« "The Butcher's Cleaver" Now for Sale | Main | Zuckerman on Iranian Intentions »

20 October 2007

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

John Moore

Yeah, but the conventional high explosives used to create the implosion could still detonate and spread the weapons grade uranium or plutonium around the immediate area and possibly enter the ground water. Aren't we still paying Spain for the site we contaminated due to that B-52 "Broken Spear" incident in the late 1950's-early 60's?

Tuli

I just find it totally inconceivable that there is this level of incompetence in any organization. Someone somewhere would have caught this. Every institution that I have worked in, and most have been incompetent whether public or private, has someone who catches and points out the mistakes. And usually the mistakes and/or incompetence are passed over for some “political” reason.

What was the “political” reason here?

Call me a member of the “I Ain’t Buying it Choir” (reference to Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping.)

JMHO. Call me a wackjob!

J

Colonel,

do we have a three card monte going on in front of our faces by the bush admin. regarding this? as in the bush admin. attempting to convince both the citiznery and media that the nuke incident was similar to a stockroom mistake at a wal-mart. nuke armed missles 'mistakenly' removed from a storage bunker and then 'erroneously' mounted on the wings of the b52, which happened to be 'mistakenly' identified on the flight manifest, and then flown across the u.s. for three hours and sat on barksdale's tarmac for 'several hours' without anybody taking notice. so what we have are 6 nukes 'unaccounted for' through a chain of command that stretched through a csaf, acc, wing cc, a squadron cc, a munitions maintenance squadron, the bomb wing's do, the b52's crew chief, its left seater command pilot a/c, and then onto another af base's tarmac without notice of that base's chain of command -- for 10 hours.

i cannot accept their premise that 70 airmen decided to move nukes on their 'own schedule' and outside the safety/security parameters set forth. the 'story' that dod/csaf/acc are giving to the public and congress IMO is nothing more than smoke-screen BS with a capital 'B'.

raincat100

I'm not buying it either.

What's really going on...?

Winter Patriot

David Lindorff

W. Patrick Lang

All

Nah! You folks all think there is some point to history. Nah! Stuff happens. You grossly underestimate the human capacity for ineptitude, laziness amd incompetence.

The Bushies don't need any kind of subterfuge to do anything they want with nukes. A few generals and amirals will resign first? So what. There wil be plecty more who will do what they are told. pl

CSTAR

Well PL you do have a point: Stuff happens and incompetence abounds. Thinking of historical processes as physical processes is hopeless.

But conversely, I also have lived through enough coups (some visible only weeks later, in which military actions consist mainly of weighted counts of hardware on each side, probably a more sensible way of dispute resolution then projectile-based persuasion) to make me very distrustful of these explanations.

I fear one morning waking up to a radio broadcast to the nation by His Excellency Richard B. Cheney.

Robert Haskell

As an illustration of just how Col Lang's scenario could happen, a nuclear-armed B-47 was involved in a mid-air collision with a fighter near Savannah, Ga. in, I believe, the late 50s. The pilot jettisoned the bomb and was able to land, and since the bomb wasn't armed, it didn't explode (though it's still somewhere a mile or so off Tybee Island).

Martin K

Sir. I dont want to buy into conspiranoia, but what I dont understand is this, from Air Force Times:

"...On the morning of Aug. 29, airmen assigned to the Minot weapons storage area were supposed to pick up and transport two pylons to a B-52 assigned to Barksdale. Each pylon is a self-contained package of six cruise missiles that can be quickly mounted to the wing of a Stratofortress. But the pylon had not been properly prepared, and the airmen failed to examine all the warheads on the missiles mounted to the pylons."

How is it possible that a nuclear pylon could get "mixed up" with conventional ones? Are they stored together? I would assume that a multitude of forms would have to be signed before anyone being allowed to touch a nuke? I dont understand how this "mixup" could happen? How did the nukes get into the pylons? hmmm

Cujo359

I don't know what a plum assignment would be in the Air Force these days, but I'm pretty sure it's not minding a bunch of old nukes in North Dakota. To put it mildly, the Air Force's best people aren't likely to accumulate there. More likely are the kinds of folks who just want to do their remaining time and leave. Put enough of them in one spot, and I suspect anything is possible.

