Lessons learned in recovery of classified materials

Original Published on Monmouth Message Newspaper

We have relative peace and calm here at Fort Monmouth even during wartime.

But I am often reminded about the guys in the Iran Embassy in November 1979. They thought there was no need for emergency evacuation or for emergency destruction drills. I’m sure there were many in the Pentagon in 2001 who thought the same way. But, November 4, 1979, and September 11, 2001, changed those complacent thoughts.

How is your unit and your area? Are you sure nothing will happen in your area? Are you as sure as they were in Iran and at the Pentagon? I want to share some of the lessons learned in the recovery of classified material after the 9/11 attack.

The CECOM Life Cycle Management Command (LCMC) will hold our “Annual Reduction of Classified Holdings and Review of Classified Permanent Historical Materials” from June 2 to 16. This needs to be enforced as an important effort for the command because some classified materials recovered on 9/11 at the Pentagon dated back as far as the 1940s. Reducing the amount and number of classified materials on hand decreases the risks of compromise and permits a more focused analysis of what requires protection.

Security Managers need to document the location of classified containers in their work areas. Do you know the number and locations NOW. And what happens if the Security Manager is killed, missing or absent?

Recovering and securing classified materials during or after a disaster are such specialized tasks that only trained personnel can be allowed to execute them. The role of classified materials users and custodians is to sort and advise on disposal after the materials have been recovered and secured.

Respirators, fire-retardant clothing, gas masks, safety gloves, rubber boots, portable/cellular communications, several vehicles and other special equipment must be identified in advance to enable DOD classified materials recovery to begin as soon as possible in the event of a disaster or other emergency. A mobile capability is needed at the disaster site for initial security of large recovered items, to include damaged safes.

Depending on the severity of the disaster and weather conditions afterward, most if not all of the classified materials at the disaster site may well be damaged beyond further use. That’s why custodians and users must maintain backup files and redundant capabilities of truly critical materials.

As soon as possible, such a site must be secured and access to it controlled. Badge systems will be required to enable first responders such as fire, rescue, law enforcement and other essential but un-cleared personnel to work in the secured area – and to exclude all others.

Following recovery, classified materials must be moved to a facility protected by fences, lights, intrusion detection systems and guards as required by the materials that may be involved. A plan is needed to coordinate and assist custodians and users in order to sort classified materials there. This includes the following:

  • channels for clearance, verifying need-to-know and Inadvertent Disclosure Agreements
  • provisions for personal effects mixed with classified materials
  • personal protective clothing as specialized equipment to open damaged containers
  • procedures to destroy COMSEC and other classified items in accordance with National Security Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency guidance

The coordination of security at a disaster scene may include local police; FBI; local fire, rescue and military police units; facility engineers; custodians/users of classified materials; and other DOD elements.

Safes need to be identified by serial number stamped directly in the metal, not by a tin plate bolted on their sides. During the 9/11 terrorist attack, many of the tin plates and other markings on the outsides of the safes simply melted and burned in the fire resulting from the attack. An alternative is maps drawn with the location of each safe. It has been found that, in a blast, safes can move or floors can collapse. The serial number stamped directly into the metal inside of the drawer has been the best identifier of safes after catastrophic events.

Special equipment will be required to open safes. Combination locks are destroyed in fires and the metal drawers are fused to the safe frame.

Having reviewed these elements from the after action report of 9/11 at the Pentagon, how does your office stack up? How does your unit compare to the Pentagon? Having an incident requiring emergency actions in a foreign country would create even more responsibilities and headaches. Some of our CECOM LCMC units have overseas offices. By “being prepared” we can decrease stress and improve the security of our nation!

An additional benefit of this program is preparation for Base Realignment and Closure and relocation. Having recently moved to New Jersey, I found that having more boxes to unpack is not an enjoyable event. The “Annual Reduction of Classified Holdings and Review of Classified Permanent Historical Materials” during June will improve our organization and mission execution during the BRAC move. Not often you can do an action that gives so many benefits.

So, please enjoy cleaning out those security containers because it will be beneficial in the long run. Have a “Secure” day!

James Lint