Just when you thought that Minot AFB, North Dakota had fixed its nuclear program, a new problem arises.
The latest controversy surfaced late last week when KXMC-TV in Minot reported that two missile officers had failed to turn in launch materials back in 2005. According to the station, the officers did not turn in badge-sized launch components that are used to detect tampering in launch facilities. Instead, they took the classified items home, and signed documents verifying that they were destroyed, in accordance with service procedures.
An Air Force spokesman said the violation was discovered in May, when one of the officers admitted his actions--and lying about destruction of the components. One of the items has been recovered; the other remains mission. The USAF said the missing component does not pose a security risk, since the material has long since expired.
Both officers have been relieved of their duties as missile launch officers and could face punishment for their actions.
The revelation about missing launch materials came as the Air Force announced that three other launch officers have been decertified for nuclear operations, after a recent security incident. Last April, the three were discovered napping in a crew rest area, expired nuclear launch codes still in their possession. The officers and other personnel involved in the incident have received non-judicial punishment.
All of the personnel involved in the security failures are assigned to Minot's 91st Missile Wing, responsible for the Minuteman III ICBM operations at the base. The unit also received a failing grade earlier this year from inspectors assigned to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.
The evaluation came during a nuclear surety inspection, administered by the DTRA and Air Force Space Command, the parent organization for the 91st. Despite the failing grade, the 91st retained its certification for nuclear operations because space command inspectors disagreed with the DTRA finding.
Word of the latest security problems at Minot came on the one-year anniversary of the installation's most serious nuclear incident. Last August, personnel assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing inadvertently loaded six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles onto a B-52, which flew them to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. The mistake was not discovered until hours after the bomber landed at Barksdale.
As a result of that incident, five commanders at Minot and Barksdale lost their jobs and the mishap ultimately claimed the Air Force Secretary and the service's Chief of Staff as well. They were forced from their posts in early June, amid continuing concerns about the USAF's nuclear enterprise.