This is a nearly inconceivable level of incompetence even given that assumption, but I still think it's likelier than some whacky form of saber rattling by the Bushies. They have plenty of sabers to rattle without resorting to this. Considering the misuse they've put the military to lately, ruining some careers in the service of a stunt like this wouldn't be a smart move even by their low standards.

charlottemom

I have followed this issue and looked at it (with the limited facts presented via the media) from different points until my head hurts. I'm somewhere between deliberate pysops for Iran's benefit and rouge group intent on moving nukes for nefarious purposes (and got caught). Call me a looney but the "incompetent" storyline doesn't ring true. Maybe, maybe "incompetent like a fox" (hence psyops theory). God help us.

Greg

Colonel,

I concur with the view that "stuff happens" but the mendaciousness of the Bushies, combined with the sheer incompetency of this event, leads to a few raised eyebrows. That said, the analyses you've provided of the culture of the U.S. military does not lend itself to the view that many of our military leaders have the professional qualities one would desire. Am I wrong?

Charles I

Surely this demonstrates the pressing need for more outsourcing. Fortunately, it appears Blackwater will soon be repatriating many many highly experienced, high maintenance security professionals, freeing up the airmen for alternate, dustier deployment

Richard Armstrong

COL Lang,

Perhaps you could tell me if the following statements from another blog are true?

1. For nuclear tipped missiles to be mounted into launch position on a combat platform (B-52) the D.O.D custody regulations require a signature from the White House.

2. It is a violation of a litany of national security regulations to release a story involving "treaty regulated" transport of nuclear weapons. It is NOT done. The first publication to carry the report was the Military Times, from there it spread to the wire services. THIS IS NEVER DONE.

Right now, I just don't know what to think. Is it more frightening, that the Air Force lost track of some nukes or that Air Force officers possibly "mutinied" by releasing the information to the press.

Thank you.

Richard Armstrong

W. Patrick Lang

RA

That all sounds like hogwash to me.

What blog was that? pl

vincente

Pat,

I was at the briefing that this article is based on. I am a bit more into a lot of the nuts and bolts of USAF programs, so I admit I saw this for what it was a bit more readily: people screwing up on a massive scale.

The Wing Commander, the Maintenance Group commander and the Ops Group commander at Barksdale have all been relieved as a result of this. The head of 12th AF is also being given the task of giving the results the final scrub and has been granted general court martial authority. This thing isn't over yet.

For those of you who persist in conspiracy theories on this incident, this is pretty simple: the Advanced Cruise Missile was - and still is - being retired (which means that the once venerable B-52 of SAC fame no longer has a role in nuclear deterrence).

Several of the reporters were bamboozled by the Maj. Gens. explanation of what happened, believing that conventional and nuclear warheads were kept in the same room with the ACMs.

Several times, it was attempted to explain to folks that this ACM has no conventional warhead - its either armed, or it isn't. I think they eventually got it, but I left.

V

Cold War Zoomie

Well, as the resident Zoomie I'll make some comments. But my time was spent in SIGINT and Air Traffic Control, not moving nukes around on flightlines.

Here are the main culprits:

1. "Air Force officials who were briefed on the findings said investigators found that personnel lacked neither the time nor the resources to perform the inspections, indicating that the weapons officers had become lackadaisical in their duties."

2. "One official noted that until the Air Force was given the task of decommissioning the cruise missiles this year, it had not handled airborne nuclear weapons for more than a decade, implying that most of the airmen lacked experience with the procedures."

Unless it's changed in the last decade or so, the Air Force is a highly specialized organization. Much moreso than the Army, from my experience. This specialization leads to rigid bounderies of responsibility. The Air Force culture in my day was borderline "it's not my job." This was more from a regulatory standpoint than from any bad attitude - you were NOT supposed to screw around with stuff unless you were authorized and trained to do so. It made sense to a degree, but with communications systems that traversed multiple bounderies of responsibilities and AFSCs (MOSs) there could be serious *coordination* problems.

If this process was anything like maintaining comms systems, then multiple orgs with various responsibilities and authorizations would be involved. And that sounds like the case.

