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Well boys I reckon this is it
September 12, 2007 3:34 PM   Subscribe


 
We've got a broken arrow.
posted by aerotive at 3:37 PM on September 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


I don't see what the big deal is, B-52 flew nuclear-equipped flights for decades. I expect them to be up there doing their job.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:39 PM on September 12, 2007


Survival kit contents check. In them you'll find: one forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days' concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings. Shoot, a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.
posted by SansPoint at 3:40 PM on September 12, 2007 [22 favorites]


sorry, typo, and NOT losing nukes.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:40 PM on September 12, 2007


The evidence that one was lost seems rather flimsy. But I'll stand down.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 3:41 PM on September 12, 2007


Let's see a credible source stating that only five warheads arrived.
posted by brain_drain at 3:41 PM on September 12, 2007


I didn't see any proof regarding a missing nuke, did anyone else? I just saw a lot of conjecture.
posted by knapah at 3:43 PM on September 12, 2007


That'll teach me not to preview
posted by knapah at 3:44 PM on September 12, 2007


It does seem a bit hard to load real warheads and mistake them for practice if yellow = practice and red = live. Anyone confirm this?
posted by A189Nut at 3:46 PM on September 12, 2007


I don't see what the big deal is, B-52 flew nuclear-equipped flights for decades. I expect them to be up there doing their job.

First of all, they don't do it any more. Second of all, it's not their job to fly nukes around without their knowledge. In fact, that's kind of a bad thing
posted by delmoi at 3:48 PM on September 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


The funny thing is that Sept. 18 is the USAF's 60th anniversary, there will be celebrations on Friday the 14th.
posted by Snyder at 3:48 PM on September 12, 2007


This happened several days ago, and I think the big deal wasn't that a nuke went missing (this is the first I'm hearing of this, and I think it's probably wrong), the big deal was that the plane was loaded and the pilot didn't know what they were carrying. (Also, I think I heard that the plane dropped off radar for a couple of hours).
posted by quin at 3:52 PM on September 12, 2007


So, we've got a week old CNN, story, a story from a "news site" that seems about as reputable as worldnet or democraticunderground, and two clips from Dr. Strangelove?

Now THAT'S breaking news, folks.
posted by dersins at 3:53 PM on September 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


So Steve Fossett accidentally saw something and they had to disappear him.

The current administration is going to detonate the missing bomb to get the fear back and declare martial law.

Takes off tinfoil hat, goes back to work.
posted by Mr_Zero at 4:00 PM on September 12, 2007


Color me skeptical on this one. I heard about them flying with the bombs attached -- which doesn't strike me as particularly bad; if you lived in parts of Alaska or New England during the Cold War that would have been a daily occurrence -- but I've heard nothing about the missing bomb from any other news sources. That sounds like a rumor that's gotten out of hand.

That they're doing a force-wide stand down to review procedures sounds plausible, though; I expect there are going to be a few heads rolling in regards to why the bombs weren't removed (but knowing the military, the heads that will roll will probably be the ones least deserving, unfortunately).
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:06 PM on September 12, 2007


Major Kong shrugs and says, "Oh, shit!"

Huh, I hate to speculate like this, but if one is missing, I bet it turns up as one of Iraq's missing WMDs. Of course for that to work, it will have to be detonated as to eliminate serial numbers etc.

I say this after remembering the many tons of munitions that mysteriously disappeared in Iraq, that probably went into the hands of "insurgents".
posted by snsranch at 4:12 PM on September 12, 2007


My money's on posturing against the Russians for resuming long-haul bomber flights.
posted by The White Hat at 4:15 PM on September 12, 2007


In an unrelated story...
posted by Reggie Digest at 4:16 PM on September 12, 2007


Wouldn't it be noticeable that they were carrying real bombs, weightwise or balance or something? I don't buy any of the excuses for this at all, and if they do start bombing Iran soon, we'll know the real story.
posted by amberglow at 4:18 PM on September 12, 2007


When the Navy orders a building secured, they turn out the lights and lock the hatches.
When the Army orders a building secured, they post sentries and check I.D. cards.
When the Marines order a building secured, they call in air strikes and assault the objective using fire and close combat.
When the Air Force orders a building secured, they call up their real estate agent and get a 10 year lease with an option to buy.
posted by SweetJesus at 4:20 PM on September 12, 2007 [5 favorites]


The real story is someone stole Keys strawberries.
"Ahh, but the strawberries that's... that's where I had them. They laughed at me and made jokes but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt and with... geometric logic... that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox DID exist, and I'd have produced that key if they hadn't of pulled the Caine out of action."
And BTW - it's hard to take a news source seriously when they can't even spell their headline correctly. It's standdown.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:24 PM on September 12, 2007


Well boys I reckon this is it

Wow. Nuclear weapons only kill boys. I never knew that!
posted by miss lynnster at 4:49 PM on September 12, 2007


oh hai, dis bomb is yours? my bad.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:03 PM on September 12, 2007


From the original article:

The AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missile was designed to carry nuclear weapons. No non-nuclear warhead is available for this missile. So the only possible error could have been loading nuclear warheads on the missiles instead of practice dummies.

The practice warheads have standard blue and yellow signs declaring "Inert, non-nuclear". The nuclear warheads have at least three distinctive red warning signs. This error is therefore highly improbable, absent tampering with signage.

Nuclear weapons are transported from the storage bunker to the aircraft in a caravan that routinely includes vehicles with machine guns front and rear and guards with M-16s. All steps in the process are done under the watchful eyes of armed military police.

Rules require that at least two people jointly control every step of the process. If one person loses sight of the other, both are forced to the ground face-down and temporarily "placed under arrest" by observant security forces. All progress stops until inspections are made to assure the weapons weren't tampered with.

All nuclear weapons are connected to sophisticated alarm systems to prevent removal or tampering. They could only be removed from the storage bunker by turning the alarm off. And the squad commander clearly would not have authority to turn off the alarm.


I did a little Googling -- this seems to be the right story as to how it all works. If so, I cannot see any plausible or even far-fetched mistake that would allow a nuke to go wandering.

Please -- feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:03 PM on September 12, 2007 [10 favorites]


In regards to Reggie Digest's article, is anyone else getting a bit worried about Russia's increasing public aggressiveness in the past few years? It's long been a sham of a democracy, but the anti-NATO movements Putin's been stabbing at are definitely beyond the pale.
posted by schroedinger at 5:04 PM on September 12, 2007


DoD Directive Number 4540.5. It's a pretty big (implausible) mistake to make.
posted by ryoshu at 5:04 PM on September 12, 2007


Color me skeptical on this one. I heard about them flying with the bombs attached -- which doesn't strike me as particularly bad; if you lived in parts of Alaska or New England during the Cold War that would have been a daily occurrence -- but I've heard nothing about the missing bomb from any other news sources.

Wheather or not any bombs are currently missing we probably will never know.

What we do apparently know -- conspiracy websites aside -- is that somehow, six nukes got loaded onto a plane and flown across the country without anybody knowing about it. Considering the failsafes that go into nuclear weapon handling, this is a tremendous breach of security.

This is the kind of thing that you expect to happen in former Soviet client states, not the USA. It's chilling.
posted by Avenger at 5:08 PM on September 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


Why not Minot?
Freezin's the Reason.

Oh, and also, loose nukes.
posted by gurple at 5:09 PM on September 12, 2007


According to this, the first reports said five, and then later the same anonymous sources apparently upgraded the number to six.

According to the forum post that the not-terribly-credible article in the FPP links to, the first reports came from Barksdale (where the bomber landed), while the six warhead figure came from sources at Minot, where the flight originated.

The original incident is incredibly suspicious, but if Michael Hoffman, the guy at Military Times who broke the story, says both numbers came from the same sources, it's going to take more than a guy on an out-there forum saying different with no sources before I'm going to give any credibility to this idea that there's actually one warhead *still* missing. If you want to dabble in shadowy possibilities, it would seem to me far more likely that this conjunction of various oddball reports (the warheads, the Air Force's S14 grounding response, this new missing nuke interpretation of the story, the discredited financial betting story from a week or so ago, etc) is clever disinformation to distract from something else that's going on.
posted by kowalski at 5:09 PM on September 12, 2007


I can't help but think this was intentionally leaked to scare the piss out of the Iranians.
posted by empath at 5:12 PM on September 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


The crew was unaware that the plane was carrying nuclear weapons, the officials said,

How could this POSSIBLY be true?

