It is also quite worrisome when the Mexican Mafia prison gang and La Familia Michoacána drug cartel hook up “to protect and expand the cartel’s drug trafficking activities across the nation,” according to an August 6 press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Central District of California, announcing the arrest of eight suspects named in a federal grand jury indictment. A second indictment simultaneously unsealed exposed the Mexican Mafia’s control over one of the oldest, largest and most powerful gangs in Southern California. The indictment charged 31 suspects with federal racketeering (RICO) along with numerous narcotics, fraud and firearms offenses.
“These two investigations disrupted the criminal activities of the Mexican Mafia, the Los Angeles street gang Florencia 13, and the Mexican Mafia’s relationship with the La Familia drug cartel, which is responsible for using firearms to commit violent crimes and trafficking hundreds of thousands of pounds of controlled substances into the United States,” said Steven J. Bogdalek, ATF Special Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles Field Division. “By combining law enforcement resources, we were able to curtail their ability to build alliances and prevent their violence from spreading further into our communities.”
The feds and local law enforcement then moved their Mexican Mafia eradication campaign south to Orange County where a September 24 raid scooped up 55 suspects, 22 pounds of meth, 1.5 pounds. of heroin and three pounds of coke. Operation Smokin’ Aces, led by the FBI along with Santa Ana police, Orange County Sheriff detectives, Orange County district attorney’s office and other agencies targeted the Mexican Mafia’s affiliated gangs, focusing on Santa Ana. The Mexican Mafia’s Orange County chapter is largely made up of established gangs like Delhi, F Troop, Townsend Street and Santa Nita according to law enforcement officials.
While the Americans were putting the cuffs on cartel soldiers north of the border, Mexico was releasing a legendary cartel kingpin south of it over U.S. objections. The freeing of one of the founding members of Mexico’s first and largest drug cartels, Rafael Caro Quintero, 60, came August 9. Having served 28 years of a 40 year sentence, Quintero strolled out of a Jalisco state prison after a Mexico federal court ordered his release because he had been improperly tried.
“The release of this violent butcher is but another example of how good faith efforts by the U.S. to work with the Mexican government can be frustrated by those powerful dark forces that work in the shadows of the Mexican ‘justice’ system,” the Association of Former Federal Narcotics Agents in the United States said in a statement. The group was “outraged” by the release of Caro Quintero who had been sentenced to 40 years in prison for the infamous kidnapping and killing U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena.
Pernicious criminality exists on both sides of the border. It destabilizes otherwise peaceable people and their communities along the divide. It is even more shocking when it involves the U.S. Marine Corps, especially on the very base that SONGS is situated.
That’s just what happened June 6 when the Corps revealed that Camp Pendleton Marines were busted in what was called Operation Perfect Storm. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service, assisted by the San Diego County Regional Automobile Theft Task Force, Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI, handed down 64 indictments of active-duty and former Marines and “confiscated one million dollars’ worth of contraband in connection with an organized crime ring.”
Meth, coke, and ecstasy were confiscated from the suspects along with “enhanced small arms protective insert plates, tactical vests, M-40 gas masks, tool kits, high capacity magazines, 10,000 rounds of 5.56 millimeter ammunition, thermal monoculars, night vision goggles, semi-automatic rifles, shotguns, pistols, U.S. currency, and 92 stolen automobiles,” according to HQ Marine Corps. “Seven Marines, one sailor and seven Marine veterans have been implicated, ranging in rank from lance corporal to gunnery sergeant.”
At least there were no rocket launchers or C-4 explosives involved. That wasn’t the case September 15, 2011 when U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers found a black bag containing a rocket launcher, a grenade launcher, six semi-automatic assault rifles and three bags of C-4 plastic explosives along the Rio Grande River south of San Antonio. The Border Patrol speculated that the weapons and explosives were destined for feuding cartels south of the border.
