Jeffrey LewisA. Q. Oakley Bust

Update: Here is the indictment.

Gee, first we had the Los Alamos Meth Lab case, then the Sandia Stalker, and now Oak Ridge has A. Q. Oakley.

NNSA should have its own episode of Cops.

Roy Lynn Oakley, a Bechtel Jacobs contract employee at Oak Ridge, attempted to sell sections of a gaseous diffusion barrier—not uranium as some mistakenly report, but the technology to enrich it—to an FBI agent posing as a French espion. I haven’t seen the indictment yet, but DOJ put out a statement:

Specifically, Count 1 of the Indictment charges that on January 26, 2007, Roy Lynn Oakley, having possession of, access to, and having been entrusted with sections of “barriers” and associated hardware used for uranium enrichment through the process of gaseous diffusion which constituted appliances within the meaning of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and which involved and incorporated Restricted Data within the meaning of Title 42, United States Code, Section 2014(y), and the said, Roy Lynn Oakley, having reason to believe that such data would be utilized to injure the United States and secure an advantage to a foreign nation, did communicate, transmit, and disclose such data to another person in violation of the Atomic Energy Act, specifically Title 42 United States Code, Section 2274(b).

The Knoxville News-Sentinel, which published the excellent courtroom drawing by R. Daniel Proctor (above), has the best coverage so far. If you read one story, read Frank Munger and Jamie Satterfield’s trash or treason story in the News-Sentinel.

Basically, Oakley—far from being A Q Khan—took a couple of broken sections home, then tried to sell them rather ineptly.

Oakley’s lawyer, the feisty Herb Moncier, is calling the diffusion barriers “trash.” “Moncier said Oakley’s job was to break up metal rods so they could be thrown away,” according to AP’s Duncan Mansfield. “Moncier did not know what the rods were made of, but said they were not uranium or dangerous.”

Tubes, Not Rods

Did not know what they were made of. Yeah. Hey Herb, maybe you should figure that out before trial. I humbly suggest grabbing a copy of the classic Uranium Enrichment and Nuclear Weapon Proliferation by Allan S. Krass, Peter Boskma, Boelie Elzen and Wim A. Smit.

Krass et al provide a very clear explanation of sintered nickel powder tubes—which sound a lot like Moncier’s “rods”—why they are so hard to produce and, implicitly, why a would-be nuclear state might want to take a look at our “trash”:

It is now easy to understand why a barrier is quite difficult to produce. The actual methods used by various countries are classified, but it is known that the United States used sintered nickel powders, while those in the new French Tricastin plant are “ceramic.”


Whatever the material, it must be bonded under high pressure and temperature into sheets only a few microns thick. These very thin sheets must be able to withstand pressure differentials of the order of 0.3 to 0.5 kg/cm 2 for many years without failure.


The barrier must be assembled in a way which will maximize its area of contract with the gas. In US gaseous diffusion stages this is done by manufacturing the barrier in the form of sheets of cylindrical tube bundles.


The individual tubes which make up the barrier must be small enough to provide a large surface area for diffusion but large enough to permit easy flow of the process gas. Again, no information is available on the size of the tubes, but if it is assumed that the tubes are about 2 m long and 1 cm in diameter, then about 160,000 of them would be used in such a stage. This can be compared with some of the early US stages which contained several thousand tubes each.

The best part of all of this is that Oakley thought the French might want our obsolete gaseous diffusion technology, even though Areva is planning to decommission their own diffusion plant once George Besse II, a URENCO centrifuge plant, comes on line at Tricastin.

Still, Oakley called the French embassy in Washington to offer the broken tubes. “They laughed at him,” according to a document filed by Moncier.

Laughed at him … then presumably called the FBI.

Bad boys, bad boys …


  1. CKR (History)

    I’ve always wanted a piece of barrier, maybe mounted on a lucite block, to use as a paperweight or just one of those little trophys we all keep on our desks.

    Do you think they’ll commercialize it?

    (I’ve already got a mounted piece of graphite from the Chicago pile.)


  2. Lisa Simpson

    Hey the Iraqis wanted our obsolete Calutron technology. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Though, he might have gotten more creative than choosing the French, for sure.

  3. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Oh yeah, I absolutely agree that a would-be proliferator would like to take a look at the material under a microscope.

    Obeidi, in Bomb in My Garden, writes:

    We had a short technical conversation, and I noticed that Hussein Kamel was listening attentively. I explained that the barrier is not easy to manufacture and that each square meter contains ten thousand billion holes. There were many technical problems to solve. Hoping to throw cold water on his expectations, I told him that in the 1940s the Americans and the British devoted years of research in hundreds of laboratories to developing a diffusion barrier, and that during the 1980s the Americans invested more than a billion dollars to improve a barrier for their nuclear power program.

    “How is it produced,” Hussein Kamel asked.

    “The Americans make it out of nickel powder,” I said. “It is a very special and fine powder, and it is extremely difficult to acquire.”

    “We can make nickel powder,” Abu Rugaiba suggested. I couldn’t help rolling my eyes, because producing this powder was well beyond Iraqi technical expertise at the time.

    If this guy really tried to sell the material to a foreign government, as the indictment alleges, he should certainly lose his job and any clearances.

  4. MEC (History)

    Obviously Oakley had no idea what he was getting in to. In fact, the situation seems a bit comical given his call to a French Embassy.

    What is not comical, however, is the potential ramifications of his action. What if he succeeded? What if it was more sensitive material? Let’s be thankful the act was committed by I.Q. Oakley and not someone a bit more knowledgeable.

  5. Sock Puppet of the Great Satan (History)

    “If this guy really tried to sell the material to a foreign government, as the indictment alleges, he should certainly lose his job and any clearances.”

    And have an all-expenses vacation at a Federal residential facility, methinks. With a free orange jumpsuit.

    Losing clearances (which effectively means losing your job) is what happens for leaving your repo open more than twice in a year.

    Calling a fuurreign embassy to sell restricted material is a much more serious.

  6. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    I am going back and forth on prison right now.

    It seems like his lawyer was working out a plea deal with the Feds, but that collapsed. I’d like to know why. But a federally funded vacation is definitely an option, especially given that we want to lean on other countries to fully enforce their own laws against would-be AQ Khans.

    Interestingly, some of his neighbors don’t much like ol’ Roy Oakley:

    “I think if he’s doing that, they need to put him as far away as they can,” says neighbor Lois Pope.

    Unhappy neighbors, surprised friends at the thought of Roy Oakley being accused of such a crime.


    Mike Howard attends church with Roy Oakley at the Midtown Valley Methodist Church. “He’s a true Christian, good friend, good landlord, him and his wife both, everybody loves him in the community.”

    Oakley owns rental property and Mike Howard calls him a good landlord. Hannah Stedam once rented from Oakley and doesn’t see it that way. “Personally I don’t like the man, to me he’s lazy, and seems like a money grubber. To me, he just wants his money and to hell with everyone else.”

    For a man that folks call. [sic]

    “He’s a very standoffish kind of person,” says Stedam.

    “They’re kinda kept to themselves. But money hungry,” says Pope.

    The local news coverage is priceless.

    In particular, the last minute or so of “Maintenence Man Charged With Stealing Nuclear Secrets” is remarkable.

  7. Alex W. (History)

    Oakley’s picture above looks remarkably like the comics page’s Crankshaft.

  8. Joseph Logan (History)

    Reminiscent of an observation made by my father, a Tennessee judge who hears an excessive number of meth lab cases:

    “These people can’t even graduate from high school and now they want to be chemists.”

    Add nuclear physicists to the list, but tread softly around the geneticists.