Has the Air Force decided that preflight checks and walk-arounds are a waste of time? Are there no indicators in the cockpit to tell the crew that the missiles are armed? Those missiles had to be taken out of storage, brought to the plane, and loaded onto the pylons before the pilots even got there. Are we to believe that there was no one to realize the "mistake"?
posted by c13 at 5:14 PM on September 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Or alternately, it could simply be suggested that this new missing nuke interpretation is itself disinformation to obfuscate the real story, which is the original flight itself, whatever the hell the intention of that flight was. Much as controlled demolition has come to utterly distract and undermine a 9/11 truth movement that was originally concerned more by the much more credible and destabilizing questions concerning the identities, links and historiographies of the apparent hijackers, putting concerned citizens on a wild goose chase to find the "missing" nuke is a great way to send an otherwise very serious story about Air Force nuclear malfeasance into tinfoil hat territory.
posted by kowalski at 5:15 PM on September 12, 2007


Most recent snapshot of what should be an empty alert web and facility.
posted by augustweed at 5:17 PM on September 12, 2007


I can't help but think this was intentionally leaked to scare the piss out of the Iranians.

Why would we do it that way?.
Hey look everybody, we're too stupid to tell a live nuclear warhead from a dummy. Six times in a row! But Iran is dangerous 'cause they wanna build some powerplants.
posted by c13 at 5:17 PM on September 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


BTW, not that I have time to factcheck the dates, but there have ben several times at sea and two or three times on U.S. land where nuke-armed planes have either crashed or accidentally dropped a nuke, once creating a pretty good sized crater. Given the multiple safety mechanisms, obviously they did not go off.

And these are minor boo-boos compared to the few times we have been very close to accidentally launching a nuclear exchange.

Keep knocking on wood and throwing SALT over your shoulders, kids. It could still happen.
posted by kozad at 5:22 PM on September 12, 2007


Yeah, and make sure it's iodized salt...
posted by c13 at 5:25 PM on September 12, 2007


How could this POSSIBLY be true?

IANANukeSpecialist, but I wonder if it can't be true.

Judging from what little is declassified about nuke handling -- which isn't much -- it seems that the "chain" from storage bunker to aircraft to target is so completely secure that an accident likes this ["Oops! The dummies were live! Man, we sure messed that one up! ;) ] is extremely improbable.

The system is such, AFAIK, that only the President or the NCA on duty can sign off on live nukes being moved around. You can't just walk into a bunker and say "Hey Sammy, I'm gonna take these nukes out for a spin. Be back later. Promise."

My gut feeling is that an "accident" here is extremely unlikely. Thats what makes this so scary. The number of people who would need to be invovled in order to have an "accidental" fuck-up of this magnitude is immense.

I'm not trying to get into 9/11truth tinfoil hat territory here, but if the US Military is ordering an emergency hand-count of their nukes, then there seems to be some serious shit going down.
posted by Avenger at 5:35 PM on September 12, 2007 [4 favorites]


Speculation: Jack D. Ripper
Barksdale Air Force Base is being used as a jumping off point for Middle East operations. Gee, why would we want cruise missile nukes at Barksdale Air Force Base. Can’t imagine we would need to use them in Iraq. Why would we want to preposition nuclear weapons at a base conducting Middle East operations?
posted by hortense at 5:38 PM on September 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


c13 : Has the Air Force decided that preflight checks and walk-arounds are a waste of time? Are there no indicators in the cockpit to tell the crew that the missiles are armed?
Those missiles had to be taken out of storage, brought to the plane, and loaded onto the pylons before the pilots even got there. Are we to believe that there was no one to realize the "mistake"?


The B-52 is a bomber, and it's unlikely that these would have been mounted on pylons, they would be carried internally. And there is no indication that the missiles were at any time armed.

My original read of the story is that they were merely being transported and were not loaded as part of the vehicle ordnance, however even if it were, there isn't necessarily any reason to suspect that it would register as anything other than a normal loadout.

The thing that surprised everyone isn't that the missiles were there, it's that the warheads were not the ones that they should have been carrying.

Not that any of this makes it any better that they managed to forget where those nuclear-fucking-warheads went for a couple of hours.
posted by quin at 5:38 PM on September 12, 2007


I can't help but think this was intentionally leaked to scare the piss out of the Iranians.

I'd like to believe that's the case, but I don't think "we can't keep track of our nukes" is really the most intimidating posture we could adopt. Unless it's supposed to mean "we have so many goddamn nuclear weapons, we just toss 'em around all the time!" ... but even then, it seems like it's a bit of a mixed message.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:43 PM on September 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Miss Lynnster ... You DO, of course, realize that's a quote from "Dr. Strangelove", right? Cuz explainin' it kinda kills the moment.
posted by RavinDave at 5:43 PM on September 12, 2007


I think the "serious shit going down... and this ain't it" disinformation/distraction theory is the most likely one.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:48 PM on September 12, 2007


The B-52 is a bomber, and it's unlikely that these would have been mounted on pylons, they would be carried internally. And there is no indication that the missiles were at any time armed.

That's what I thought too, but I keep reading they were under the wings. Internal stores makes more sense, especially if there were only 5 of them.
But anyway, even if they were supposed to be unarmed, why do they send them to be decommissioned by a B-52 instead of truck or rail, which is a lot more secure and cheaper.
Also, things like that are always stored in separate pieces, warheads away from missiles, in separate sites. Just to load them is a complex, closely supervised process that has to be authorized by everybody but a janitor. How could they be loaded with anything, dummy or live?
posted by c13 at 5:53 PM on September 12, 2007


"The AGM-129A ACM (Advanced Cruise Missile) is a low observable, sub-sonic, jet powered, air-launched cruise missile. The AGM-129A is carried exclusively by the US Air Force's B-52H bombers."

Remember to consult the Wiki... or at least FAS.

See photo.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 6:05 PM on September 12, 2007


I think we'll learn that this was a) a mistake and b) a mistake that was carried out to the letter of all regulations.

In other words, a mistaken order was made, and carried out to the letter. Everything was done correctly, in excruciating detail, and only the very first order was incorrect.

"They want us to load those missiles on the plane? OK, boys let's go load 'em up..."

"They want me to fly this plane with these missiles right here to Louisiana? OK, boys, fire up the engines.."

The problem then is, nobody bothered to ask for clarification ("Umm, when you said fly these missiles, do you really mean these missiles right here, right now?")

But that's the thing -- the system is not set up to allow for clarification requests. Everyone just follows the orders, right on down the chain.

That's my theory and I'm sticking to it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:15 PM on September 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Internal stores makes more sense, especially if there were only 5 of them.

The AGM-129 is only carried on wing pylons, one pylon per wing, six missles per pylon, max load twelve per a/c.

They're not small missiles -- 3500lbs at launch, 21' long, 2.5' in diameter. The earlier AGM-86 had a problematical rotary launcher that fit into the bomb bay of the B52G/H, but they had fits with it, and almost all loadouts were on the wings only, so they gave up on the AGM-129 and made it pylon-deploy only.
posted by eriko at 6:20 PM on September 12, 2007


From what I can derive of the photos... these devices are not clearly marked externally as "hot". The avionics package is forward... meaning the warhead is loaded into the fuselage of this particular weapon system.

Despite the rather droll exterior, and the banality of nuclear annihilation, this should NEVER HAVE HAPPEND.

I have a friend who was in a Minuteman regiment through the 1980's. He was very adamant that rigorous controls are in place to manage the arsenal. He was never able to recall an event personally when they were "unaware" of the location of a device.

Something is rotten here...
posted by PROD_TPSL at 6:21 PM on September 12, 2007


This strikes me as a high stakes game of I'm not touching you with Iran. Move a few nuclear ALCMs to the airbase we used in the 1991 Gulf War for conventional ALCM operations. Then tell the world about it by saying it was a mistake.
posted by humanfont at 6:22 PM on September 12, 2007


But that initial order to load up live nuclear missiles had to come from pretty high up. Way, WAY up. Why would THOSE people have anything to do with ordering decommissioned missiles to be taken from one place to another?
posted by c13 at 6:22 PM on September 12, 2007


Let's say goodbye with a smile, dear,
Just for a while, dear, we must part.
Don't let the parting upset you,
I'll not forget you, sweetheart.

We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when,
But I know we'll meet again, some sunny day.
Keep smiling through, just like you always do,
'Til the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away.

So will you please say hello to the folks that I know,
Tell them I won't be long.
They'll be happy to know that as you saw me go,
I was singing this song.

After the rain comes the rainbow,
You'll see the rain go, never fear,
We two can wait for tomorrow,
Goodbye to sorrow, my dear.
posted by hortense at 6:39 PM on September 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


This was No Accident: Nuclear Weapons are Different

"Nobody should fall for a story that those six (yeah, it was first reported as five, but now the original military whistleblowers have told Army Times it was six) nuclear-tipped cruise missiles that were flown in launch position on a B-52 from Minot, ND to Barksdale, LA, were put on there inadvertently."

From The Air Force Times: "Commander disciplined for nuclear mistake

By Michael Hoffman - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Sep 7, 2007 19:02:15 EDT

The Air Force continued handing out disciplinary actions in response to the six nuclear warheads mistakenly flown on a B-52 Stratofortress bomber from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., on Aug. 30. The squadron commander in charge of Minot’s munitions crews was relieved of all duties pending the investigation."
posted by nickyskye at 6:41 PM on September 12, 2007


From nickyskye's second article:

Thomas said the transfer was conducted safely and the American public was never in any danger since the weapons were in Air Force custody and control at all times.

