By Noah Shachtman
February 08, 2008
If you're looking for a great yarn , you could do a whole lot worse
than the cover story in this week's Washington City Paper. Here's a
A little before 2 p.m.... a woman returned to her office [at the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission] and found a stranger sitting at her
desk... I was going to leave you a note, the stranger said, rising
from the chair. She explained that she had a piece of mail for the
woman and needed to deliver it in person.
Her supervisor had insisted she get a signature since the parcel was
actually addressed to someone else. Oh, and she didnt have it with
her right then. The whole thing seemed very odd, the NRC employee
later told investigators. Nonetheless, she allowed her visitor to
leave without further questions. In a hurry to make a 2 p.m.
meeting, she left the office as well..
It was an odd interaction for sure, but not quite alarming. But such
blas encounters began to emerge as a pattern as the NRC investigated
11 separate thefts of cash and credit cards. According to incident
reports obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, most of the
crimes took place between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 16 in two
heavily secured buildings occupied by the commission on Rockville
Pike. The complex is not a tourist destination, as armed guards will
inform you. Visitors need to have verifiable business in the
building and must provide photo ID. Bags get scanned, people get the
metal detector. Employees must show a badge with their photo and job
Elsewhere around D.C., at other highly secure federal buildings,
similar thefts were causing frustration among security officers...
Witnesses who later realized theyd seen the thief said she passed
muster at the time. The fact that she didnt have an escort, one
secretary reasoned, proved that she belonged in the building.
Another employee described the potential suspect as dressing and
acting like a typical secretary at the NRC. Those who stopped and
questioned her gave up on their suspicions as soon as she started
Her excuses were flimsy inventions. But people dont like
confrontations. They feel theyve done enough if they ask a question
and get an answer.
NRC investigators launched an inquiry into the thefts. But as the
weeks passed, they failed to come up with a suspect. The woman had
stolen only cash and credit cards, but her crime exposed the
potential for much more costly breaches at the agency trusted with
overseeing 104 commercial reactors and the storage of tens of
thousands of tons of nuclear waste.
No one could have guessed that the mastermind behind the thefts was
a 19-year-old mother from Southeast D.C.
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