The federal agency in charge of maintaining America’s nuclear weapons stockpile gave a well-choreographed sham tour of their facilities to a senior Washington Post reporter, and then bragged about their ruse in an internal email.
When Dana Priest toured a laboratory of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in 2012, she was treated to “a serious rope-a-dope” by the administrators and lab directors, according to an internal NNSA email obtained by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).
“Yeh [sic], Ms. Priest was subject to a serious rope-a-dope by Neile [Miller, NNSA Principal Deputy Administer] and the Lab Directors,” an unnamed NNSA official reported internally in an email.
The official goes on to suggest that lab employees made conscious effort to delude Priest during the tour. “She [Priest] just mirrored what she saw, lab choreography was perfect, and nobody told her what she didn’t know,” the email says. The author continues to say that Priest “always had a minder” wherever she went on tour.
Reporters are used to being shepherded around at sensitive government sites. “Being subjected to a choreographed dog and pony show and to government minders comes with the job, especially at secure facilities,” Priest told the POGO in an email.
The two stories Priest wrote for the Washington Post as a result her a tour were “surprisingly supportive” of the NNSA’s push for greater funding, according to Lydia Dennett, an investigator for POGO. While it’s impossible to say how Priest’s articles shaped the national debate on funding NNSA, Dennett notes that “in the years since Ms. Priest’s front-page articles were published, NNSA’s budget for weapons production activities has only increased.”
Clearly the upkeep of the nation’s nuclear arsenal is an important and costly task. But NNSA, which requested $12.9 billion for fiscal year 2017, has a history of mismanaging taxpayer funding.
“When it comes to investigating an agency that spends billions of taxpayer dollars every year, it’s important to look at every angle of the story lest you fall victim to an agency rope-a-dope,” Dennet says.
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