Oh well, SINCE the weapons were in custody of people who mistakenly picked up SIX nuclear warheads, loaded them into the missiles, loaded the missiles onto the plane and flew them across the country without realizing what happened, we all can sleep soundly. Air Force will keep us safe!

Fucking hell..
posted by c13 at 6:57 PM on September 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


From here:

Nuclear weapon experts said they were shocked to find out how completely command and control over the six nuclear warheads failed to allow such a mistake to occur.

Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, said a host of security checks and warning signs must have been passed over, or completely ignored, for the warheads to have been unknowingly loaded onto the B-52.

ACMs are specifically designed to carry a W80-1 nuclear warhead with a yield of 5 to 150 kilotons and delivered by B-52 strategic bombers.

“It’s not like they had nuclear ACMs and conventional ACMs right next to each other and they just happened to load one with a nuclear warhead,” Kristensen said.

The Defense Department uses a computerized tracking program to keep tabs on each one of its nuclear warheads, he said. For the six warheads to make it onto the B-52, each one would have had to be signed out of its storage bunker and transported to the bomber. Diligent safety protocols would then have had to been ignored to load the warheads onto the plane, Kristensen said.

All ACMs loaded with a nuclear warhead have distinct red signs distinguishing them from ACMs without a nuclear yield, he said. ACMs with nuclear warheads also weigh significantly more than missiles without them.

“I just can’t imagine how all of this happened,” said Philip Coyle, a senior adviser on nuclear weapons at the Center for Defense Information. “The procedures are so rigid; this is the last thing that’s supposed to happen.”


Unbelievable.
posted by Avenger at 6:59 PM on September 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


The squadron commander in charge of Minot’s munitions crews was relieved of all duties pending the investigation.

He's not the only guy who should go down over this -- the base commander's probably going to lose his career as well.
posted by eriko at 7:01 PM on September 12, 2007


Shoot, a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.

Bonus film trivia -- the line was originally "in Dallas with all that stuff." It was changed in the script after the Kennedy Assassination, I forget if they had to reshoot the scene.
posted by eriko at 7:03 PM on September 12, 2007


BTW - I will start believing crazy conspiracy stories if come Friday an explosion of a nuclear device is our reason to go to war with Iran.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:03 PM on September 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Me : The B-52 is a bomber, and it's unlikely that these would have been mounted on pylons

c13 : That's what I thought too, but I keep reading they were under the wings.

eriko : so they gave up on the AGM-129 and made it pylon-deploy only.

Huh. I had no idea, thanks for setting me straight.
posted by quin at 7:04 PM on September 12, 2007


I can't help but think this was intentionally leaked to scare the piss out of the Iranians. posted by empath

I agree -- it was my first thought. My second thought, however, scared the piss out of me. As some are getting here, and others not, the threat is not so much one of these suckers blowing up or falling off a plane as it is the threat of a military not in tight control of its WMDs. (Sound familiar?) Sure the USAF could be a bunch of keystone kops losing nukes; or this could be a carefully engineered cover story for "losing" a nuke that will later wind up being used in the "terrorist" attack on a major US target that will keep the republicans in power for the next 100 years of hell that will follow, under martial law no less.

It's sickening that one would even think this way. But that's what it's come to for me.

And also, I always am amazed that people act like the nuclear annihilation threat just disappeared with the cold war's end, as if the weapons weren't still there and ready to go. I think a lot of our fear of "terrorism" (which is more likely to kill hundreds, or occasionally thousands, than millions) is the return of the cold war repressed horror of nuclear apocalypse.

But basically, I wouldn't put it past Bush to toss a nuke anywhere it suited his political interests to do so. He's that kind of guy.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:18 PM on September 12, 2007 [7 favorites]


Or, xcuse me, the useful idiot sock puppet of guys who are that kind of guy.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:18 PM on September 12, 2007


Yes, mistakes were made, but they did in fact detect the problem, it just went further through the system than people are comfortable with. Had the bombs been accidentally detonated, then I would be suspicious of a conspiracy. All these air force people sounding flabbergasted "how could this happen?!" sounds like a whole lot of CYA.
posted by stbalbach at 7:24 PM on September 12, 2007


I heard speculation that perhaps the story getting out is the military alerting the public that someone is up to no good. I don't find it very plausible that this was a mistake. OTH, the Airforce has become a cesspool of Fundies, so the implausible becomes increasingly likely.
posted by Goofyy at 7:32 PM on September 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


Yes, mistakes were made, but they did in fact detect the problem, it just went further through the system than people are comfortable with.

Yeah, just a little bit. Good thing they figured it out before cutting them into pieces.
posted by c13 at 7:33 PM on September 12, 2007


Now when they drop a million tons of conventional munitions on millions of Iranians we'll all be able to say "Well at least they didn't use those nuclear weapons."
posted by furtive at 7:40 PM on September 12, 2007


Huh. I had no idea, thanks for setting me straight.

Of the reasons I find six a much more, well, understandable number than five is that you load six per pylon, so it's a natural number of missiles to carry out to the bird.
posted by eriko at 7:46 PM on September 12, 2007


Someone should check to see if there's too much fluoride in the water up in Minot.
posted by Skygazer at 7:57 PM on September 12, 2007


Overreaction. The first time I read this article a few days ago, nothing about it struck me as odd. Still doesn't.

This was an alert B-52 with a nuclear loadout, which isn't itself surprising. The B-52 was supposed to be decommissioned. (And as an aside, you don't fly live nuclear weapons somewhere when you decommission them. That's not rocket science.) (Literally.)

The B-52 was supposed to be unloaded, or changed to a dummy loadout of some sort, before being flown to Barksdale. The snafu was that somehow, the loadout order never made it, so the plane was flown to be decommissioned (I'm guessing not by its regular crew) and sometime after it landed someone realized the mistake. When you consider that nuclear payloads generally aren't just swapped around willy-nilly (and that's a good thing) this shouldn't be all that shocking.

In short, a few infrequent but otherwise run-of-the-mill events: a nuclear-loaded long-range bomber, an old plane being decommissioned, and a nuclear loadout being changed. Someone screwed up and didn't remember to change the loadout before the decomm flight. (The pilots and ground crew are not the ones to question this, by the way -- again, for obvious reasons. Even if they noticed the live nuclear weapons, do you really expect them to go blabbing about it or mention it over the radio or something? That would be something to be frightened about.)

It doesn't have to be a conspiracy -- plenty of B-52s are nuclear-armed, they aren't decommissioned every day and there's usually no need to change the payload. In this case, the wildcard was the decommissioning, and someone dropped the ball by not disarming the plane before it flew (a change from its default armament). Pretty simple. Someone forgot to issue the "disarm" order, and so it didn't happen before the separate decomm order came down the chain, precisely because of the command-and-control procedures that require lots of authorization before nuclear weapons are armed/disarmed/etc. In fact, the C&C procedures are specifically designed not to prevent an already-armed bomber from taking off -- again, for obvious reasons, when you consider that these are policies anticipating a nuclear exchange / decapitation scenario.

This isn't remotely surprising. It's ridiculous in a Dr. Strangelove sort of way, yes, but a security breach doesn't necessarily mean a threat. Leaving the test program running at NORAD that flagged an incoming nuclear attack certainly constituted a security breach as well, and a much more serious one than a bureaucratic snafu like it seems we have here. This one doesn't even register on the Military Fuck-Up-O-Meter when compared against much of the stuff that happened during the height of the Cold War. Tempest in a teapot.

(Also, y'all are aware that if the Administration wants to drop nuclear weapons on Iran, they don't have to hide it, right? If you want to be scared about something, be scared about that. We wouldn't find out about it like this. Some phrase about a smoking gun and a mushroom cloud leaps to mind here.)
posted by spiderwire at 8:05 PM on September 12, 2007 [11 favorites]


Meanwhile, somewhere in Nebraska. . .
posted by spock at 8:21 PM on September 12, 2007


Thank you, spiderwire. I'll sleep a little easier tonight, now.
posted by jokeefe at 8:21 PM on September 12, 2007


Spiderwire, first of all, it was not the plane that was decommissioned. The cruise missiles were. Read the article carefully. Secondly, even if it was the plane, you don't just get into one and fly off. There are many procedures that are designed to keep this from happening. You can read about them here.
Here is the thing: The ground alert ended in September 1991 when the bombers were taken off nuclear alert as part of the first Bush administration’s Presidential Nuclear Initiative.

