Security Is Lax at Major Arms Shipping Facilities, IG Finds

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Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point
Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point completed construction on two new ship-to-shore cranes in October 2012, as the focal point of the Center Wharf expansion project. (U.S. Army)

The Defense Department’s inspector general on Monday criticized the military's two coastal facilities in charge of shipping large containers of arms, ammunition and explosives around the world for security lapses, which could place these weapons at risk of theft.

The IG report said U.S. Transportation Command's ocean terminals at Concord, California, and Sunny Point, North Carolina, have been plagued by staffing and funding shortages that hurt their ability to provide security both on land and the water surrounding the facilities.

For example, the IG said, the California installation doesn't have enough ships to provide security on the water. And the North Carolina site is missing necessary signage on the installation itself and the surrounding land. The report didn't specify what kinds of missing signs were compromising security.

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The lapses place the facilities at risk of trespassing or break-ins, the report said. And if unauthorized people were to break into these shipping facilities, they could steal dangerous military weapons or explosives.

The Associated Press reported last month that at least 1,900 military firearms, including pistols, shotguns, machine guns and automatic assault rifles, had been lost or stolen from armories or other facilities around the world over a decade. Some of those weapons ended up in the hands of criminals and were used in violent crimes, the AP reported.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley told lawmakers the military takes weapons security "extraordinarily seriously," though he said the totals the services have reported to him were less than the AP's tally. He pledged to get a firmer number of lost weapons to lawmakers.

Milley said full criminal investigations are launched if any weapons or explosives are found to be missing or in any way unaccounted for.

The installations -- which are run by the Army's Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command -- were not reviewing security plans annually, as the service requires. This happened at the California terminal because its leadership didn't make it a priority, the IG found, adding that security reviews fell off at the North Carolina terminal because of high turnover in its physical security leadership.

The California terminal's security plan and procedures also were vague and didn't spell out the exact steps to protect arms, ammo and explosives while on the installation, according to the report.

The unclassified audit did not identify any cases in which sensitive equipment was stolen or compromised or the facilities breached, although it is unclear whether such instances were included in unreleased classified documents. But the report explained that such security failures could allow unauthorized people to get onto the highly sensitive installations.

Leaders at Transportation Command and the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command partially agreed with the recommendations to set up a waterside security program in California and fix signs and infrastructure in North Carolina, the report said. The IG will consider those closed when it sees evidence the changes have been made, it added.

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

Related: AP: Some Stolen US Military Guns Used in Violent Crimes

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