Knowing what resources these potential terrorist proxies possess changed entirely with the seizure of C-4 at the border. San Onofre is uniquely vulnerable to attack from C-4 explosives among nuclear reactor and spent fuel pools installations in the United States. Along with attack from rocket launchers on the exposed spent fuel pools buildings, a C-4 strike against SONGS’ lightly defended dry casks filled with spent fuel rods present the most dangerous and plausible scenarios to threaten San Onofre’s destruction and Southern California’s along with it.
Backpack Black Swan
Nightmarish scenarios such as a 9/11-type jetliner crashing into SONGS have gotten the attention of government and nuclear watchdogs alike. The concerns are legitimate.
Seeing the precision with which the 9/11 hijackers piloted huge jets into the World Trade Center, it is no great stretch imagining a private prop plane loaded with high-yield explosives crashing into one of America’s nuclear reactor complexes. This threat has not been addressed as there are nearly no airspace restrictions on small planes near nuclear reactor complexes.
EnviroReporter.com has discovered a second major security weakness at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station during a four month long investigation that doesn’t take a rocket launcher or pilot’s license. It does take running and climbing ability along with a bag of powerful plastic explosives and plenty of nerve.
Even with their massive steel and concrete containers, the dry cask storage of spent nuclear fuel rods at SONGS is vulnerable to terrorist attack. San Onofre’s Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) is another black swan waiting to land.
So glaring is this weak spot that a terrorist team on foot with plastic explosive-filled backpack bombs could run right up next to the lightly defended containers and set off an explosion that could severely damage the casks if not destroy them entirely. This would result in a huge release of highly radioactive material into the environment.
These weaknesses are visible to anyone who works at SONGS or just drives by the site on Old Highway 101 on their way to the San Onofre State Beach. Internet resources abound with information and photos on the layout of San Onofre that show this failing.
What caught EnviroReporter.com’s attention was Los Angeles Times coverage June 7 of victorious residents on the Old Highway 101 sidewalk above the reactors by the parking lot to SONGS. They were celebrating the just announced shutdown of San Onofre. The article’s photo showed light perimeter security at the employees’ parking lot up the concrete covered bluff from the SONGS ISFSI.
Photographic and video analysis, with some of the information publicly available from Southern California Edison itself, reveal what seems to be another glaring security breech in addition to the rocket attack-vulnerable spent fuel pool buildings or SFPs. Further investigation on Google Maps and Google Earth confirmed that security for the dry cask spent fuel is light.
From the sidewalk, a backpack terrorist unit could easily scale a six-foot chain-link fence between the sidewalk and parking lot, snip through or jump a minimally barbed wire fence on the other side of the parking lot above two steep concrete inclines. Scampering down these unguarded inclines leads to the dry casks storage which is “750 feet northwest of the reactor buildings and outside the plant’s security perimeter but within its own controlled area,” according to StoreNuclearFuel.com.
That dry cask controlled area also has a minimally barbed wire fence unlike the controlled area with its heavy concertina barbed wire and guard post. The SFPs are within this high security area. The dry casks are not. EnviroReporter.com estimates that a backpack bomber or bombers could surmount the three fences and be standing next to the 55 storage modules in less than two minutes.
There they would find the SONGS ISFSI with dry casks. Sitting on a storage pads 43 feet wide and 293 long are 31 casks with an adjacent 24 casks in double rows on a pad 60 feet wide. The installation appears to have no permanent guards in or around the ISFSI.
An athletic terrorist team with just 100 pounds or more of C-4 explosive and detonators could cause a catastrophic ISFSI explosion in a matter of minutes. The attackers could stuff the malleable C-4 into the structures nooks and crannies for added destruction. War videos demonstrate the power of such a charge making the relative ease of attack, on a Marine Corps base no less, unacceptable – especially considering the consequences.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s consistently dismissive policies on the threat of terrorist attack on spent fuel rods, whether in dry casks or the more exposed spent fuel pools, seem at odds with the threat. Indeed, the NRC even has a detailed map of ISFSIs nationwide online as if to advertise the radiating targets as benign.
