July 19, 2007 -- A contract worker at the Oak Ridge Reservation nuclear research complex has been arrested and charged with stealing and trying to sell highly classified nuclear equipment.
The two count federal indictment, unsealed Thursday afternoon, alleges Roy Lynn Oakley, 67, had possession of materials associated with uranium enrichment, and "having reason to believe that such data would be utilized to injure the United States and secure and advantage to a foreign nation, did communicate, transmit, and disclose such data to another person."
Sources familiar with the investigation told ABC News that Oakley, a former low-level employee of contract firm Bechtel Jacobs – which declined to comment for this story – contacted the French Embassy to inquire about selling his goods. The French contacted U.S. officials to alert them to the alleged scheme.
Oakley reportedly thought he was selling the materials to a foreign operative, but the government said he was actually selling it to U.S. undercover agent.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein said in a statement, "None of the stolen equipment was ever transmitted to a foreign government or terrorist organization."
Oakley's attorney Herb Moncier downplayed his client's actions, suggesting Oakley was not tying to harm the United States. Moncier called the materials "broken rods that were going to be thrown away."
Moncier also said of the alleged attempted deal, "We are dealing with a friendly nation."
Oakley had worked for the contractor at the East Tennessee Technology Park, a uranium enrichment cleanup site. That facility's gaseous diffusion capabilities were utilized during the Manhattan Project to enrich uranium for use in weapons production. The Manhattan Project produced the world's first nuclear bomb.
Oak Ridge site manager Gerald Boyd said Thursday that the Department of Energy is "currently decontaminating and decommissioning" ETTP buildings, saying they "were last used in 1985."
"Unfortunately, there are some who make unfortunate choices and abuse the trust given to them," said Boyd, "and this case demonstrates the importance of federal coordination and the need for ongoing vigilance."
Sources emphasize that the public was never in danger, but acknowledge that the case represents a major breach and raises serious questions about the security at some of the nation's most sensitive nuclear installations.
"The FBI should be congratulated for their role in thwarting this situation. However, a series of troubling security breaches show that the nuclear weapons complex simply does not take security as seriously as it should," Peter Stockton said in a statement. Stockton is an investigator for the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, and also served as an advisor to then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.
This latest incident comes on the heels of a security breach at New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory in the fall.
In that case, a contract employee at the lab took classified documents and computer files home with her. The materials were discovered only after authorities searched her home on a separate matter — a domestic disturbance-call-turned-methamphetamine-lab raid.
The former employee at the center of the Los Alamos breakdown pleaded guilty to knowingly removing classified information from the national security research laboratory in May.
Nuclear lab security has been scrutinized after several embarrassing breaches at other government-run nuclear facilities.
Also at the Los Alamos National Lab, a weapons scientist was accused of stealing nuclear weapons secrets in 1999. He later pleaded guilty to mishandling classified information.
The next year, at the same facility, the FBI began an investigation into missing nuclear emergency search team hard drives. The drives were found days later behind a photocopy machine.
In 2004, when an administrative error at Los Alamos led security officials to believe that computer disks containing nuclear secrets had been misplaced, operations at the lab were ordered to essentially shut down. An FBI investigation concluded the disks had never existed.
After that incident, the Department of Energy instituted policies to reduce the amount of files and materials that could be placed on a computer disk.
Other security breaches at California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Y-12 nuclear weapons production facility and storage site — near the Oak Ridge complex — revealed a series of lost security keys at both sites.
The series of breaches lead to the ouster of National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Linton Brooks in January. Brooks had held the position since 2002, and was officially confirmed in 2003.
In announcing the resignation, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman referenced the "serious security breach" a few months earlier at Los Alamos and other management issues that had plagued the National Nuclear Security Administration.
"While I believe that the current NNSA management has done its best to address these concerns, I do not believe that progress in correcting these issues has been adequate," Bodman's statement said.
"I repeatedly have told DOE [the Department of Energy] and laboratory employees, and, in particular, senior managers, we must be accountable to the president and the American people, not just for efforts, but for results," he said.
William Ostendorff took the helm at the NNSA in April.