Accidental Leak Indicates New DOD Building is Soft on Bomb Defense

The latest leak coming from the U.S. government may not be what you think.  No, Wikileaks hasn’t found some shadowy new source to pass it government secrets.  Rather it is the U.S. government itself that unintentionally exposed itself.

I. Government Leaks Plans for New Defense Building

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has been hard at work on a large office complex located in the Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia, the building is almost complete and will house 6,400 DOD personnel by the end of the year.

The Reuters news organization was surprised to discover a document detailing the building’s bomb resistance posted on the Army Corps of Engineers website.  The Corps is responsible for designing a variety of government buildings as well as combating natural disasters like flooding.

The document bore the stamp “For Official Use Only”, meaning that it was an unclassified document, but not meant for the public or government officials not involved in the project. The 424-page document open with a 30-page narrative, followed by hundreds of pages of technical material.

Reuters warned the DOD about the document.  But the DOD struggled to figure out how to remove its own document it posted.

Reuters recalls:

The report could be found on the Corps’ public website nearly 24 hours after Reuters advised the Corps and top Pentagon officials that it had been publicly posted. Even after the Pentagon said the document had been taken down from the public website, a version could still be accessed in a Google cache.

Curry Graham, a spokesperson for the Army Corps commented, “You can pretty well tell it’s an official document, ‘for official use only,’ from a contractor back to Corps officials. It looks like it was inadvertently published or put on our public site.”

II.  New Building — Apparently Not Very Bomb Proof

Why is the leak troublesome?

Well the document reveals that the new building is designed to withstand up to the equivalent blast of 220 pounds (100 kg) of TNT, detonated on the building’s perimeter.  

While this might sound impressive it really isn’t.  In fact, bombers in the U.S. have used far bigger payloads in the past.  For example, the 1993 bombing of New York’s World Trade Center used a 1,336 lb (606 kg) urea nitrate–hydrogen gas enhanced device.  The power of urea nitrate bombs is similar to that of trinitrotoluene (TNT) [source; PDF].  In other words, the Mark Center’s tolerance would be overwhelmed by a factor of approximately 6 in a similar bombing.

Another famous U.S. attack, the 1995 bombing of the Alfred Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City used a mixed explosive bomb that was equivalent to almost 5,000 tons of TNT [source; PDF].

An attack of either magnitude would likely destroy or seriously damage the crucial new Department of Defense office building.  In other words, the building isn’t very bomb-proof.

It is unclear why the DOD opted for this particular design, but the department is quite upset that the secret is out.  Ken Wells, Army Corps spokesperson, states, “This should not have happened. We take it very seriously.”

Michael Greenberger, a former Justice Department lawyer who heads a Homeland Security institute at the University of Maryland, stated in the Reuters interview, “[The document is a] recipe for an attack. It should not be on the Internet.”

Tom Thurman, a former FBI bomb disposal expert who now teaches security and emergency management at Eastern Kentucky University says that not only does the document let would-be attackers know that the center isn’t overly-bomb resistant.  It also contains explicit details about the bomb-proofing measures that attackers could use to pinpoint the weakest spots in the defenses.

He states, “If you know what all the defenses are, you plan the attack around those defenses. It’s not something that should be on any unsecure government website whatsoever.”

He called the leak “inexcusable”.

Inexcusable, perhaps, but the leak is hardly surprising.  After all, the U.S. government has shown a shocking lack of capability and preparedness when it comes to properly maintaining its presence online and defending the nation from cyberthreats.