September 23, 2007

Bent Spear

Via Steve Benen, The Washington Post tries to untangle the story of how six nuclear-armed missiles were accidentally flown from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Louisiana, without anyone realizing that the bombs went missing for at least 36 hours. On the list of possible f'ups, this was a big one. (The bombs weren't really at risk of detonating, but slip-ups like this one could very easily lead to them being stolen or damaged.)

The Post's reporting is top-notch, but it's still unclear how and why all of the safeguards failed—especially how the missiles made it from storage onto the plane. Amazingly, the Air Force seems to be focusing at this point on punishing individual airmen while assuring everyone that "its security system is working." Bad apples and all that.

Meanwhile, here's an alarming line: "The Air Force's inspector general in 2003 found that half of the 'nuclear surety' inspections conducted that year resulted in failing grades." I guess the predictable lefty thing to say here is that, given the fact that the cold war-era safeguard system appears to be "utterly debased," and given the potential for major mistakes like this one, maybe it's not such a fantastic idea after all to have thousands of our nearly 10,000 warheads on hair-trigger alert.

Update: Hmmm... Larry Johnson, a former intelligence officer, isn't buying the official storyline here. He thinks the nukes may well have been transported deliberately, and notes that the base in Louisiana where they were taken is a jump-off point for air strikes on targets in the Middle East. I guess anything's possible...
-- Brad Plumer 4:44 PM || ||