Greenpeace activists were able to scale to the top of the iconic Mount Rushmore in July and unfurl a banner of protest over the U.S. approach to global warming because of a number of glaring security lapses, breakdowns, and shortcomings at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, according to a National Park Service investigation.
The report, surfacing in the wake of a Government Accountability Office report on security weaknesses throughout the National Park System, tells how Greenpeace monitored Park Service activities to determine where to find anchors on the face of Mount Rushmore and benefited from the park failing not just to maintain its security equipment but also failing to turn on security systems.
In summation, the report states that the park has neither the staff nor expertise to manage security for both the iconic profile of Mount Rushmore and the memorial's visitors.
The report not only points to poor interagency coordination, but draws into contention a section of the GAO report that states "(t)he Park Service, with assistance from Interior's OLES (Office of Law Enforcement and Security), has assessed risks and implemented security improvements at the five icons (Statue of Liberty National Monument, the Gateway Arch at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Independence National Historical Park, and the National Mall) and some border parks, although we noted some cases in which recommended security measures were not implemented at icons and vulnerabilities remain (emphasis added.)."
While the GAO report pointed to "security improvements" at Mount Rushmore and four other NPS icons, the report on the Greenpeace incident states that, "A cornerstone of Mount Rushmore National Memorial's protection strategy has been to increase law enforcement protection around the sculpture in response to threat advisories from investigative or intelligence agencies. No such warnings occurred prior to the Greenpeace action. The park needs to develop and sustain tactics to better detect potentially suspicious activities. The park has no formal standards or procedures for ensuring adequate and effective mountain patrols."
Eleven Greenpeace members were arrested July 8 after they successfully staged a protest on the granite presidential faces to urge President Obama to "show real leadership on global warming." The banner draped across the front of the monument featured an unfinished portrait of President Obama with the message, "America honors leaders not politicians: Stop Global Warming."
At the time Park Service officials would not say how the 11 managed to evade Mount Rushmore's security systems, reach the top of the monument, and rappel down its face, nor would they describe what security measures are employed at Mount Rushmore. The ensuing report (attached below), sent October 6 to Ernest Quintana, the Park Service's acting deputy director, from James Loach, associate director of the agency's Midwest Region, explained how the activists succeeded. It stressed sound intelligence and speedy execution on behalf of the activists.
Greenpeace's action was characterized by speed, advance extensive planning, intelligence acquisition, organization and discipline in the execution of the plan. Greenpeace ascended the mountain in darkness, staged in a gully near the summit the following morning, entered the Hall of Records Canyon area of the sculpture and within 35 minutes unfurled the banner.
The speed and deliberateness of the action indicates extensive planning. This planning included fast access to the sculpture and unfurling of banner, accurate anticipation of law enforcement response methods and effectively delaying the law enforcement response (through the use of chains to lock gates), arranging for real-time media coverage, extensive video recording, strict rules of engagement to avoid felony charges, and the successful evasion and escape of support personnel.
Greenpeace team members executed their assignments quickly and competently. Ropes, hardware, locks, and other equipment matched intended uses. The banner's size and design fit the space next to Lincoln (the drawing of President Obama's head was approximately the same size as the heads of the sculpture, and President Obama's eyes were the same height as President Lincoln's). Greenpeace has stated to the media they spent months planning and training, and they conducted legal research to minimize criminal consequences for participants.
Media reports claim Greenpeace members spent time in the developed area of the park gathering information prior to the event. The Greenpeace team climbed to the top of Mt. Rushmore in darkness following an approach requiring route-finding skills through forests, slot canyons, talus, and rocky terrain, suggesting excellent orienteering skills or prior route knowledge. Greenpeace members told media their study of NPS activities on the sculpture, such as hauling July 4th fireworks and sculpture cleaning, revealed anchor locations. Their possession and use of materials and tactics to delay or prevent law enforcement response suggests prior knowledge of locations where these would be most effective.
As to the memorial's breakdown in security, the report notes that the existing mountain security system was installed in 1998 and only monitors the Hall of Records and the top of the mountain. Furthermore, certain cameras in the system were not operating or "functioning as designed" on the morning of July 8, when the activists mounted their protest, and that "sensors designed for protection of the approach to the sculptures were turned off to allow a tour. These were not turned back on when the tour left the area," the report noted.
Beyond that, the report implies that security at the memorial might have been compromised over the years. During the past decade hundreds of people have toured the secure area, many pictures of the anchor locations on the face of the monument have appeared in magazines, and "components of the security system have been discussed in at least one trade magazine," notes the report.
On top of all these shortcomings and breakdowns, the report states that "the park lacks positions to maintain and manage its complex security program" and that "the ranger force is inadequate to simultaneously protect both the public and the sculpture."
If there was a bright spot in the matter, the report concludes by recounting how quickly park staff responded to the incident, how local, state and federal authorities responded, how the banner was taken down within 90 minutes, and how the activists were arrested.
Overcoming the failures in the system, the report notes, will require additional funding and personnel, as well as improved training and patrol procedures. While the activists were indicted on a number of misdemeanor charges, the report notes that the memorial's superintendent "will work with the Midwest Regional Office and the Justice Department to explore options to enhance criminal penalties."