares, had taken part in a symbolic break-in that did not harm the facility.
It cost more than $8500 to repair fences and other structures after the incident, according to testimony presented by the prosecution, which rested its case on Tuesday.
The breach sparked investigations by the US Congress and the Energy Department, which oversees nuclear facilities. An Energy Department inspector general report in August found "troubling displays of ineptitude" at the complex.
Shortly after the incident, the top security official at the National Nuclear Security Agency and two other federal officials were reassigned. Also, top officials at WSI, the international security company that provided security at Oak Ridge, were removed and officers were fired, demoted or suspended.
In January, Consolidated Nuclear Security LLC was named to manage security at the site, replacing Babcock & Wilcox Co , which had contracted some of the security work to WSI, a unit of G4S.
Under cross-examination by defence attorneys, Erhart said the breach pointed to "systemic issues and problems with security that should have been detected."
Garland, the first security officer who responded, testified that he had worked nearly 30 years for the Energy Department and described the defendants as "passive" demonstrators. He did not immediately restrain them and was later terminated.
"Given my experience, I knew at that point what I had," Garland said. "They told me they were sent from God and they wanted to read a statement to me. They also read to me from the Bible, (Book of) Isaiah if I recall correctly."
Sergeant Chad Riggs testified that when he approached the scene, he ordered the three defendants to lie down to protect himself and Garland, who he said he thought "was more lax than he should be with an unknown threat."
Defence attorneys said in opening statements the defendants had not tried to tamper with the manufacturing facility and did not threaten national security.
"They had white roses and Bibles, they didn't have grenades, guns, dynamite or camouflage," said Christopher Irwin, who represents Walli. "They had none of the tools needed to obstruct national security."
"You will hear no evidence that they tried to blow a hole in the wall or break in," Irwin said. "They took household hammers and tapped the corner of a building."
Defence attorneys asked for a directed acquittal on the destruction of federal property charge after prosecutors finished presenting their case. District Judge Amul Thapar said he would consider it.
If convicted, the activists face up to 20 years in prison on the charge of damaging a national defence premises and 10 years for causing more than $1,000 damage to property of the United States, the Energy Department, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Y-12 National Security Complex.
Obama sings from Bush song sheet
Last updated 14:24 06/05/2013
YURI GIRPAS/ Reuters
President Barack Obama urged the graduating class of Ohio State University to take an active role in guiding the future of democracy in the United States and to fight for the issues the new graduates care about.
"There's a word for this," he said.
"It's citizenship. Sometimes we see it as a virtue from another time."
He said he was asking of them what President George W Bush did when he addressed OSU graduates in 2002, and quoted the former president: "'America needs more than taxpayers, spectators and occasional voters. America needs full-time citizens.'"
In the first of three commencement addresses he will give this month, Obama called on the more than 10,000 graduates to do two things: Participate and persevere.
He said they should participate in the democratic process, which he was quick to note "isn't working as well as we know it can," particularly in Washington.
"Those of us fortunate enough to serve in these institutions owe it to you to do better, every single day," he said.
He implored the graduates to work hard to change the country, which has seen its share of turmoil recently, including the Boston Marathon bombings, the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and the Texas fertilizer plant explosion.
"You have been tested and tempered by events that your parents and I never imagined we'd see when we sat where you sit," Obama said.
"And yet, despite all this, or perhaps because of it, yours has become a generation possessed with that most American of ideas - that people who love their country can change it."
The president was optimistic, telling graduates and the 57,000 others who filled Ohio Stadium that the country is on the road to economic recovery.
The auto industry is headed toward its strongest performance in two decades and advances have been made in domestic energy and information and technology, he said.
"You are graduating into an economy and job market that are steadily healing," Obama said.
He cautioned them, though, to remember that: "If there is one certainty about the decade ahead, it's that things will be uncertain."
"Change will be a constant, just as it has been throughout our history," he said.
Senior Shelby Lum of Atlanta said that Obama's message resonated with the crowd.
"Citizenship is a sentiment that everyone can relate to," she said.
"And people are going to listen more closely because he's the president."
Obama's 25-minute address shied away from foreign policy, immigration and gun control - issues that his administration has been grappling with for months.
Sunday's visit was Obama's fifth to the campus since March 2012, according to university spokeswoman Amy Murray. He won the battleground state in the 2008 and 2012 elections.
Obama is the third sitting president to deliver the commencement address at OSU, Murray said.
Bush spoke in the spring of 2002 and Gerald R Ford - raised in neighbouring Michigan - addressed the graduates in 1974.
George HW Bush spoke to graduates when he was vice president, and Bill Clinton addressed them in 2007, after he had left office.
Obama received an honourary law degree from the university and donned an Ohio State baseball cap with his gown to the delight of the graduates, the second-largest class in the university's history. The class included 130 military veterans.
The president is scheduled to speak later this month to graduates at Morehouse College, the all-male historically black school in Atlanta, and the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
- WASHINGTON POST/ BLOOMBERG