In a massive security breach, on August 30, 2007, six nuclear tipped cruise missiles were loaded by mistake on to the wing pylons of a B-52 bomber in Minot, North Dakota, flown for 3 1/2 hours over 6 states to Barksdale, Louisiana., and left sitting for 10 hours on a runway. You could probably write a book on how many security protocols this violated. How our military controls its nuclear weapons is not supposed to look like an episode of the Keystone Kops. It is indicative of a systemic failure and is as serious as serious gets. Yet the Air Force appears reluctant to mount a thoroughgoing investigation of, and change in, its security procedures to guarantee the integrity of its nuclear arsenal.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 12, 2008, retired Air Force General Larry Welch chairman of a Defense Science Board task force investigating the incident stated that since the end of the Cold War nuclear weapons security has undergone a precipitous decline. Safeguarding the nation’s nuclear arsenal is seen as a deadend career. Where once flag officers (generals, admirals) oversaw these devastating weapons, responsibility for them has now devolved to mid-level officers and officials. In other words, Minot was an accident waiting to happen.
Along similar lines, it came out in March 2008 that in fall 2006 the Air Force had mistakenly sent four electronic triggers for Minuteman MK-12 warheads to Taiwan instead of the helicopter batteries the Taiwanese had requested. The error was not discovered for a year and a half and then only by the Taiwanese who alerted the Pentagon. On June 5, 2008, citing this incident and the Minot affair, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates accepted the resignations of Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff General Michael Moseley. On June 18, 2008, Admiral Kirkland Donald who investigated these matters on Secretary Gates’ behalf informed Congress that more than 1,000 components for nuclear weapons could not be accounted for.