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Accountability

This is a start: Air Force To Fire Officers For Nuke Gaffe

(CBS/AP) Four Air Force officers are being relieved of duty after losing track of six nuclear-armed cruise missiles, which were flown on a B-52 bomber across the United States without anyone knowing it, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.

In addition, more than 60 Air Force personnel have had their nuclear security clearances lifted, adds Martin.

Two Defense Department officials said earlier Thursday that the Air Force investigation found long-established procedures for handling the munitions were not followed and one official said it recommends that five or more officers be relieved of their duties.

The officials declined to say what procedures were not followed. But the mishandling in August would have required not one mistake, but a series of lapses by a number of people in order for armed weapons to be inadvertently taken out of a storage bunker, mounted on the B-52, misidentified on a flight manifest and flown across the country for three hours without anyone noticing.

The plane also sat on a runway for hours with the missiles after arriving in Louisiana before the breach was known, meaning a total of 36 hours passed before the missiles were properly secured, officials have said.

A minor point on vocabulary – a “gaffe” is mispronouncing someone’s name; losing control of six nuclear warheads is not a “gaffe”.

This is a start, but the officer count should be a little higher, someone may be getting off with a letter of reprimand, which kills all promotion chances, but isn’t as severe as losing your position. Military rank is often tied to position, with permanent rank being a level or more lower, so losing the position is a demotion to your permanent rank. For example, Custer was a brigadier general during the Civil War but reverted to Lieutenant Colonel after the war.

You can’t make mistakes with nuclear weapons and procedures have obviously gotten lax. This wasn’t one mistake, this was a long chain of errors by multiple people.

8 comments

1 hipparchia { 10.19.07 at 12:43 am }

maybe i haven’t been paying attention, but did anybody ever say where those nukes finally ended up?

2 whig { 10.19.07 at 2:53 am }

And are all six accounted for again? I heard reports for awhile talking about five nukes. Which bothers me. Big difference.

3 Bryan { 10.19.07 at 9:07 am }

Hipparchia, they are in the Barksdale bunker. As a B-52 base and the center for decommissioning they have the facilities and no one was going to authorize a transfer.

Whig, initial reports said that five missiles were loaded at Minot, which was stupid because they are mounted as groups of three. That was changed to six almost immediately, but not everyone caught up with the change and continued using five for their reporting.

4 afjoey { 10.19.07 at 7:57 pm }

In the military (at least Active-Duty), permanent rank is usually NOT tied to position (you need it to get the position, but keep it when you lose the position). An officer in the military doesn’t get demoted like an enlisted member would. Instead, they lose their career. And by the way, Custer was a Brevet General during the Civil War, but once the war was over, he reverted to his “normal” rank of LtCol (a system no longer in use). It wasn’t a demotion because of poor performance.

5 R L Turner { 10.19.07 at 9:00 pm }

And these are the people in an administration that is tough on terrorism and fanatical about guarding our borders, who are going to protect us against terrorists? Is this the country that is worried about illegal immigrants crossing the border while our own military is incapable of scrupulous attention to detail and duty. The terrorists get plenty of help…from us. Remember, during 9/11, it was NORAD that got lost in its own country. Ha, ha, ha…the joke is, unfortunately, on us.

6 Bryan { 10.19.07 at 10:40 pm }

You can’t be promoted unless or until there is a slot for the rank. It literally takes an act of the Senate to be permanently confirmed in that rank. During that period if you lose the position you lose the rank. Because the rank is confirmed by the Senate, the Senate has to agree to a demotion, but officers have been demoted. My favorite aircraft commander when I was flying in RC-135s out of Offutt had been a Captain twice, a Major three times, and a Lieutenant Colonel once. He was a Major when I flew with him.

Currently General Petraeus has a fourth star only by virtue of his current command, and if he isn’t confirmed by the Senate he will lose that star when he leaves the command.

They stopped using the term Brevet, but that is the system. In a entry below I have a link to an entry on Patton. Go and look at his dates of rank and you will see he dropped two stars at the end of the war and then gained them back.

Normally officers retire if they can after something like this, but they can be demoted, just not in the same fashion as enlisted personal because of the Senate confirmation process.

Actually RL, NORAD was waiting on permission, just like Northern Command was waiting on permission after Katrina came ashore. Having a military doesn’t do you much good if you forget to allow them to act.

My Dad dealt with nukes the last half of his career in the Air Force, and I watched what the Soviets did with theirs when I was in. Being stationed on SAC bases and flying on classified aircraft, I can tell you that there is no way this could have happened 30 years ago. At Offutt you had my mission in RC-135s, the Looking Glass airborne command post mission, and the B-52s. You did not wander into the wrong area. Everyone on that flight line had a clearance for everything, but you did not wander into the wrong area.

7 whig { 10.19.07 at 10:45 pm }

Interestingly, my grandfather was a Captain in the Army and a WWII medic. We never knew until he had died, when we were going through his papers, he had been promoted to Major upon his departure from the service.

8 Bryan { 10.20.07 at 12:04 pm }

The separation promotion has been a regular feature of the military for a very long time.