Whaley started our tour in the reactor control room with a 45-minute slide presentation on nuclear energy. As if we were elementary school girls, he lectured us in a patronizing tone with simplistic explanations. He then left us in the hands of two flirtatious male students, who proceeded to show us around the reactor.
As we stood atop a raised platform, just steps from the reactor pool, one of the students whipped a camera out of his pocket and asked to take a photo. "My roommates are never going to believe," he said with a Kansas twang and an ear-to-ear grin, "that two cute girls came to the reactor! Now, squeeze in and smile!"
Amused by the request, we posed above the pool in which the highly-enriched uranium is stored. After a few snapshots, we realized the power of our pseudo-celebrity status as The Girls Who Visited the K-State Reactor. So for the next hour, as the two engineering students scoped us out, we scoped out the reactor and the security. We noted the open entry door to the control room and the closed-circuit TV system.
But what Patria didn't know, and what ABC News has failed to acknowledge since the report aired, was that their interns had been detected weeks before through the work of NRC, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. Here's how the Kansas City Star told that same story:
When [Melia] Patria and [Hsing] Wei showed up at the K-State reactor, the staff had a good idea who the women really were. After other campus reactors reported similarly strange visits, federal authorities had figured out that the visitors were actually undercover reporters. The FBI passed the tip along to K-State.Recall that in statements to the press, ABC News has said that the interns were instructed not to lie to personnel at the reactors. It doesn't appear that way from this account. You can find the photo, as well as K-State's version of the visit, by clicking here. And feel free to contact the university for a high-res copy of the photo.
In hopes of proving their suspicions, reactor employees asked the women to pose for a photograph. To get the shot, Cullens said, he had to resort to his own little deception.
“They were playing the flirt card to get information,” he said. “We wanted a picture of them for the FBI, so we flirted back.”
At one point, a reactor researcher asked the women what had drawn them to K-State. One of them, Cullens recalled, said her boyfriend lived in Kansas.
“We asked where, and she sort of pointed off to the southwest and said, ‘Over there,’ ” he said. “We figured there had to be something strange going on.”
UPDATE: Late Friday night, after we had all gone home for the weekend, ABC News issued a statement of support for the story:
The goal of this investigation was to do something the federal government does not: conduct unannounced field tests at the various reactors to see how easy or difficult it would be for a stranger to gain access to the reactors, not how easy or difficult it would be for an experienced investigative journalist. As graduate students the fellows were ideal candidates to undertake the legwork.True enough. And that's why the system worked. Through the standard background checks, the proper authorities were notified of this attempt to probe and breach security. If there had been an actual attempt to probe these facilities, the subjects would have been identified and apprehended. The fact that the institutions knew they were dealing with "journalists" was the only thing that prevented them from being detained.
When asked, they identified themselves truthfully as graduate students. Terrorists don't announce their intentions, nor do they notify security officials in advance that they plan to visit.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's a passage from another first person account from K-State written by Hsing-Wei from the Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government:
Unfortunately, this story has a mixed ending — it remains unclear whether this little adventure can be judged as a tale of success for public safety. While we had been noticed and noted, this news arrived a little late. We had already entered two nuclear research facilities in Wisconsin and Kansas, and afterward, would visit two more in Missouri.
Perhaps even more surprising, in a follow-up phone interview conducted several weeks after our visit, the KSU reactor director seemed unaware that we had ever been stopped by campus police. Apparently, the warning about two so-called shady female travelers never reached some ears at all.
Yeah, just like it seemed they were only flirting with you.
Technorati tags: Nuclear Energy, Energy, Technology, Homeland Security, ABC News