Missing C-4 explosives
An attack of a squad of C-4 explosive backpack-toting bombers against SONGS’ ISFSI would probably not be as destructive as a rocket attack against San Onofre’s SFPs. It nevertheless represents a real black swan possibility with the unknown amounts of C-4 explosives that have ‘gone missing’ all over the country and some of the people busted for possessing them.
The last available General Accounting Office reports on missing C-4 are decades old as far as EnviroReporter.com could find but are still informative as the explosive does not degrade and has an indefinite shelf life. A November 1986 GAO report focused on Fort Bragg’s lax C-4, ammunition and explosives security. The North Carolina U.S. Army base is home to The Airborne and Special Operations Forces.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms recovered 21 bricks of 1.25 pounds per brick of C-4 in Hope Mills, North Carolina June 9, 1986. The M112 blocks were traced to two active service members assigned to Fort Bragg’s Fifth Special Forces Group. That same year a Fort Bragg employee found six one-pound blocks of C-4 in a green Army cloth bag in a wildlife feeding area. Fiscal year 1986 must have been a banner time for ripping off C-4 at the fort with 147.5 pounds of it recovered up from 34 pounds seized in FY 1985.
Beginning in 1988, the Army tried to suppress the thievery by swapping out C-4 with inert training material. It eliminated entirely the following units from even being able to train with the explosive: aviation, ordnance, chemical, military police, transportation, signal, accounting and finance, quartermaster and, interestingly, military intelligence. Still, C-4 was allowed to be used by armor, infantry, combat engineers and combat heavy engineer units,
Even then, the thievery of C-4 has continued up through today. Oft times, soldiers would return the empty C-4 boxes to the quartermaster after training as the way to keep track of inventory. The boxes may have been returned but the explosives not detonated allowing the C-4 to have “gone missing.”
Another GAO study came out in September 1990 entitled “DEFENSE INVENTORY – Controls Over C-4 Explosive and Other Sensitive Munitions.” The report said that “3.76 pounds of C-4 explosive were lost by the Air Force with 2.6 pounds of C-4 explosive being recovered from 1986 through 1989… The Navy reported that between 1986 and 1989, 80 pounds of C-4 were lost, 440 pounds of C-4 were missing following inventories, and 460 pounds of C-4 were recovered.”
While the GAO’s Navy C-4 inventory math is mystifying, it is the last U.S. government C-4 accounting that EnviroReporter.com could uncover as of publication time. This very powerful plasticized form of Research Department Explosive (RDX) comes in 1.25 pound (lb) blocks 2 inches by 1.5 inches and 11 inches long.
The blocks are wrapped in Army green packaging with M112 stamped on the plastic. Besides being extremely explosive, an M112 brick is safe to handle and won’t detonate because of dropping it or even setting it alight. Vietnam-era soldiers used to cook with it despite C-4’s toxic fumes.
Sixteen of these M112 demolition charges are bundled together into a 20 lb (9.1 kilogram-kg) C-4 satchel charges called the U.S. M183 Demolition Charge Assembly. Four priming assemblies come with the M183 which is stable in storage and carries the most bang and brisant – its shattering ability determined mostly by its detonation pressure – for a lot of bucks if not obtained on the black market from potentially thieving American soldiers.
A terrorist team with multiple M183’s is SONGS’ ISFSI’s most acute plausible threat. Obtaining the explosive on the streets or military bases of America is far from impossible since the GSA’s 24 year old report. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced sticky fingered Army Special Forces men who have stolen C-4 and have been busted for it.
Staff Sgt. Trey Scott Atwater, a demolitions expert and unconventional warfare specialist with the 7th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, was popped carrying two M112s of C-4 in his carry-on bag in Midland Texas December 31, 2011. The Green Beret, who had serve two tours of duty in Afghanistan, claimed he didn’t know the 2.5 lbs of plastic explosive in its Army wrapping was in his bag, stuffed between the padding and bag in the backpack’s lumbar area.