The story of the travelling nukes

I remember reading about the recent slip in which half a dozen missiles with nuclear warheads were flown from North Dakota to Louisiana before being discovered. I didn’t say anything about it back then because there really wasn’t a lot of good information on it, and I figured most visitors would miss it if I just posted as an aside (that mini posting box on the right hand side of the Blahg). Now, the Washington Post has a very nice story up about what happened, and I figure pointing out the article for those that want to read about it now would be reasonable.

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.

. . .

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 Air Force senior master sergeant wrote separately that “mistakes were made at the lowest level of supervision and this snowballed into the one of the biggest mistakes in USAF history. I am still scratching my head wondering how this could [have] happened.”

A recounting of the oversights and skipped protocols that let this roll into such a problem are well covered in the story. Having worked in an environment where classified material was handled, and having seen the safeguards in place, it’s always interesting to me to hear about breakdowns in procedures. This particular incident was a little more interesting because the mistakes happened, I think in part, when people who were not expecting to be handling abnormal goods didn’t follow the necessary steps involved when abnormal materials work was occurring.

By skipping the safety protocols because this was viewed as a normal (i.e. non-nuclear) goods transfer, a real problem developed. That was why we were always instructed to always, always, always follow procedures as if we were dealing with classified information. That prevents accidental information leaks and reduces the probability of missing a step in proper handling of classified information.

[tags]Nuclear materials, Broken Arrow?, Bent spear, Mishandling nuclear warheads[/tags]