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Air Force Mistakenly Transports Live Nukes Across America 898

kernel panic attack writes "Surely the late Stanley Kubrick is somewhere smiling at this one. Forbes.com has a story about a B-52 Bomber that mistakenly flew 6-nuclear tipped cruise missles across several states last week. The 3-hour flight took the plane from Minot Air Force Base, N.D, to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., on Aug. 30. The incident was so serious that President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were quickly informed and Gates has asked for daily briefings on the Air Force probe, said Defense Department press secretary Geoff Morrell."
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Air Force Mistakenly Transports Live Nukes Across America

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  • by GoatRavisher ( 779902 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:03AM (#20489997)
    Well, boys, I reckon this is it - nuclear combat toe to toe with the Roosskies. Now look, boys, I ain't much of a hand at makin' speeches, but I got a pretty fair idea that something doggone important is goin' on back there. And I got a fair idea the kinda personal emotions that some of you fellas may be thinkin'. Heck, I reckon you wouldn't even be human bein's if you didn't have some pretty strong personal feelin's about nuclear combat. I want you to remember one thing, the folks back home is a-countin' on you and by golly, we ain't about to let 'em down. I tell you something else, if this thing turns out to be half as important as I figure it just might be, I'd say that you're all in line for some important promotions and personal citations when this thing's over with. That goes for ever' last one of you regardless of your race, color or your creed. Now let's get this thing on the hump - we got some flyin' to do.
    • by blugu64 ( 633729 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:22AM (#20490153) Homepage
      You can't fight in here, this is the War Room!
    • by LuNa7ic ( 991615 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @02:13AM (#20490963)
      So flying over other countries with nukes on board is okay, but its not back home?
      • by afaik_ianal ( 918433 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @02:17AM (#20490977)
        Keep in mind, they weren't just flying them as cargo: They were flying with them attached to the wing. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but that's not something the US has done anywhere in the world for decades.
        • by kestasjk ( 933987 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @05:05AM (#20491875) Homepage

          Keep in mind, they weren't just flying them as cargo: They were flying with them attached to the wing. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but that's not something the US has done anywhere in the world for decades.
          It's true that they haven't done that for decades. They stopped flying nukes around on the wing in 1991 when there was an accident and they were deemed an unnecessary risk.

          That having been said, they weren't in a condition that they would of detonated if the plane had crashed; the worst would of been a radiation leak that could of been cleaned up. The military has egg on their face but no-one was put in danger.
          • by volpe ( 58112 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @07:05AM (#20492461)
            It's "have". Would have detonated. Would have been a radiation leak.
      • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @02:28AM (#20491037) Journal

        So flying over other countries with nukes on board is okay, but its not back home?
        That's pretty much the entire purpose of a weapon: to create an important distinction between the one doing the pointing and the one being pointed at.
      • by innerweb ( 721995 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @08:16AM (#20492901)

        No matter where they flew them, this was a violation of nuclear handling procedures. I had to deal with these rules many years ago. This kind of screw up is a career ending move.

        As much as people like to make fun of the military, there are some things the military does that it takes extremely seriously, and generally has a relatively excellent track record with. Handling nuclear weapons is one of them. Having nuclear weapons somewhere they are not supposed to be scares the military. They could fall into the wrong hands, they could cause an accident (bad publicity not needed), all kinds of issues. Then there are very stringent laws on handling nukes. Stuff you can go to jail for violating.

        Maybe there was never any danger of a nuclear explosion, but there was a temporary loss of control of nuclear weapons. Someone caused (by accident, oversight, misinformation, etc.) nuclear weapons to be loaded on a plane and then flown somewhere they are not supposed to be. Each nuclear weapon has a location it is supposed to be in. They may change where from day to day, but by the will of the military they will be in that place. Nukes are not treated the same way as so many other comparatively unimportant items (like toilet seats).

        So, whether the potential was there or not for some serious explosion (it was not), there is a very serious breach of handling which in the military will be treated seriously. Yeah, flying over US air space is a big no-no, but the bigger no-no was a temporary misplacement of nuclear weapons. That is huge in military terms.


        • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @09:46AM (#20493693) Homepage Journal
          "This kind of screw up is a career ending move."
          That is probably the best outcome. Can you say dereliction of duty? I would bet that people are going to facing jail time for this one. Your right when it comes to special weapons the military really doesn't play around.
          I just wonder what poor enlisted guy at Barksdale thought when he found out they still had the warheads. That must have been an oh crap moment. If you don't raise the alarm fast enough your in deep trouble. If you are wrong you are in deep trouble. Is there even a protocal for dealing with that kind of a mistake? Kind of a man I hope I am right but I really wish I am wrong moment.
    • by New Number Order ( 1150813 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @04:01AM (#20491509)
      Now then, Dmitri, you know how we've always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the Bomb...

      The *Bomb*, Dmitri... The *hydrogen* bomb!...

      Well now, what happened is... ahm... one of our base commanders, he had a sort of... well, he went a little funny in the head... you know... just a little... funny. And, ah... he went and did a silly thing... Well, I'll tell you what he did. He ordered his planes... to attack your country...