The weak points are where bounderies intersect between responsible organizations. It's where crap gets handed off from one organization to another. If two or three screwups occurred early in the process, those down the line may not have known even if they were following the process to a tee - they just focused on their little portion of the job that they were authorized to work on. This would be especially true if there was an officer's or senior NCO's signature signing off the tasks up stream on the checklist.

Plus, the AFSCs that originally did this work day in and day out may have been eliminated as part of the "peace dividend," and they were pulling people from other AFCS who did not know what they were doing. If this is the case, there wasn't *enough* specialization!

So, my guess is that the process required a high level of specialization yet many of the people performing the work were unqualified or lazy, or a mixture of both. Alcohol could have also been a problem with airmen partying too much the night before - "Why Not Minot" ain't the most exciting place on the planet.

No tinfoil hats. And I doubt Minot is now some dumping ground for bad and wayward airmen.

Jean Soucy

Col Lang,

Greetings, I agrree with your scenerio, as I live in Savannah and we have a Nuclear Device in our water off Tybbe Island, Georgia. 15 Miles from downtown Savannah. Jettisoned by our AF in the Late 50's early 60's. A re-look, and search was made after 9-11, 2001, To make sure Terrorist couldn't find it.
As an SF SADM Team Leader from 10th Group during the 1970's I have a good sense of what has to take place for a Nuclear detonation with the systems, that would not happen. The Worst case I Think, would be a convntional explosion equal to less than 25 pounds of conventional explosives. The Emotional and Psychological Power would be far greater. Everyone who violated any rules of surity and safety should be held to account. This was serious. JLS

mike

Makes you wonder how good the equivalent PRP program is in Pakistan?

mike

CSTAR

Zoomie's explanation makes some sense, and I'm almost convinced by it. If I understand correctly, he is describing a process whose specification requires possibly a large number of agents, each with a very limited task.

However, I would have thought that the design of such a process, would have allowed for probabilities of failure at each point of the process, with enormous levels of redundancy in making basic sanity checks at every step.

Is the correct conclusion from all this, that processes for handling nuclear weapons are seriously flawed? This of course makes one wonder about programs in other nuclear powers.

Cujo359

I wasn't suggesting that Minot was a "dumping ground", CWZ. In many large organizations, the good people tend to get assignments that they want, or the ones that will help them advance in their careers. Those who aren't as good tend to end up places they don't want to be.

Perhaps the Air Force is specialized enough that this doesn't happen as much. From your description, though, it seems I'm right in thinking that Minot isn't a plum assignment.

hardheaded liberal

Col. Lang, Richard Armstrong was referring to the Winter Patriot link included by raincat100 in his comment earlier in this thread. Winter Patriot was quoting the last comment on this webpage:
http://www.haloscan.com/comments/winterpatriot/
4442047155756868403/#93810

tsstorey does sound a bit out of it ...

Colonel, I am usually right there with you in urging folks to remember that incompetence is at the root of a whole lot more things being FUBAR than evil motives are. But until I see a persuasive unclassified version of the investigation report on this maneuver, I've got to withhold judgment. The movement was just a week before the Israeli bombing of the Syrian facility. That timing certainly could be another coincidence, but all these coincidences are downright worrisome!

Are our nuclear warheads really stored by the Air Force in weapons lockers [or whatever containers/rooms, etc.] where the nuclear warheads are sitting next to conventional warheads? Are the keys to access the storage areas for nuclear warheads on the same keychains as the keys to access conventional warheads?

The investigative report apparently says the answer is "yes": the initial control error was that "First, as the missiles were sitting in the weapons storage area, officers did not perform the required inspections."

That in itself freaks me out. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the military was always emphasizing that it paid attention 1000% to security measures that would prevent the accidental use of nukes. If nuclear warheads were just sitting side by side with conventional warheads all those years, we were sitting here just waiting for a nuclear conflagration. Perhaps we left that much to providence, but it is not plausible to me that nuclear warheads are routinely kept in storage areas that are accessible with the same set of keys as the conventional warheads.

