Monday, September 01, 2008

More Minot Woes

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.

10 comments:

forward said...

From a retired USAF officer:

This may well be the result of merging SAC with Space Command. The two cultures were very different, even if they looked similar to pilot types with stars on their shoulders.

Dissolve SAC into Space Command and add in possible low morale due to the perception that the strategic nuclear deterance mission is not a high priority and you get ... this sort of dangerous lapse.

D said...

I try to explain to my friends that SAC is dead & buried - but they don't understand.

Space Command could use some of the values and disipline that SAC was built on.

DK
USAF 1977-1982

PCSSEPA said...

General LeMay would not have tolerated any of this. SAC needs to be reactivated. It had an effective culture all its own.

Roy Lofquist said...

Dear Sirs,

I was involved with the Minuteman II program in the early 60's. I am privy to the permissive link procedures necessary to launch a missile. That's not a big thing. They were classified "Confidential" which is a great big sign saying "Steal Me". The violations as described are, in a strategic sense, relatively meaningless. They indicate to me that the missile command, whatever its title today, is responding to the recent changes in DOD to get shipshape.

Regards,
Roy

Ed Rasimus said...

Reads to this former nuclear bomb commander like much ado about nothing. It certainly doesn't have anything to do with SAC's dissolution--they weren't the only MAJCOM that had nuclear weapons controls. USAFE & PACAF managed a passel of sunshine packages as well.

The issue is about training, leadership and command. Nuclear certification isn't a one-time requirement and HRP/PRP management isn't simply checking off paperwork boxes.

The sequence of events that has taken place, some serious and some simply press hysteria, is indicative of some serious lapses at Minot.

This one, however, reads like much ado about nothing. Where are Gen. Ripper, Gen. Turgidson and Col. Bat Guano when their nation needs them?

JoeC said...

Some old cliches seem appropriate:

Where there's smoke there's fire.
Mountains out of mole hills.
Nit picking.....

In college, it is the bane of speech and English writing teachers: filler. This is the useless words, paragraphs, phrases, illustrations etcetera that pad the paper.

I have used it (embarrassingly) in some of my consultant reports when a project that required inordinate research that resulted in a thin report; the client expects more for the bill presented.

So here the investigators a big perception problem with the lax security at Minot. The investigators HAVE to PROVE they were thorough. After they found the major "bugs" and squashed them (the cockroaches and the crickets) they go after the next layer (the ants and the fleas) then they'll be down to the dust mites.

The politicians DEMAND more. More facts. More heads. More bodies. WE MUST GET TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS!!!!
And, by golly, the investigators will deliver more bodies, appropriately dressed, spiced, and cooked to perfection.

(How's that for hyperbole and post padding?)

Of course none of the second guessing on my part DOESN'T mean that there isn't some additional breaches that must be fixed.

Brian said...

Former MMIII guy here. Let me get this straight. These guys violated classified handling protocols involving a secret document and got punished fairly severely, more than I have seen for similar incidents in my day.

Yet when it's revealed in a Federal investigation that Alberto Gonzales repeatedly mishandled, improperly classified and generally treated with disdain Top Secret SCI data, and he gets nothing?

No wonder we have discipline problems with leadership failures like that.

Roy Lofquist said...

Dear Brian,

This is not a partisan issue. I reluctantly cite the case of Mr. Berger who stole Top Secret documents from the National Archive and secreted them under a construction trailer.

Regards,
Roy

Brian said...

You are completely right: this is not a partisan issue. Political appointees Dems and Reps alike have been guilty of it in the past, and are likely to be guilty of it in the future.

But it is the Republicans who have had the leadership role for the last 8 years and so by nature of bad timing (perhaps?) they are to be setting the example.

My point is, leadership is about respect and setting the example. You can't berate and punish those at the bottom for the same mistakes that you let those at the top get away with. Either the entire chain of command plays by the same rules or none of it does.

While the Attorney General is not in the chain of command of the military, he is an influential and public figure in the Administration.

If President Gore was in office this critique would apply equally to the Democrat leadership.

Roy Lofquist said...

Dear Brian,

I have had some experience with classified information. You might say that I had some rather intensive training in security procedures. I doubt that many in government not directly dealing with security matters have more than a vague understanding of certain things. I don't think that the AG, any AG, got 120 hours of security training.

The investigation revealed a flaw in the procedures in the Justice Department. I am sure that there is a much greater awareness and this will not happen again. That's why we continually have these kind of investigations. They are not criminal investigations, but rather more like audits to plug the holes.

Regards,
Roy