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Security at Armories Still Weak, Report Says : Military: California National Guard inquiry was ordered after a tank was stolen in San Diego.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the months after an intruder stole a National Guard M-60 tank and went on a destructive rampage in San Diego, military brass from the Pentagon to Sacramento scrambled to order an exhaustive investigation of California National Guard security readiness.

Conclusion: It was lousy then and not so hot now.

In the May 17 incident, Shawn Timothy Nelson entered the armory grounds unchallenged, climbed aboard the lethal machine and headed for the streets where the tank knocked down power poles, crushed scores of vehicles and got hung up on a freeway median before police shot Nelson to death. No one else was injured.

Throughout California’s system of 127 National Guard armories, security lapses expose equipment to theft because of human negligence, and aging, easily penetrated buildings and perimeter fencing, says a critique conducted by a regular Army officer attached to the state Guard.

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Col. Louis J. Hansen’s report, in an extract obtained by The Times, cites at length lapses in watching over arms, ammunition and fleets of vehicles. In the wake of the tank incident, his investigation was ordered simultaneously by the chief of the National Guard Bureau at the Pentagon, Lt. Gen. Edward Baca, and by the Sacramento-based adjutant general of the California National Guard, Maj. Gen. Tandy K. Bozeman.

In addition to the tank fiasco, Guard records show that in the past five years thieves breaking into California armories have made off with five Humvees, the oversized Jeep-like vehicle used extensively by U.S. forces in the 1991 Gulf War. Three of the stolen vehicles, taken from armories in Glendale, Brawley and Santa Rosa, were recovered, but two that were taken from the Fresno armory are still missing.

The latest Humvee theft in Fresno took place two weeks after the tank rampage in San Diego, when security was supposedly tightened at all Guard facilities.

In all, thieves and vandals over the five years cracked security at 17 California Guard facilities, damaging or stealing more than a dozen vehicles.

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One weapons-related theft of “some ammunition” took place at Camp Roberts, a National Guard post 35 miles north of San Luis Obispo, said Maj. Gen. Robert J. Brandt, commander of the California Guard’s Army branch.

All tanks have been removed from Guard armories because the M-60 model is being replaced by updated M-1 models that require special security requirements, Brandt said. Until security at the armories is upgraded--beyond that required for the old tanks--the M-1 models will not be delivered, he said.

Soon after the tank rampage, Assemblywoman Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego) called for a wide-ranging investigation of the California Guard’s security practices. On Thursday, Ducheny and Assemblyman Willard H. Murray Jr. (D-Paramount) queried the California Guard’s high command at a Capitol hearing.

Ducheny said the tank incident at Kearny Mesa National Guard Armory in San Diego raised a safety issue for residential districts in which 76 Guard armories are located, 36 of them near schools. Particularly because the tank incident happened soon after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, “those kinds of terrorist activities” are reminders of dangers that are close to home.

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The tank and Humvee thefts, she said, persuaded her that “it was really important to take a look statewide at security measures” at California armories.

Bozeman said the theft of the tank was a “very low probability event” capable of being carried out only by someone such as Nelson who had been a tank crew member--"a small segment of the population.” Also, the tank was secured according to Army regulations, he said.

But “when you have a 60-ton tank, one is one too many,” Bozeman said. He has since ordered action to disable “every tracked vehicle in California” to prevent theft by even trained individuals, and taken other measures such as conducting surprise security inspections.

Bozeman said that security for Humvees needs improvement and that various security lapses need attention at 106 California armories.

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“I am still not satisfied,” he said, “and we’re flat going to fix it.”

Ducheny said she was impressed by the Guard brass’s presentation at the hearing at which they “admitted to very serious shortcomings” even though it took the "[tank] incident to make it happen, unfortunately.”


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