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Minot Guards Fail Nuclear Security Test

Despite an embarrassing lapse last year when they lost track of six nuclear weapons, U.S. personnel at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., this month failed a nuclear security inspection, Air Force Times reported today (see GSN, Feb. 27).

The 5th Bomb Wing received an "unsatisfactory" grade Sunday from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which conducted mock attacks on the base during simulated nuclear operations.

The tests were triggered when the unit accidentally loaded six nuclear-armed cruise missiles onto a B-52 aircraft in August 2007.  The strategic bomber flew to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., where the weapons were discovered about 30 hours later.  Minot's top officer was relieved of command and dozens of other personnel were also punished.

The new commander, Col. Joel Westa, did not explain how his team failed to pass the inspection, which had been delayed to provide additional training time after the base failed similar tests in December, according to Air Force Times.

"Overall their assessment painted a picture of some things we need to work on in the areas of training and discipline," he said.

The inspectors did approve base practices on nine out 10 issues they examined, but flunked the bomb wing on the "nuclear surety" component.

"The most serious failure is the one regarding nuclear security, which is exactly what the Minot incident was all about," said strategic weapons expert Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists.

Specific lapses described by the Pentagon inspectors included finding a security guard playing video games while at a "restricted area perimeter" post, assessing that security teams used improper fighting tactics that left them vulnerable to enemy fire and resulted in the simulated death of a some soldiers, and determining that some personnel did not know correct access codes, Air Force Times reported.

Ultimately, the auditors concluded that "leaders were unengaged (in) the proper supervision of [security forces] airmen," their report says.

"If the leadership is still unengaged after all that has happened with the warheads, the missing ballistic missile fuses (see GSN, May 29) and problems with the first inspection, then they're not fit to have this mission," Kristensen said.  "It's really frightening."

"It makes you wonder what's going on elsewhere, like the nuclear weapons stationed at bases overseas, and at Barksdale Air Force Base and Whiteman Air Force Base" in Missouri, he added (Michael Hoffman, Air Force Times, May 30).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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