According to a recent report by the Congressional
Research Service, entitled "Pakistan's
Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation and Security Issues,"
"The main security challenges for Pakistan's nuclear arsenal
are keeping the integrity of the command structure, ensuring physical
security, and preventing illicit proliferation from insiders.
"While U.S. and Pakistani officials express confidence in controls
over Pakistan's nuclear weapons, it is uncertain what impact continued instability
in the country will have on these safeguards."
U.S. officials confident that Pakistani nukes are safeguarded and secure against
Yes, according to a BBC
interview of Pakistani "nuclear expert" Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy
"The U.S. has been actively planning contingency measures as Pakistan's
nuclear weapons are, and will remain, a major concern."
Hence, Pakistani personnel who guard actual weapons storage facilities have
been sent to the U.S. for "training."
As a result, according to another Pakistani "nuclear expert," Brigadier
"Pakistan's nuclear weapons are only as much at risk as those of the U.S.
Well, that's a relief.
Or is it?
The Pentagon has just released its Defense
Science Board Task Force on Nuclear Weapons Surety Report on the Unauthorized
Movement of Nuclear Weapons.
If the Pakistani "surety" measures taken by "insiders"
are no better than those of our Air Combat Command, we're all in a heap of trouble.
According to the DSB Task Force Report, on August 29th, 2007, a
pylon – carrying six cruise missiles, each armed with nuclear warhead – was
without authorization removed from a nuclear weapons stockpile storage site
at Minot AFB, transported without authorization – and mated without authorization
– to a B-52 bomber. The nuke laden B-52 then sat, improperly, unguarded overnight,
and was then, without authorization, allowed to take off the following morning,
make an unauthorized flight to Barksdale AFB, to make an unauthorized landing,
and then sit, unguarded, until alert Barkdale personnel discovered the six nukes,
just sitting there on their tarmac.
than 36 hours no one in the U.S. nuclear weapon command-and-control system
knew where those nukes were, or in whose possession.
Not to worry. The Task Force seems to conclude that it was a paperwork problem. An ACC documentation problem.
Some of the cruise missiles in the Minot AFB nuclear weapon storage site contained
live nuclear weapons, but others did not. However, as incredible as it seems,
neither the external appearance nor the serial numbers of the cruise missiles
reflected which was which. And even though the custody of these "nuke-capable"
missiles changed at least three times at Minot AFB, there were no paper trail,
no check lists and no formal chain-of-custody documentation.
The DSB solution?
"Re-establish formal change of custody requirements for any movement
of nuclear-capable cruise missiles outside the weapons storage area, to
include serial number verification and custody change documentation, using
a formal document signed at each change of custody."
Of course, that wouldn't have prevented the Minot fiasco, because the serial numbers on the missiles that were actually moved matched those on the movement paperwork.
But Dave Lindorff
has raised some deeply troubling – to anyone who knows anything about the care
and feeding of nuclear weapons – objections to both the DSB and the Air Force
unclassified-version reports of the incident.
"The problem with this explanation – for the first reported case
of nukes being removed from a weapons bunker without authorization in 50
years of nuclear weapons – is that those warheads, and all nuclear warheads
in the U.S. stockpile, are supposedly protected against unauthorized transport
or removal from bunkers by electronic antitheft systems – automated alarms
similar to those used by department stores to prevent theft – and even anti-motion
sensors that go off if a weapon is touched or approached without authorization."
Lindorff notes that the U.S. has just
completed helping the Russians install state-of-the-art electronic "alarm
and motion-detection systems" as well as "detectors for explosives,
radiation and metal" at all Russian nuclear weapons and fissile-material
There have been reports
that we have similarly helped the Pakistanis.
Another thing. Virtually every live nuclear weapon in our stockpile contains significant quantities of high-explosive. In fact, one of the principal criteria for storage of our nukes is that the device be well electrically grounded at all times to prevent inadvertent detonation of that high-explosive and that the storage igloo be capable of containing that explosion in the event it occurs.
And if those "nuclear-capable" cruise missiles are routinely stored by the ACC at Minot already mounted six-to-a-pylon, that storage igloo for just one pylon better be capable of containing six of those explosions. For multiple pylons stored in the same igloo, don't even think about it.
The DSB Task Force laments a "marked decline in the level and intensity
of focus on the nuclear enterprise and the nuclear mission" within the
Department of Defense. "The decline is characterized by embedding nuclear
mission forces in non-nuclear organizations, markedly reduced levels of leadership
whose daily focus is the nuclear enterprise, and a general devaluation of the
nuclear mission and those who perform the mission."
In particular, strategic bombers were assigned to the new Air
Combat Command – established when Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense –
which is predominantly a tactical fighter command.
According to the DSB Task Force, B-52 aircrews and weapons-handling crews spend
as little as 5% and no more than 20% of their time on the "nuclear mission."
Reportedly neither the B-52 involved in the Minot fiasco, nor its crew, were
As for the Minot AFB nuclear weapons storage site "nuclear-qualified"
custodians and transportation crews and/or whoever disconnected all the electrical
grounds and disabled all the radiation monitors and alarms, motion detectors
and anti-theft devices – some of which one-point detonate the high-explosive
to prevent theft and reverse engineering – and proceeded to handle six missiles
armed with hundreds of pounds of conventional high-explosives like they were
sacks of cement, they're lucky they're still alive.
The grand pooh-bahs of the Air Force apparently satisfied members of the Senate
Armed Services Committee this week that the American people had never been in
any real danger. Unless, of course, you consider the possibility of being killed
by high-explosives a real danger.