      Ah... Well, let me finish, Dmitri... Let me finish, Dmitri... Well listen, how do you think I feel about it?... Can you *imagine* how I feel about it, Dmitri?...
  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:08AM (#20490045)
    Some news sources say five, some say six.

    I know what you're thinking. 'Did they lose six warheads or only five?' Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. You've got to ask yourself a question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Dr. Eggman ( 932300 )
      It's was six, but one of them was released from the bombbay, ridden by a crazed cowboy Major.
    • by the_tsi ( 19767 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:24AM (#20490169)

      The game's up, President. There are no more missiles left on that plane.

      Oh, c'mon, you don't expect me to fall for that old trick.

      It's not a trick! There was one launched at Mr. Body in the study, two for the chandelier, two at the lounge door, and one for the singing telegram.

      That's not six.

      One plus two plus two plus one.

      Uh-uh. There was only one nuke that got the chandelier. That one plus two plus ONE plus one.

      Even if you're right, that would be one plus one plus two plus one, not one plus two plus one plus one.

      Alright, fine, one plus two plus one..........SHUT-UP!

  • by tx_kanuck ( 667833 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:09AM (#20490059)
    We can drive the nukes across the country, we can throw them on a train, or we can fly them. Personally, I'm much happier knowing they are being flown places then being sent via ground. I don't care how many safe guards are in place to prevent the weapons going off accidentally, there is always the risk of a crash sending radioactive material all over the place (not an explosion, but a leak). At least in the air the material is safer from accidents (how many air-to-air collisions are there?), and a plane can always find the most depopulated areas to fly over. Trucks and trains don't have that option.

    Or maybe that's just me.
    • by commodoresloat ( 172735 ) * on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:15AM (#20490105)
      The problem was, they didn't know the nukes were on board. It may or may not make sense to fly instead of drive them, but you have to agree that transporting nukes without knowing the nature of your cargo is a pretty dicey business.
    • by sqrt(2) ( 786011 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:16AM (#20490107) Journal
      From the CNN story, "The crew was unaware that the plane was carrying nuclear weapons, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the extraordinary sensitivity and security surrounding the case."

      Hard to take special safety measures when you're not even aware of what you're carrying.
      • by It doesn't come easy ( 695416 ) * on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:26AM (#20490187) Journal
        This also sounds suspicious. The plane's systems know when a real warhead is on the missile verses a dummy warhead. The only way that the electronics on the plane would not know that a real warhead was on the missile is if the missile was not properly connected to the plane. Something doesn't add up.
      • by Nymz ( 905908 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:40AM (#20490341) Journal
        Professionals treat any gun like it's loaded, always.
    • by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:28AM (#20490205) Journal

      We can drive the nukes across the country, we can throw them on a train, or we can fly them.


      They weren't supposed to be transported to begin with. You obviously didn't bother to RTFA at all.

  • by It doesn't come easy ( 695416 ) * on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:15AM (#20490089) Journal
    What is amazing is that the weapons made it all the way to Texas without Minot AFB missing them. Without going into details, I can say from experience that the US nuclear warheads are very closely tracked. Before this, I would have said it would be impossible for the base to lose track of them for even a few minutes, much less three and a half hours, and then have to be told by Barksdale that they were on the B52 when it arrived. The thing about the munitions crew being decertified until the investigation is finished is a miss direction. The airmen who load the planes don't make the decisions. And (unless things have changed significantly since I was in the USAF) they would not be able to get the warheads to load without a great deal of security and authorization. You don't just go and pick those things up when you want to. More likely, someone got plane ids or missile serial numbers mixed up on the wok orders. Anyway, it will be interesting to see what went wrong.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Frosty Piss ( 770223 )

      The airmen who load the planes don't make the decisions.

      Absolutely true, something went wrong a lot deeper than the crew that loaded the missiles. But they should have picked up on something being wrong. Their Commander was rightfully relieved of his command.

      • by tftp ( 111690 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @02:03AM (#20490901) Homepage
        Here is a cheerful thought for you. What if the ground crew didn't pay attention to live nukes because they were loading them day and night for, say, last two weeks?

        As a more qualified poster indicated, it is unthinkable that the nuclear warheads would be even stored where any soldier can drive a forklift in, pick up a few crates and cart them out. James Bond movies are not a guide, I know, but don't they *lock the doors* for example, with keys stored in locked safes of base's big brass, and with two or three keys needed together to unlock? If the storage was open (by who? a lowly ground crewman can't do that, I hope!) and accessible (like no armed guard at the doors?) then the weapons were supposed to be moved, despite what the official line is, and the fsckup is just that they were loaded on a wrong plane. That is not very encouraging.