So, unlike what you may think, the bombers don't just sit on the runway 24/7 loaded with live nuclear weapons. If for no other reason that the warheads have to be stored and maintained in a special environment.
posted by c13 at 8:23 PM on September 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


From that story on the Russian weapon: "Despite its destructive qualities, the bomb is environmentally friendly, Gen Rushkin said." Does this guy write for The Onion in his spare time?
posted by spock at 8:25 PM on September 12, 2007


somehow, six nukes got loaded onto a plane and flown across the country without anybody knowing about it.

it's my belief they knew - and it was used to send iran a signal by a "leak"

but let's assume that you're right - it was all a mistake

if the u s air force could screw up like that, how do we know if pakistan, india, or russia couldn't screw up even worse?

not very reassuring is it?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:58 PM on September 12, 2007


Damn, you, c13. Spiderwire's version had me all calmed down.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:05 PM on September 12, 2007


I have no experience with bombers, only with Trident submarines, but:

Nuclear weapons are not moved around by a couple of guys in coveralls. There is no "oops, shit, I grabbed the wrong missile!" Missile moves are accompanied by marine squads with armored personnel carriers and high-caliber chain guns. The security is good enough that I have not seen with my eyeballs a nuclear weapon in my years of being on the crew of the delivery platform.

This was one of three things: totally made up, totally intentional, or so screwed up by so many people that jail time will result. I think #3 is impossible. Really. It involves several organizations. The CO of the submarine can not just call up and have nuclear weapons delivered to the boat. SWFPAC can not just put weapons on our boat while we aren't looking. The marines aren't going to do the security without authorization from someone who is above the boat and SWFPAC. Nobody's moving weapons around here unless the base commander (not affiliated with the Marines, or the boat, or SWFPAC) is aware and ok with it, and he's not taking anyone's word for it without seeing the authorization. It would have to come explicitly from the NCA to load those specific weapons this specific time for it to happen.

Maybe the Air Force is a little more casual with their weapons? I doubt it.
posted by ctmf at 9:20 PM on September 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


I can't help but think this was intentionally leaked to scare the piss out of the Iranians.

You're not the only one wondering about that angle.
posted by homunculus at 9:21 PM on September 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


oh, ok. no big deal then. shit like this happens all the time. just a "snafu." overreaction.

the signal might be a covert one, by the way. it need not be the obvious, because it's hardly saber rattling to announce that you are totally loose about your aging nukes. it says your military is in disarray, stretched thin by over-commitments around the world like the USSR's when they were in Afghanistan. heck of a signal to send to an already emboldened enemy or twelve we have out there. I would assume we have submarine nukes right offshore in the Indian Ocean or maybe even the gulf, Iran knows it, and the only question they really need answered is "how far can we push this big wounded beast before it actually summons the energy to hurt us, and can we run out that energy before it realizes it is all or nothing?"

i really, really wish nuclear weapons weren't seen as poker hands. it was the constant question of the sane in the cold war: are we or they crazy enough to kill ourselves or themselves killing them or us.

and we act amazed at individual suicide bombers, or 19 of them on an airplane.

humans are fucking evil.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:30 PM on September 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Or, since this was likely a major treaty violation, maybe this was a snap at the Russians. I do think it was deliberate, and deliberately leaked, the more so after reading homunculus' link to the No Quarter piece just now.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:37 PM on September 12, 2007


So, no birds in the air on Friday? Is that to clear traffic for the"missing" nukes take off for the Middle East?
posted by Cranberry at 9:41 PM on September 12, 2007


I don't know what to make of this Yahoo Groups post linked to in the comments of the No Quarter piece, but it's worth reading even if it's entirely made up. Chilling if it is true.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:48 PM on September 12, 2007


Now if the standdown was on the 15th, I'd have figured it was all just an elaborate ploy for those boys at the Strategic Air Command in Bellevue to get the day off for the USC game in Lincoln.
posted by spock at 9:52 PM on September 12, 2007


homunculus, I was going to link to the same Larry Johnson article. I think the Cheney Bush evil duo may have been planning to nuke Iran and tell us about it after the fact, and someone leaked the info. There are many in the military and CIA who are not thrilled with this administration's global aspirations.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:00 PM on September 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


This summer's blockbuster fuckup brought to you by the people who nearly blew up the planet by:
-Mistaking a flight of swans for a bomber fleet

-Running supposedly redundant international NORAD comms through one Colorado relay station that then failed

-A whole host of innocent pilot errors signaling attacks, among a couple hundred other blatant false alarms

-Launching nuclear interceptors when a bear tripped an intruder alarm

-A commercial power failure tripping the "we've been blown up" alarms

-Leaving a simulation tape in the computers at NORAD that subsequently caused the appearance of a full-blown attack
Those, of course, are just a few highlights from the USA. The Russians, too compiled a decent list, including mistaking a Norwegian research satellite for a missile not too long ago, and a computer glitch forcing a switch to combat mode after that. One Russian officer in particular deserves our eternal gratitude for showing courage and presence of mind when a weaker man might have panicked and turned Britain into a nuclear Atlantis.

Would that more of us were like him.


I see something different underlying the national reaction to this story, a desperate attempt to convince ourselves that this really matters:

The truly scary thing here is that if people in this country are so shocked, shocked, by a simple paperwork jam, then we've become far too complacent about just how much radical incompetence we're really capable of. The possibility of a truly catastrophic fuckup is no less real today than during the Cold War, and the consequences no less dire. That was the lesson of Dr. Strangelove -- the combination of human fallibility, weakness, and fear paired with godlike powers of incomprehensible destruction -- and it seems we've forgotten it. The horror of nuclear weaponry was that our capacity for fear was finally outstripped by our capacity to act on it, that Prometheus came down to us and the sad fact was that we weren't worthy of the responsibilities that come with power after all.

The tragic aspect of all this is that "the bomb," despite its apparently permanent fixation in our political consciousness, is in a sense obsolete -- at this moment the US is fighting a war that's invisible compared to any that's preceded it, slow and hidden where the bomb was shocking and unmistakable, but both killing just as surely, one-sidedly, and horrifically, and on equally massive scales.

That's barely a metaphor so much as a way of pointing out that the effect of a nuclear weapon no longer requires the weapon itself. And the hysteria attached to something as silly as an Air Force bureaucrafuck demonstrates just how far our concerns have strayed from our fears, and our fears from our responsibilities. The most significant restraint on nuclear weaponry was the that there was no way to avoid accountability for using them. Now, that restraint no longer inhibits us. We can act on our fears at will, and do. It took no conspiracy to start down the path we're on now, and it doesn't take a conspiracy to keep walking it.

Six years ago, in what was obviously a bellwether moment even if it wasn't apparent why or how, we decided that the courage to ride the bomb was more admirable than the courage to question the man with the launch codes. Would that there were a conspiracy, that there was something we missed, that we hadn't walked into this with our eyes wide open -- it might be easier to sleep at night. The cloak-and-dagger world of Cold War espionage and nuclear holocaust was more straightforward, in a perverse way -- the machinery of the thing wasn't exposed for everyone to see, and so we were only participants by proxy.

The thing that dare not speak its name is that we've ignored horrible things that happened right before our eyes, things not as abstract as bombs or conspiracy. All of us, of all political stripes and positions, bear responsibility for our weakness and our failure. The tabloid-like reaction to the B-52 incident, the "blood for oil" mantra, the 9/11 conspiracy theories, the nationalist hysteria -- all different ways of pretending that we're not already where we are, that we never decided to give in like we did, that this was tragic error rather than hubris -- gentlemen, you can't fight in here, this is the --

Yeah. Well. You know the rest.
posted by spiderwire at 10:17 PM on September 12, 2007 [21 favorites]


From a February article: US generals ‘will quit’ if Bush orders Iran attack.

It seems to me that the finger-pointing at Iran for their role in Iraq has increased in the major media in the last few weeks. Sorry, I just don't trust anything the media tells me in this regard since they were so complicit in passing on pre-Iraq propaganda and seem totally willing to roll over again on this one.

Never thought I would see a day when I would trust generals over civilians in keeping the peace.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:18 PM on September 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


Never thought I would see a day when I would trust generals over civilians in keeping the peace.

that's because most generals have actually seen war - they've seen people shot

most civilians haven't
posted by pyramid termite at 10:22 PM on September 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


madamjujujive: It seems to me that the finger-pointing at Iran for their role in Iraq has increased in the major media in the last few weeks.

It sure has. One of the more recent (but one of very many since last week) from who else but Fox News: U.S. Officials Begin Crafting Iran Bombing Plan

With any other administration I'd think this was all saber rattling, but this bunch can't be trusted with butter spreaders, forget about the really pointy stuff.
posted by maryh at 10:43 PM on September 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Spiderwire, first of all, it was not the plane that was decommissioned. The cruise missiles were.

Sorry, my mistake. Interestingly though, that actually reinforces my argument.

First, you miss the point regarding proper transport of nuclear weapons. You don't transport decommissioned nuclear weaponry via the wing mounts -- in fact, you can see a picture on the page you linked of a cargo transport of how it usually happens. However, having nuclear weaponry attached to a nuclear bomber is by no means out of the ordinary.