Pan

Cujo - Minot is certainly not a plum assignment, but it isn't the dead-end assignment you think either. My first assignment in the AF back in the 80s as a young missile maintenance officer was at Minot. In a challenging environment, you learned quickly and those lessons stayed with me. None of the other people assigned with me wanted to be there, but we sucked it up and did our best like the professionals we were. It was a different age back then when the Strategic Air Command ran the place. Nuclear Surety was job #1 and things like this just didn't happen. The elimination of SAC and the de-emphasis on nuclear operations in the AF just added to the problems. The AF is hurting right now for personnel and money, and the nuclear programs are probably getting raided for other higher priority ones in the current war.

Cold War Zoomie

Cujo-

The only people I saw "working" the assignment system back in the day were the Top Three: E7 through E9.

Seemed to have more to do with with friends in the right places than performance.

Cold War Zoomie

Pan-

Would be great to hear your ideas on how the process broke down.

My comments were just speculation (nice word for guessing).

Woke up this morning and thought my entire rambling comment could probably be boiled down to one fact that you bring up: SAC ain't running the show any more and that original mentallity has faded away at Minot.

Speaking of places out in the middle of nowhere...off to Ft. Huachuca I go. Oh the joy.

Mad Dogs

Pat,

I'm willing to accept that multiple "innocent" screw-ups occurred during the back-end loading of the B-52 cruise missile nukes incident.

However, like hardheaded liberal, I am still way, way too dumbfounded by the initial "mistake".

Let me paint the initial situation that still leaves me stumped:

1. Nuclear weapons are stored in a "Deadly Force Authorized" bunker. Any thing bigger than a bunny rabbit that approaches such a "Deadly Force Authorized" location, best have that authorization or the Security folks are going to shoot your ass before asking a single question.

So, how did AF personnel enter the Nuclear Weapons storage facility? If they had "authorization", who gave it to them? This is not like stopping in at the local 7-Eleven and picking up a twelve-pack.

My understanding is that an "authorization" to enter a Nuclear Weapons storage facilities and remove nuclear weapons has to come from a good ways up the chain of command (i.e. Base Commander or higher).

If the AF personnel did not have "authorization", why aren't they dead on a slab in the morgue?

2. The Nuclear weapons storage bunker is a highly-secured and monitored facility. It ain't like one can take the padlock off your gym locker and use that to secure the doors of a nuclear weapons storage bunker. I'm guessing that an electronically-controlled lock is used. One that requires either (or both) a multiple-digit passcode or some type of cardkey.

In addition, it would seem highly logical that such "electronic access" would be "monitored". Using as an example, a home security system, it again would seem logical that "unauthorized entry" would set off alarms as well as a "critical alert" to the monitoring system and its personnel. One might even assume that nuclear weapons storage facilities have "video" monitoring.

How is it that AF personnel can enter a highly-secured Nuclear weapons storage bunker without detection of the monitoring system and its personnel?

If the monitoring system and its personnel "were" alerted, what in hell were they thinking when some folks (could have been terrorists dressed as AF personnel) breach the security of the Nuclear weapons storage bunker? Like, "Hey, it's just Airman 2nd Jethro and that hottie from the secretarial pool using the Nuclear weapons storage bunker for some lunchtime nookie."?

3. Since the experts have stated that these Advanced Cruise Missile "only" had a "nuclear warhead package" and had no "conventional warhead" equivalent, there could have been no "oops" by AF personnel in mistaking a conventionally-armed Advanced Cruise Missile with a nuclear version. There is only one version and it radiates.

How is it that AF personnel can grab a half-dozen nuclear-armed Advanced Cruise Missiles and remove them from a highly-secured Nuclear weapons storage bunker? Again, this ain't like stopping by the local Feedstore and grabbing a load of hay.

And since these critters weigh upwards of 1,000 pounds, it ain't like the AF personnel could just grab a half-dozen nuclear-armed Advanced Cruise Missiles and slip them under their field jackets and nonchalantly breeze out the door.

In summary, these initial "failures" of the security of nuclear weapons still does not pass the smell test. While I expect we "civilians" will never get a detailed AF explanation for the initial failures because of secrecy demands, I still have a unbelievably hard time in surmounting the credibility problems that are obvious and disturbing.

I'm not about to propound conspiracy theories of rabid Cheneyites preparing to nuke Iran, or Aliens arming their UFOs, but something massively stinks here, and it just won't hang together.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

October 2020

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Blog powered by Typepad