Communion Of Dreams

Oops II: The Smell Lingers
September 25, 2007, 10:39 am
Filed under: Failure, General Musings, Government, Iraq, Nuclear weapons, Predictions, Society, Violence

So, three weeks ago I wrote about the initial reports that the Air Force had managed to lose track of some of its nukes, and accidentally transported them across the country.

Well, the story just keeps getting better. From the Washington Post this past Sunday:

Three weeks after word of the incident leaked to the public, new details obtained by The Washington Post point to security failures at multiple levels in North Dakota and Louisiana, according to interviews with current and former U.S. officials briefed on the initial results of an Air Force investigation of the incident.

The warheads were attached to the plane in Minot without special guard for more than 15 hours, and they remained on the plane in Louisiana for nearly nine hours more before being discovered. In total, the warheads slipped from the Air Force’s nuclear safety net for more than a day without anyone’s knowledge.

“I have been in the nuclear business since 1966 and am not aware of any incident more disturbing,” retired Air Force Gen. Eugene Habiger, who served as U.S. Strategic Command chief from 1996 to 1998, said in an interview.

Yeah, that’s disturbing, all right. But why bring it back up? We knew already that the incident was a colossal fuck-up. What more is there to be said?

Go read the Washington Post follow-up, and you’ll get a sense of why this is a big deal. Here’s another excerpt:

Military officers, nuclear weapons analysts and lawmakers have expressed concern that it was not just a fluke, but a symptom of deeper problems in the handling of nuclear weapons now that Cold War anxieties have abated.

But could there be something else at work?

The Air Force’s inspector general in 2003 found that half of the “nuclear surety” inspections conducted that year resulted in failing grades — the worst performance since inspections of weapons-handling began. Minot’s 5th Bomb Wing was among the units that failed, and the Louisiana-based 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale garnered an unsatisfactory rating in 2005.

Both units passed subsequent nuclear inspections, and Minot was given high marks in a 2006 inspection. The 2003 report on the 5th Bomb Wing attributed its poor performance to the demands of supporting combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wartime stresses had “resulted in a lack of time to focus and practice nuclear operations,” the report stated.

Ah, there ya go. The stresses of the ongoing debacle in Iraq is now playing havoc with the security of our nuclear forces. That’s not a terribly comforting thought, is it? I mean, letting nukes sit unsecured out on an air force base for more than 24 hours means that any number of really bad things could have happened, up to and including the possible theft of one (or more) of the weapons. Gee, now think . . . who might want to have access to such a weapon? Even if you didn’t have the capability of using it as a nuclear bomb, you could still crack open the thing and get access to the highly toxic and extremely radioactive fissionable material. That’d make a swell terror weapon if used on American soil.

And, unfortunately, I am no longer willing to dismiss entirely the possibility that our own government (or parts thereof) might be willing to see such a thing happen for their own reasons. Yeah, I know, tin-foil beanie stuff. But can you honestly say that you would put the idea 100% out of mind?

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

A much different take on this story can be found here:

Comment by Orat

Orat, I’ve seen suggestion elsewhere that this incident was related to planning for an attack on Iran, and was revealed by those in the military who are ‘pushing back’ against such insanity. Not sure I buy it, but thanks for the link.

Jim D.

Comment by Communion of Dreams

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