The point remains that the mistake was clearly a disconnect between the decomm order and the appropriate disarm order. There is simply no plausible scenario wherein you would transport decommissioned weapons while mounted, especially if the intent was to do something nefarious with them. In fact, if you read that page you linked, the author does an excellent job of debunking precisely the concerns you raise, but I'll address the next one anyway since it indicates that you don't really know what you're talking about.

Secondly, even if it was the plane, you don't just get into one and fly off. There are many procedures that are designed to keep this from happening. You can read about them here.
Here is the thing: The ground alert ended in September 1991 when the bombers were taken off nuclear alert as part of the first Bush administration’s Presidential Nuclear Initiative.

So, unlike what you may think, the bombers don't just sit on the runway 24/7 loaded with live nuclear weapons. If for no other reason that the warheads have to be stored and maintained in a special environment.


You are incorrect. Read your article again. The ground alert stand-down did not and never has involved decoupling bombs from the bombers. In fact, that's been a major point of contention with many disarmament groups for quite some time. The de-alert / de-targeting policies you're referencing merely removed the "dead-hand," failsafe, pretargeting policies for our nuclear arsenal and replaced them with specific authorization for deployment, effectively changing the default posture -- but that's it. More on that in a second.

What requires authorization is a change in the loadout of a particular platform, primarily so that the weapons are accounted for. In other words, if the bomber is already configured for a nuclear loadout, authorization would be required to change the configuration. A different policy would be nonsensical, because then you would have technicians moving bombs around all the time, trying to fit them to the planes in the case of an actual attack, and storing them in a single location which would then need to be secured rather than on the wings of the planes. You'll note that the problem was that the weapons weren't removed not that they were improperly mounted.

The more serious screwup is that the bombs were clearly authorized to be moved, but that the intermediary step of decoupling the warheads and moving them into storage somehow got lost in the shuffle. The authorization to fly clearly existed, as the bombs were in fact to be transported to Barksdale for storage. The error was simply that the warheads aren't supposed to be attached to the cruise missiles during the flight, not that they were being transported covertly or anything of that nature.

Of course, in many respects that's a huge error, but again, it in no way indicates that there's some sort of "deeper story" here -- on the contrary, it appears in every aspect to be the sort of thing that you'd expect a large clumsy bureaucracy to screw up. Again, as the author of the article you link points out, if there was some sort of cross-purpose or secondary agenda, there is no way on earth that this is how it would have transpired, even had it ever become news at all. Barksdale is precisely where you'd expect these weapons to be sent for decommissioning, and if the idea involved misdirection, there'd be no worse way to do it than transporting them on the wing of a freaking B-52 where anyone at the base could see the damn things.

Again, sorry for the error, but the story's not even remotely closer to being disturbing -- in fact, if anything I find it less so, as I didn't really understand why the B-52 would be decommissioned with live ammunition attached at all. It makes even more sense now, and is proportionally less inexplicable.
posted by spiderwire at 10:48 PM on September 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:51 PM on September 12, 2007


Great work, spiderwire! Free donuts in OVP tomorrow, live it up!
posted by kenlayne at 10:54 PM on September 12, 2007


Or, since this was likely a major treaty violation, maybe this was a snap at the Russians. I do think it was deliberate, and deliberately leaked, the more so after reading homunculus' link to the No Quarter piece just now.

At this point Russia probably finds our nuclear treaty violations about as surprising as Siberia being cold in the winter. More likely, they're laughing at us while polishing their Topol-Ms and taking bets on how badly our next [not-exactly-treaty-compliant] ABM test will fail.

I would assume we have submarine nukes right offshore in the Indian Ocean or maybe even the gulf, Iran knows it, and the only question they really need answered is "how far can we push this big wounded beast before it actually summons the energy to hurt us, and can we run out that energy before it realizes it is all or nothing?"

As ctfm points out, our submarine C&C policies are significantly different than the equivalent long-range bomber policies. I hardly think that Iran is worried about an accidental nuclear attack at the moment.

i really, really wish nuclear weapons weren't seen as poker hands. it was the constant question of the sane in the cold war: are we or they crazy enough to kill ourselves or themselves killing them or us.

In this case, that question is hardly salient -- only one country in the world has MAD capability, and Iran ain't it.

On the contrary, this question is much less about our sanity and quite distinctly about our personal morality and our principles -- we are hardly in the sort of suicide pact with Iran that we were with the USSR, and anything we do at this point is on our shoulders. Assuming that we haven't completely forgotten Dresden, Hiroshima, or Nagasaki, the "question" is quite simply whether we are mass murderers or not; whether we take seriously the value of other human lives rather than our own.
posted by spiderwire at 10:58 PM on September 12, 2007 [7 favorites]


Great work, spiderwire! Free donuts in OVP tomorrow, live it up!

I really have no idea whether you're being sarcastic or not, because the topic of nuclear weapons essentially breaks my irony detector.

Assuming that you think I'm merely tossing around milspeak, I'd encourage you to read the rest of my long comments on the thread.

Assuming otherwise, I like chocolate-glazed, please! Also, Kenny Boy, I think that your alias needs a little work if you're going to pull off the whole Elvis trick. Wink-wink.
posted by spiderwire at 11:02 PM on September 12, 2007


The ground alert stand-down did not and never has involved decoupling bombs from the bombers.

I apologize c13, I am completely wrong about this. I had the bomber policy confused with the missile-warhead decoupling plan, which was supposed to happen but never did. For the B-52s, they keep them next door. Nevertheless, the loadout isn't supposed to change without authorization -- that part is correct.
posted by spiderwire at 11:30 PM on September 12, 2007


the story's not even remotely closer to being disturbing.

You clearly have much higher tolerance for mistakes that might cause the deaths of millions than I do. (Don't say it can't happen...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:01 AM on September 13, 2007


You clearly have much higher tolerance for mistakes that might cause the deaths of millions than I do. (Don't say it can't happen...)

If your family is affected by indecidental war freedom, do I have a deal for you!
posted by ryoshu at 1:28 AM on September 13, 2007


fourcheesemac wrote: this Yahoo Groups post

about the author...
posted by ryanrs at 2:06 AM on September 13, 2007


Personally, I'm not taking this very lightly.

When we have a new Osama video, accidental nuclear-armed aircraft, a game of Jeopardy being played between congress and Patraeus...and freaking Lieberman asking if we can send troops across the Iran border...it starts to make me a little nervous.
posted by rougy at 2:08 AM on September 13, 2007


Thanks for the lead ryanrs.

spiderwire: "a paperwork jam" -- really? No big deal, nothing to see here, move along, but drop a steaming pile of military lingo to reassure us that this is just a usual snafu by those crazy air force boys?

The *air force* doesn't think so -- if this is legit. A system-wide stand-down for 24 hours? Alerting the president? Heads rolling up and down the command structure?

Something to see here. We just don't know what it is. I am not reassured by "simple fuck up, happens all the time, now don't you worry your civilian ass about it. Eveything will be fine at oh-nine-hundred when the CO of APV-S for the USAF GHC shows up and has 'em all drop and give him 100 pushups.

Yes sir.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:30 AM on September 13, 2007


The error was simply that the warheads aren't supposed to be attached to the cruise missiles during the flight, not that they were being transported covertly or anything of that nature.

Of course, in many respects that's a huge error, but again, it in no way indicates that there's some sort of "deeper story" here -- on the contrary, it appears in every aspect to be the sort of thing that you'd expect a large clumsy bureaucracy to screw up.


But this is precisely my concern, spiderwire. We are talking about six nuclear warheads with the combined power of upto 900kt. (By the way, these warheads are of Dial-a-yield kind and would have to be kept in storage just because of that). There shouldn't, mustn't be anything that can remotely be described as "simple" about any aspect of their storage or operation. That's what I expect. That's what everyone expects. And it is very worrisome that for a large clumsy bureaucracy, who's job it is to make these warheads as inaccessible and safe as possible, all it takes is a "paperwork jam" to send them flying across the country without realizing it.
On the other hand, I don't buy the "sending a message" hypothesis, this kind of "don't fuck with us because we're fucking craaazy" thing only works in the Lethal Weapon. I do think it is some sort of colossally huge fuck-up. Hard to believe, but then again, I never though we'd loose a huge port city to a hurricane.
posted by c13 at 4:08 AM on September 13, 2007


kenlayne: "Great work, spiderwire! Free donuts in OVP tomorrow, live it up!"

Fuck off, ya tosser. This is what's wrong with this country today: the constant attitude is, "if you don't agree with me, then you're a crony of the enemy! Same damn thing as "you're either with the terrorists or against us," you bloody fool.

Grow the fuck up.
posted by koeselitz at 5:15 AM on September 13, 2007


fourcheesemac: "I am not reassured by 'simple fuck up, happens all the time, now don't you worry your civilian ass about it. Eveything will be fine at oh-nine-hundred when the CO of APV-S for the USAF GHC shows up and has 'em all drop and give him 100 pushups.'"

