Sunday, June 01, 2008

Bent Spears and Collapsing Empires

With the collapse of the Soviet Union much attention was directed to the security of Russian nuclear weapons and the fear of loose nukes falling into the wrong hands due to deteriorating infrastructure and resources. This past August an incident of loss of control of six nuclear armed cruise missiles from Minot AFB came to light raising further fears that even the U.S. military may be incapable of securing it's own nuclear weapons.

In a report just released and reported in the AirForce Times the same Minot 5th Bomb Wing flunked its defense nuclear surety inspection.

According to the report incredible lapses in security were noted including the following:

"The DRTA report highlighted an incredible number of gaffes:

* An internal security response team didn’t respond to its “pre-designated defensive fighting position” during an attack on the weapon storage area, leaving an entire side of the maintenance facility vulnerable to enemy fire.

* Security forces didn’t clear a building upon entering it, which allowed inspectors to “kill” three of those four airmen.

* Security forces failed to use the correct entry codes, issued that week, to allow certain personnel into restricted areas.

* Security forces airmen failed to properly check an emergency vehicle for unauthorized personnel when it arrived at a weapons storage area, or search it correctly once it left.

* While wing airmen simulated loading an aircraft with nuclear weapons, security forces airmen failed to investigate vulnerabilities on the route from the storage area to the flight line, and didn’t arm three SF airmen posted at traffic control points along that route.

* While on the aircraft, one flight of security forces airmen didn’t understand key nuclear surety terminology, including the “two-person concept” — the security mechanism that requires two people to arm a nuclear weapon in case the codes fall into the hands of an airman gone bad.

“Security forces’ level of knowledge, understanding of assigned duties, and response to unusual situations reflected a lack of adequate supervision,” wrote the DTRA team chief.

Security forces leaders rarely visited their airmen on post, and routine exercises “were neither robust nor taken to their logical conclusion,” according to the report.

After reviewing base records, inspectors found “leaders were unengaged [in] the proper supervision of SF airmen.”

“If the leadership is still unengaged after all that has happened with the warheads, the missing ballistic missile fuses and problems with the first inspection, then they’re not fit to have this mission,” Kristensen said. “It’s really frightening.”

Security forces errors made up the majority of the 14-page DTRA inspection report, but inspectors found fault with other parts of operations, including late status reports and major errors in the wing’s personnel reliability program, which dictates who can handle nukes.

While reviewing records, inspectors found one individual cleared to handle nukes had been “diagnosed for alcohol abuse” but was allowed to keep his certification, according to the report."

This calls into question the whole idea that any country can in the long run manage large numbers of nuclear weapons safely. Additionally this stands as a signal of crumbling American security and the institutions supposedly safe guarding Americans from WMDs, in this case their own.

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