And it lasted 36 hours, not 24. On August 29th, Six nuclear warheads were flown across the United States unbeknownst to anyone. At one point - overnight, after they were loaded onto the transport aircraft - they were secured by a simple chain link fence with a few roaming guards. Not exactly a "perimeter".
The whole mess is reported in the Washington Post with details provided by military personnel who asked for anonymity. Geez, I'm sure Gates and the whole military nuclear command is thrilled about the leakage of what really happened.
Here's the gist of things:
Just after 9 a.m. on Aug. 29, a group of U.S. airmen entered a sod-covered bunker on North Dakota's Minot Air Force Base with orders to collect a set of unarmed cruise missiles bound for a weapons graveyard. They quickly pulled out a dozen cylinders, all of which appeared identical from a cursory glance, and hauled them along Bomber Boulevard to a waiting B-52 bomber.
The airmen attached the gray missiles to the plane's wings, six on each side. After eyeballing the missiles on the right side, a flight officer signed a manifest that listed a dozen unarmed AGM-129 missiles. The officer did not notice that the six on the left contained nuclear warheads, each with the destructive power of up to 10 Hiroshima bombs.
That detail would escape notice for an astounding 36 hours, during which the missiles were flown across the country to a Louisiana air base that had no idea nuclear warheads were coming. It was the first known flight by a nuclear-armed bomber over U.S. airspace, without special high-level authorization, in nearly 40 years.
There are a whole series of checks and balances that are supposed to happen before transporting any nuclear or conventional weapons - armed or disarmed:
A simple error in a missile storage room led to missteps at every turn, as ground crews failed to notice the warheads, and as security teams and flight crew members failed to provide adequate oversight and check the cargo thoroughly. An elaborate nuclear safeguard system, nurtured during the Cold War and infused with rigorous accounting and command procedures, was utterly debased, the investigation's early results show.
A former National Security Council staff member with detailed knowledge described the event as something that people in the White House "have been assured never could happen." What occurred on Aug. 29-30, the former official said, was "a breakdown at a number of levels involving flight crew, munitions, storage and tracking procedures -- faults that never were to line up on a single day."
This event, known as a "Bent Spear" (one step removed from a "Broken Arrow" which means the loss, destruction or accidental detonation of a nuclear weapon), may be the result of too many resources diverted to the Iraq War. Also, since the Cold War ended, there is less emphasis on nuclear weapons as a main line of defense, and procedures have become lax.
All the way around, not good. And the whole WaPo article is well worth a read.
All I can imagine is the bad guys on 24 climbing that chain link fence and hiding inside the plane and detonating those things over Dallas. As a hypothetical example.
But, I guess if Gates had Jack Bauer, he could have dispatched him to do a mid-air leap from another military plane, torture the bad guys into giving him all of the detonator equipment and save North Texas from Hiroshima x10. All the while, Jack would be taking cell phone calls from Audrey, who would be a big weepy mess at some spa retreat in Arizona, recovering from all of her cumulative Jack-induced traumas.
These episodes write themselves.Posted by Martha Griffin on September 23, 2007 to National news