Well, maybe I'm reading spiderwire wrong here, but I don't believe he's saying that everything is fine. I thought the point was that it really does happen all the time, has happened all the time for about forty-five years, and probably will keep happening. Which is a hell of a lot scarier than a single easily-rectifiable, if highly dangerous, mistake.
posted by koeselitz at 5:19 AM on September 13, 2007


I might be pedantic, but the standdown is cited as "Air Combat Command"-wide, not "Air Force"-wide. I am not an expert, but I believe ACC is only one out of a host of Air Force divisions.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:31 AM on September 13, 2007


First,
you dont fly 6 nukes on 1 pylon you fly them on two, three on each wing.
Second,
Each weapon is wired into the plane and the plane knows they are nukes.
Third,
Nukes weigh a hellva lot more than non nukes, More power required for takeoff, etc.
This was no accident. We can debate motives til the cows come home. But be certain, there is no way the flight crew, let alone the ordinance crew didn't know these were live missiles.
posted by CCK at 7:14 AM on September 13, 2007 [4 favorites]


I thought the point was that it really does happen all the time, has happened all the time for about forty-five years, and probably will keep happening.

but why are we hearing about it this time, then?
posted by pyramid termite at 7:21 AM on September 13, 2007


You clearly have much higher tolerance for mistakes that might cause the deaths of millions than I do. (Don't say it can't happen...)

I clearly don't have your tolerance for hyperbole, that's for certain. No one died. The warheads weren't even armed.

On the contrary, I'm quite confident that something catastrophic could happen, as I mentioned above -- we came much closer to annihilation than this hundreds of time during the Cold War.
l
However, there is a qualitative difference between a bureaucratic fuckup regarding some bombs that never came unsecured, and a technician leaving a simulation disk running at NORAD simulating a full nuclear attack. The former is stupid, the latter is scary. If you find the former scary, you highly underestimate the potential incompetence of the military.

spiderwire: "a paperwork jam" -- really? No big deal, nothing to see here, move along, but drop a steaming pile of military lingo to reassure us that this is just a usual snafu by those crazy air force boys?

The *air force* doesn't think so -- if this is legit. A system-wide stand-down for 24 hours? Alerting the president? Heads rolling up and down the command structure?

Something to see here. We just don't know what it is. I am not reassured by "simple fuck up, happens all the time, now don't you worry your civilian ass about it. Eveything will be fine at oh-nine-hundred when the CO of APV-S for the USAF GHC shows up and has 'em al drop and give him 100 pushups.


Huge, colossal fuckup on the part of the Air Force. They should stand down and everyone involved should be fired, posthaste. This sort of thing is absolutely inexcusable. Just because it's "something to see" doesn't mean that there's more -- even what we can see right now justifies outrage. That said, it bears no marks of a conspiracy nor a secondary motive.

That's what everyone expects. And it is very worrisome that for a large clumsy bureaucracy, who's job it is to make these warheads as inaccessible and safe as possible, all it takes is a "paperwork jam" to send them flying across the country without realizing it.

I think that's accurate. However, I think it's explicable coming at it from the other end, too; it doesn't necessarily show that the C&C procedures were loose per se -- in fact they seem to have functioned as intended. The plane's loadout wasn't changed inappropriately; the flight crew and ground crew didn't broadcast any concerns if they had any (i.e., security was maintained); the munitions were clearly authorized to be moved, if not on the wing.

What the incident suggests to me is that the C&C procedures didn't properly anticipate a decommissioning scenario, which is a colossal oversight, but hardly surprising to me given our track record in this area. Heads should roll, of course, but the larger point here for me is that a tight nuclear-security policy isn't a guarantee against accidents -- and often compounds them unnecessarily (bear tripping the intruder alarm, flock of swans, etc etc etc). Personally, I've never felt that we (or anyone) is capable of handling this sort of destructive power rationally or responsively, and this is just the latest (and hardly the worst) in a long, long series of examples demonstrating just how far past our capabilities we're operating. We're neither morally nor conceptually capable of properly comprehending just what nuclear weaponry does, and the further we get from Hiroshima and Nagasaki (and Chernobyl, for the matter), the worse we become.

Anyone who's surprised or scared by this hasn't been paying attention for the last 20 years. Get your heads screwed on straight.
posted by spiderwire at 8:03 AM on September 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


even what we can see right now justifies outrage

OK, I was misreading your earlier posts. This is my basic view as well. I can be outraged at a fuckup while suspecting worse.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:54 AM on September 13, 2007


This is the kind of thing that you expect to happen in former Soviet client states, not the USA. It's chilling.

I think it may have happened on an episode of McHale's navy too.
posted by notreally at 9:26 AM on September 13, 2007


From the Air force Times index of articles:

"Senator seeks review of nuke-handling policy...The vote comes just one week after nuclear warhead-equipped missiles were mounted on a B-52H bomber at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., and flown to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., without ground or aircrews realizing there were handling nuclear weapons....An Air Force investigation led by a two-star general is already underway."

Not just the nuke scare but other articles are sickening as well, like

"Pentagon officials have warned Congress that they will have used up all existing war funds by about the second week of October and would have to dip into money set aside for other programs if Congress does not act by then."

Wonder which programs will get stripped of funds as part of this "dip"?

and

"FREDERICTON, New Brunswick — The federal government will give a one-time payment of $20,000 to individuals who say their health was adversely affected by Agent Orange spray programs at a New Brunswick military base, but a list of conditions limits the number of people who qualify."

A measly $20,000. Disgusting.


And supposedly a speech to happen tonight...
"Officials: Bush will adopt troop withdrawal

By Matthew Lee and Anne Flaherty - The Associated Press
Posted : Thursday Sep 13, 2007 6:22:36 EDT

WASHINGTON — President Bush is buying into a force-reduction plan for Iraq that will leave as many American troops there by the middle of next year as were there when he decided in January on a temporary buildup plan.

Bush will go on national television Thursday night to discuss his decision to call back 30,000 soldiers and Marines, which mirrors numbers laid out in congressional testimony this week by his overall Iraq commander, Gen. David Petraeus."
posted by nickyskye at 9:28 AM on September 13, 2007


pyramid termite: "but why are we hearing about it this time, then?"

Probably for the same reason that we've heard about it all the other times, I imagine. Because it's a big, stupid mistake. And, oddly enough, we hear about a lot of big, stupid mistakes like this one.
posted by koeselitz at 9:51 AM on September 13, 2007


...adding to the mix:

USAF Stand down September 14 and a “Broken Arrow”?

and

last Wednesday, Congressman Paul Gillmor (R-OH) was found dead in his home. This was reported as a heart attack, until word leaked out that he had blunt trauma to the head and neck. Now we're being told he fell down the stairs. Gillmor was investigating a series of option trades that are suspicious- someone is betting billions of dollars that the market will fall 50% by September 21st. Even with the housing crisis, it would take a major catastrophe, like a "terrorist" attack, to precipitate such a plunge. As part of his job on the House Finance Committee, Gillmor was investigating this deal. Was he murdered because he was about to reveal something?"

It was unclear what precipitated the fall.

and

U.S. develops 14-ton super bomb, bigger than Russian vacuum bomb

"WASHINGTON, September 13 (RIA Novosti) - The U.S. has a 14-ton super bomb more destructive than the vacuum bomb just tested by Russia, a U.S. general said Wednesday.

The statement was made by retired Lt. General McInerney, chairman of the Iran Policy Committee, and former Assistant Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force...McInerney described some possible military campaign scenarios and said: "The one I favor the most, of course, is an air campaign," he continued.

He said that bombing would be launched by 65-70 stealth bombers and 400 bombers of other types.

"Forty-eight hours duration, hitting 2500 aimed points to take out their [Iranian] nuclear facilities, their air defense facilities, their air force, their navy, their Shahab-3 retaliatory missiles, and finally their command and control. And then let the Iranian people take their country back," the general said describing the campaign, adding it would be "easy."

McInerney is well-known among the U.S. conservatives. He is the chairman of the Iran Policy Committee co-chaired by James Woolsey, former CIA director, William A. Nitze, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Richard Schifter, former Assistant Secretary of State, and Professor Raymond Tanter, former Personal Representative of the Secretary of Defense to arms control talks in Europe.

The McInerney statement was made following a Fox News report that U.S. "officials are making plans to attack Iran as early as next summer," since Washington believes diplomatic efforts have failed."
posted by nickyskye at 10:10 AM on September 13, 2007


nickyskye, what on earth are you getting at stringing together all these unrelated stories? are you theorizing that terrorists got their hands on a nuke from this plane, that they're planning an attack by 9/21 (and have shorted equities to make money off of it), that a member of Congress was killed to prevent this from coming to light, and that somehow this all relates to a planned air compaign against Iran?
posted by brain_drain at 10:20 AM on September 13, 2007


Probably for the same reason that we've heard about it all the other times, I imagine. Because it's a big, stupid mistake. And, oddly enough, we hear about a lot of big, stupid mistakes like this one.

