Air Force Finds Lax Nuclear Security
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Most overseas storage sites for U.S. nuclear weapons, particularly in Europe, need substantial improvements in physical security measures and the personnel who guard the weapons, according to a newly available Air Force report.
"Most sites require significant additional resources to meet DoD security requirements," according to the final report of the Air Force Blue Ribbon Review of Nuclear Weapons Policies and Procedures, completed in February.
The report was made public last week by Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, who obtained it under a Freedom of Information Act request.
The report said upgrades are needed in "support buildings, fencing, lighting and security systems" at several European sites. It also cited conscripts who serve only nine months and "unionized security personnel" whom some host countries provide as guards.
The panel recommended that the Air Force "investigate potential consolidation of resources to minimize variances and reduce vulnerabilities."
An Air Force spokesman, contacted late yesterday afternoon, said no one familiar with the Blue Ribbon panel was available to discuss the report.
Kristensen said yesterday that the United States keeps several hundred tactical nuclear weapons at six bases in five European countries: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
Although the Pentagon does not officially acknowledge the weapons' presence, Dutch Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop said during a parliamentary committee meeting Monday that nuclear weapons security facilities at the Netherlands' Volkel Air Base "are in good order," according to news reports.
Kristensen said that an estimated 10 to 20 U.S. B-61 nuclear bombs are stored at Volkel Air Base for delivery by Dutch F-16s.
The Blue Ribbon review of nuclear security, chaired by Air Force Maj. Gen. Polly A. Peyer, was conducted after it was discovered that a B-52 bomber had flown across the United States, from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, with neither the pilots nor ground crews aware that six cruise missiles under one wing held real nuclear warheads.
The panel's conclusions -- and another review ordered by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates after parts of a nuclear missile were inadvertently sent to Taiwan -- led Gates to remove Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and the chief of staff, Gen. T. Michael "Buzz" Moseley, in early June.
A summary of the Air Force report's findings has been available for months. But the newly declassified version provides additional details. It noted that one of the three wing commanders who controlled facilities with more than 100 nuclear-armed strategic missiles did not have a nuclear weapons background.
"Without an alert commitment for 17 years . . . the bomber force has seen a dramatic atrophy of its nuclear operational and academic skills set," the report concluded.
Only a "limited number" of top Air Force officers had served on 24-hour alerts that ended in 1991, and "within the next few years," the report noted, the Air Force will have no "pool" of "bomber wing commanders who performed nuclear alerts."