Many of the more serious screwups didn't become known until many years later, particularly on the Soviet side. I still get chills reading about Stanislav Petrov (linked above too) -- at one moment in 1983 the only thing standing between us and nuclear holocaust was one Russan Lieutenant Colonel who had to disobey procedure based on nothing but his intuition and conscience. Had he given the word, there is every reason to believe that the USSR would have moved to launch given their horrifyingly short response window (their early-warning system was never very good, meaning they were always on hair-trigger by necessity).

Just one guy. It doesn't even take a rogue base commander (the Stranglove scenario) and that was by no means the only time we've been in such a situation. Again, this recent incident is small potatoes, as even a cursory glance at the history of near-nuclear-disaster will reveal.

And also again, I'll stand by what I said earlier: what's nauseating to me is that the bomb itself is merely a symbol, and we apparently still react to it with visceral force, but the effects of the bomb (not just the death and the horror, but also the psychological devastation) can be achieved almost invisibly in modern warfare, and that's truly scary, most especially because no one seems to care. (At least, not as much as a single screwup with a B52.)

The one saving guarantee that nuclear weapons have always had is that they can't be used without seeing their consequences -- they don't let you kill a little bit at a time and make it easier on the conscience. One might have held out hope that the fear that let us contemplate the use of nuclear weapons was moderated at some level by our humanity, but it seems clear now that the main thing holding us back was shame -- petty reluctance that we'd be labeled as the ones who used the bomb.

What horrifies me most about the last decade is that our capability for mass slaughter is now covert, and as such no longer tempered by guilt -- and that's seemed to legitimate it, at least on some scale or to some degree. It seems to me that Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the mere thought of a nuclear strike on Iran, the entire fiasco in Iraq in the first place -- the engine driving all these things is a simple abdication of responsibility, an inability to comprehend the ultimate, horrible consequences of our actions, even when they sometimes seem noble or right in the abstract. Our weapons and means have outstripped our consciences and our comprehension. Again, this is the message of Dr. Strangelove and the story of Prometheus -- single men are not strong enough to wield fire.

Perhaps someone else has an alternate take here, but that affects me much more deeply than half-century-old fears over stockpile security.
posted by spiderwire at 10:37 AM on September 13, 2007 [13 favorites]


brain_drain, when I checked the Air Force Times site for articles related to the nukes being flown across the USA I found a handful of other disturbing articles, which related to the story in that they were about governmental nonchalance in putting people in harm's way and being reluctant to take responsibility (the Agent Orange story).

I wondered if the nukes are related to possible war on Iran.

In another of the stories, it seemed strange to me that money for the Iraq war is expected to peter out by October. And I wonder if this bomb scare thing isn't part of saber rattling to drum up war funds? Or perhaps that is why 30,000 troops will allegedly be recalled this December?

When I Googled the story of the nukes being flown over the USA other stories came up, like:

The United States Air Force stand down, scheduled to take place this Friday, September 14th, supposedly because of the nuclear war heads being flown across the USA, is the only stand down to happen since the last one ordered by Cheney on Sept. 11 2001.

Or "Trainloads of armored vehicles rolled into Houston. The San Francisco Bay bridge closed for three days. Suspicious activity was reported on ferries in Puget Sound. Ominous civil defense exercises are being held in Oregon, as part of Operation Noble Resolve, which also involves military jets flying over New York. An antiaircraft division is ordered to Washington DC...[and] someone is betting billions of dollars that the market will fall 50% by September 21st. Even with the housing crisis, it would take a major catastrophe, like a "terrorist" attack, to precipitate such a plunge." Combined with "August 30th, six nuclear warheads were 'accidentally' shipped by B-52 from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana."

A disturbing combination of events when combined with nuclear bombs.

Just today, sitting here in NYC I seem to recall hearing Air Force jets flying above the city a few times and remember that happened last on 9/11. Maybe this is my anxiety left over after getting through this year's anniversary of 9/11 2001 and the hoo ha of Bin Ladin's last communication.

I don't know what is sensationalist spin, fake news and what to be genuinely concerned about. So I thought I'd put some links into the mix and perhaps others might add their thoughts.

In the fake news scandal department: The disgraced ABC consultant and the push for war in Iran.

And on a lighter derail note, Al Qaeda Snorts Flies.
posted by nickyskye at 11:27 AM on September 13, 2007


Iran War "Rollout" Roils Blogosphere
posted by homunculus at 11:38 AM on September 13, 2007


nickyskye, I might be misunderstanding, but you don't believe there was a stand-down ordered by Cheney on 9/11, do you?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 11:58 AM on September 13, 2007


you don't believe there was a stand-down ordered by Cheney on 9/11, do you

Oh dear. Am I quoting some idiot that there was a stand down order and there was not? If so, thanks for correcting me. I looked up the stand down order and came up with this Google video/interview: "Retired CIA Analyst Ray McGovern discusses the possibility of vice president Cheney issuing a stand-down order".
posted by nickyskye at 12:14 PM on September 13, 2007


To paraphrase gompa's excellent use of Occam's Razor here, the cook would have known. And cooks talk. A lot.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:34 PM on September 13, 2007


Attn: spiderwire
MeTa
posted by joedan at 12:38 PM on September 13, 2007


Thanks for the great comments, spiderwire. That Petrov story really is chilling. I find this comment of his especially interesting:

"It is nice of them to consider me a hero. I don't know that I am. Since I am the only one in this country who has found himself in this situation, it is difficult to know if others would have acted differently."

My hope is that his suspicion is right: he was not a unique individual, and almost anyone in that circumstance would find themselves unable to kick off a third World War. There's at least some evidence from social psychology to suggest that people make remarkably similar moral decisions in similar situations.

But then again, pilots did not rebel when ordered to drop bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Was Petrov stationed in his bunker alone? If so, I wonder if that was a deciding factor in his actions. When people get together in groups responsibility becomes diffused. Group effects appear -- no one member of the group will stand and act, even though they would act if they were the only one around. The burden was entirely on Petrov's shoulders. His response may have been near universal. We need more single men who are unable to wield fire.
posted by painquale at 12:41 PM on September 13, 2007


c13, how much time in the USAF do you have?

You can "read" all you want. Words on paper don't necessarily translate to reality.
And, if we wanted to nuke anyone, we don't even need planes. Remember all the ICBM's? Peacekeeper MRV's?

Always a conspiracy theory on mefi, always...
posted by a3matrix at 1:00 PM on September 13, 2007


Always a conspiracy theory on mefi, always...

wow, now that you mention it, i think you're right a3matrix. maybe it's a conspiracy!
posted by saulgoodman at 1:31 PM on September 13, 2007


Spiderwire: the story's not even remotely closer to being disturbing.

me: You clearly have much higher tolerance for mistakes that might cause the deaths of millions than I do. (Don't say it can't happen...)

Spiderwire: I clearly don't have your tolerance for hyperbole, that's for certain. No one died. The warheads weren't even armed.
I never said anyone died, nor that the warheads were armed. The point is that if this plane had crashed near a populated area, and one or more of the nukes had gone up (which *can* happen), then hundreds of thousands if not millions *would* die.

If what you say is correct and fuck-ups happen all the time in this business, then this WILL happen one day. Probably not this year or even his decade but someday.

Let's suppose that such a terrible accident happens only once in every hundred years. That still averages out to be the equivalent of about 3 9/11 attacks *every year*.

The fact that you think that close to a megaton of nukes going on an unauthorized jaunt across the country is "not even remotely close to being disturbing" simply makes me think that you are too close to the subject and have lost touch with reality.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:32 PM on September 13, 2007


I think this is all a joke by Bob from accounting. He’s a card.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:42 PM on September 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


If what you say is correct and fuck-ups happen all the time in this business, then this WILL happen one day. Probably not this year or even his decade but someday.

So unlikely as to negligible The Air Force stopped transporting nukes aboard bombers in 1968. So, nukes would have to be loaded by accident (like this case,) the plane would need to crash, and the nukes would have to somehow through all their arming sequences, including a malfunctioning pilot safe/arm switch, to even have a chance of detonation. The closest event that is even resembles was the Goldsboro, NC accident in 1960. You have a better chance of terrorists crashing a plane into your house.
posted by Snyder at 2:29 PM on September 13, 2007


The *air force* doesn't think so -- if this is legit. A system-wide stand-down for 24 hours? Alerting the president? Heads rolling up and down the command structure?


Oh for fuck's sake. People keep throwing the phrase "stand down" around like it's a big fucking deal. They happen all the time. Sure, service-wide stand downs are relatively rare, but that's the point. They're intended to send a message - to say, "Hey, you know all those stupid regulations you guys bitch about all the time? There's a reason for them! We're serious about this shit! Pay attention!"

Yes, stand downs are generally associated with military aviation safety issues - Cohen ordered a DoD-wide one in the 90s when there was a spate of unrelated aviation accidents. But they can be used for other things. IIRC there was a Navy-wide stand down to provide training on sexual harassment in the wake of Tailhook. And Army recruiters stood down last year some time in the wake of allegations of recruiting impropriety.

So stop saying it like it's some sort of signifier of doom.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 2:47 PM on September 13, 2007


Another point I've been curious about is that not only were the nukes loaded onto the plane, then flown cross country but also that "On August 30th six nuclear warheads were mistakenly placed on a B-52 bomber and sent to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana , where they sat for ten hours before being noticed."

That seems strange, nukes go unnoticed for 10 hours, if that is, in fact, the case.

The original Air Force statement. [pdf]

Apparently, the recent story came to public light because "three anonymous officers contacted the Army Times which broke the story. The whistleblowers "asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the incident," the Army Times reported."

From the Army Times, the original article, "At no time was there a risk for a nuclear detonation, even if the B-52 crashed on its way to Barksdale, said Steve Fetter, a former Defense Department official who worked on nuclear weapons policy in 1993-94. A crash could ignite the high explosives associated with the warhead, and possibly cause a leak of the plutonium, but the warheads’ elaborate safeguards would prevent a nuclear detonation from occurring, he said.

“The main risk would have been the way the Air Force responded to any problems with the flight because they would have handled it much differently if they would have known nuclear warheads were onboard,” he said.

The risk of the warheads falling into the hands of rogue nations or terrorists was minimal since the weapons never left the United States, according to Fetter and Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, an independent research and policy think tank in Washington, D.C."

However...There was a previous crash of an American plane carrying nuclear warheads, "On January 21, 1968 a United States Air Force Boeing B-52G Superfortress, carrying four hydrogen bombs crashed onto the frozen ocean off Greenland, approximately 10 kilometer west of Thule Air Base. An escalating fire had forced the seven crew members to parachute from their craft. The nuclear payload ruptured upon impact with the ice, causing widespread contamination."

From the TPM Cafe blog, "Barksdale Air Force Base is being used as a jumping off point for Middle East operations. Gee, why would we want cruise missile nukes at Barksdale Air Force Base. Can’t imagine we would need to use them in Iraq. Why would we want to preposition nuclear weapons at a base conducting Middle East operations?

His final point was to observe that someone on the inside obviously leaked the info that the planes were carrying nukes. A B-52 landing at Barksdale is a non-event. A B-52 landing with nukes. That is something else.

Now maybe there is an innocent explanation for this? I can’t think of one. What is certain is that the pilots of this plane did not just make a last minute decision to strap on some nukes and take them for a joy ride. We need some tough questions and clear answers. What the hell is going on? Did someone at Barksdale try to indirectly warn the American people that the Bush Administration is staging nukes for Iran? I don’t know, but it is a question worth asking."

The Counter Punch article on the topic
is informative.
posted by nickyskye at 2:55 PM on September 13, 2007


nickyskye, the entire B-52 force is based out of Minot and Barksdale (all two dozen or so), and that model of nuclear cruise missile is specifically designed for use on the B-52. afaik, all the decommed missiles of that type are stored at Barksdale, it being a nuclear storage facility and all. they certainly don't need to ship bombs there and raise a fuss.

so it's actually not that suspicious or out of the ordinary at all. again, it's exactly what you'd expect.
posted by spiderwire at 3:22 PM on September 13, 2007


That Petrov story really is chilling.

The Petrov story was the first thing I thought of when I read this, which I think is the best answer that can be given to the question you ask about his individual heroism (and almost too appropriate, in the context of both the USSR and the spectre of nuclear disaster):
Don't call these the 'wonders of Soviet heroism' when you write about it. Those wonders really did exist. But first there had to be incompetence, negligence, and only after those did you get wonders: covering the embrasure, throwing yourself in front of a machine gun. But that those orders should never have been given, that there shouldn't have been any need, no one writes about that. They flung us there, like sand onto the reactor. Every day, they'd put out a new 'Action Update': 'men are working courageously and selflessly,' 'we will survive and triumph.'

They gave me a medal and one thousand rubles.

--Unidentified Russian Soldier, Voices From Chernobyl
A far better way of saying what I was trying to put into words earlier, I think.
posted by spiderwire at 3:42 PM on September 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


c13, how much time in the USAF do you have?

You can "read" all you want. Words on paper don't necessarily translate to reality.
And, if we wanted to nuke anyone, we don't even need planes. Remember all the ICBM's? Peacekeeper MRV's?

Always a conspiracy theory on mefi, always...



And you should read more. To practice. And when you get good at it, you will realize that I have not said anything about US bombing anyone or this being a conspiracy. In fact, I said exactly the opposite.
Always idiots on mefi, always...
posted by c13 at 6:07 PM on September 13, 2007


the Brookings Institution, an independent research and policy think tank in Washington, D.C.

when can this ridiculously dishonest phrase finally be banished from all print media forever?

the Brookings Institution, an independent research and policy think tank a high-priced PR firm and beltway lobbyist front organization in Washington, D.C.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:24 PM on September 13, 2007


when can this ridiculously dishonest phrase finally be banished from all print media forever?

Trade you a Brookings for a Heritage Foundation and your choice of ten ranking RAND members.
posted by spiderwire at 6:47 PM on September 13, 2007


saulgoodman, Why would the Army Times say what they did about Brookings? What would be the agenda to state "The risk of the warheads falling into the hands of rogue nations or terrorists was minimal since the weapons never left the United States, according to Fetter and Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, an independent research and policy think tank in Washington, D.C"?

I don't know what "beltway lobbyist front organization" means. Would you be so kind to explain a little? Thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 7:42 PM on September 13, 2007


ps Detailed info re Barksdale, including a huge image of the place.

"Barksdale is today the main B-52H bomber base of the Air Force, housing 58 of the service’s 95 planes. The base hosts the largest Air Combat Command bomber wing, the 2d Bomb Wing. Nuclear weapons stored at Barksdale for use by these bombers include 50 B61-7 and 90 B83 gravity bombs, 300 Air-launched cruise missile (ALCMs), and 100 Advanced Cruise Missiles (ACMs).

The U.S. stock of 1740 nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missiles–ALCMs and ACMs–far exceeds the number of bombers and most (an estimated 1,040) are in storage in Nevada and New Mexico. The operational ALCM and ACM stock, we estimate, is split between two B-52 bomber bases, one northern and one southern. Since the stealthy ACM has a greater ability to penetrate concerted air defenses, we estimate that more ACMs are stored in the northern base (for earlier arriving bombers) and more ALCMs are stored at the southern base. Additional B61 and B83 nuclear gravity bombs, not the normal post-Cold War load for non-penetrating bombers, are also assessed to be deployed at Barksdale to fulfill the requirements of certain war plans."
posted by nickyskye at 8:27 PM on September 13, 2007


nickyskye: this investigative report from harpers provides some context to my remarks. pretty much every so-called "think tank" you hear about on the news is acting as a paid representative for various PR and lobbying firms who use "think tanks" to lend an air of academic credibility and independence to their pet issues. it's definitely not just the brookings institute. i think the integrity of all of them is suspect.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:26 AM on September 14, 2007


well, maybe this is a slightly more fair way of putting it:

"pretty much every so-called "think tank" you hear about on the news is may be acting as a paid representative for various PR and lobbying firms"
posted by saulgoodman at 7:30 AM on September 14, 2007


ah, Thanks, much appreciated.
posted by nickyskye at 7:31 AM on September 14, 2007


Here is something interesting from KX news:

<9 \i>MINOT, N.D. (AP) Minot Air Force Base officials say an airman from the base has died while on leave in Virginia.

A statement from the base says Airman 1st Class Todd Blue, 20, died Monday while visiting with family members in Wytheville, Va.

The statement did not say how he died but said the incident is under investigation.

The base says Blue was a response force member assigned to the 5th Security Forces Squadron. He enlisted in the Air Force in March 2006 and was assigned to the Minot base the following August.

"He constantly stepped up to help out his fellow airmen and was a vital presence in squadron sports and volunteer programs," Lt.

Col. John Worley, the 5th Security Forces Squadron commander, said in the base statement.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APNP 09-12-07 1403CDT
posted by c13 at 9:48 AM on September 14, 2007


was he dropped from a black helicopter?

really, guys ...
posted by pyramid termite at 10:59 AM on September 14, 2007


A World Free of Nuclear Weapons
posted by dorkwad at 12:43 PM on September 14, 2007


I think it wasn't an error and that there were 6 bombs originally. The sixth bomb has now been tasked with locating the other five and retiring them. We can only hope it finds them before they discover their incept dates and go in search of Robert Oppenheimer to blow his ass right the hell up.
posted by longbaugh at 1:14 PM on September 14, 2007




The error was letting any of them live!

mu-ah HAHAHAHAHAHAaa!
posted by From Bklyn at 4:11 AM on September 19, 2007


Pretty interesting update to the story.
posted by nickyskye at 7:09 PM on September 19, 2007


Further update/info.
posted by nickyskye at 6:12 PM on September 21, 2007


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