        • by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @02:45AM (#20491125) Homepage
          I once saw a Navy weapons storage facility where many of the bunkers had their doors blocked with 20,000 pound blocks of concrete. You needed a big crane to remove the block before you could open the door of the bunker. Official policy was to neither confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons, but most people assumed that they were being stored there. This was back when the Navy still had tactical nukes.
  • by slashqwerty ( 1099091 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:15AM (#20490093)
    It's not good when we can't keep track of our own nuclear weapons. How are we supposed to keep them out of the hands of our enemies or ensure they're not used for training missions? They even mounted the things on the wings!

    I would hope we would have protocols in place that would ensure we never lose track of any nuclear weapon. If a nuclear weapon were detonated in a U.S. city how could we verify it wasn't our bomb if we can't keep track of where our weapons are?

  • by 3seas ( 184403 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:18AM (#20490133) Homepage Journal
    First of all you have to wonder how it is that the media gets such a story and second of all how they are allowed to tell it.

    Doesn't this matter equate to national security, or is national security more a spam and IP issue?

    Certainly Homeland security has to be in on this information????

    But again, how is it that the media are even allowed to find out about such an insident?

    Maybe the US government wanted them to media it, in order to commit more terrorism....

    Now maybe someone will flamebait mod me down but seriously, how does the media find out about what
    would otherwise be considered a typical US military plane flight? Did the plane accidently have a big "warheads on board" sign stuck on the side of it?

  • Mistakenly? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Barnoid ( 263111 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:25AM (#20490181)
    How exactly does one mistakenly mount nuclear weapons on a plain? Is it like the stack on the left is the fake ones, and the one on the right the real nukes? I was hoping that nuclear weapons are somewhat more securely stored.

    Considering the logistical and safety related problems when transporting those weapons on the ground, could it be that they intentionally moved the weapons and now that the news got wind of the story call it a mistake?

  • uh oh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wordsnyc ( 956034 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:28AM (#20490207) Homepage
    Ex-CIA agent Larry Johnson has a different take on this incident:

    http://tpmcafe.com/blog/coffeehouse/2007/sep/05/st aging_nuke_for_iran [tpmcafe.com]
  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:37AM (#20490293)
    I've been reading comments all over the place about this. People who say they've served in the military and worked with nukes say that this sort of thing simply cannot happen, too many people checking each other, too many safeguards. For this to happen would require an unbelievable number of screw-ups all working together. But if that's so, then the only other explanation seems crazy, that this was no accident.

    Here's one take, take your own grain of SALT. Can't take it with the ABM Treaty since Bush withdrew from that in 2001.

    http://tpmcafe.com/blog/coffeehouse/2007/sep/05/st aging_nuke_for_iran [tpmcafe.com]

    Why the hubbub over a B-52 taking off from a B-52 base in Minot, North Dakota and subsequently landing at a B-52 base in Barksdale, Louisiana? That's like getting excited if you see a postal worker in uniform walking out of a post office. And how does someone watching a B-52 land identify the cruise missiles as nukes? It just does not make sense.

    So I called a old friend and retired B-52 pilot and asked him. What he told me offers one compelling case of circumstantial evidence. My buddy, let's call him Jack D. Ripper, reminded me that the only times you put weapons on a plane is when they are on alert or if you are tasked to move the weapons to a specific site.

    Then he told me something I had not heard before.

    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.
    I dearly hope that's crazyhead speculation. But even if this is just an accident, this is fucking scary.

    http://www.fas.org/blog/ssp/2007/09/flying_nuclear _bombs.php [fas.org]

    "If the B-52 incident tells us that the military's command and control system cannot ensure with 100% certainty which weapons are nuclear and which ones are not, imagine the implications of the wrong weapon being used in a crisis or war. 'Sorry Mr. President, we thought it was conventional.'"
    As for the official story about transporting these weapons by air for decommissioning, that's fishy.

    Although nuclear weapons are not flown on combat aircraft under normal circumstances, they are routinely flown on selected C-17 and C-130 transport aircraft, which as the Primary Nuclear Airlift Force (PNAF) are used to airlift Air Force nuclear warheads between operational bases and central service and storage facilities in the United States and in Europe (see overview here).
  • Interesting quote (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:38AM (#20490321)

    "Nothing like this has ever been reported before and we have been assured for decades that it was impossible," said Markey, D-Mass., co-chair of the House task force on nonproliferation. (emphasis mine).

    He's not claiming that it never happened before, just that it's never been reported before.

  • by Manip ( 656104 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:39AM (#20490327)
    Is it shocking that the US Military accidentally forgot to remove live Warheads before the Cruise Missiles were moved? Yes.

    But there was so little chance of accident detonation that it is a far smaller story than one might immediately think.

    Modern Nuclear Weapons are one of those things you have to really WANT to detonate ... You can't just accidentally set them off. If the plane had crashed more than likely the weapons would have been destroyed in a fairly inert manor.

    Plus considering even the military didn't know they were moving Nuclear Weapons, the chances of someone attempting to steal them is next to nill.

  • by Bobzibub ( 20561 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @01:01AM (#20490525)
    http://www.portaec.net/library/peace/1950_bomber_c rash_in_bc.html [portaec.net]

    TERRACE, B.C. (CP) -- A determined group of local citizens wants some answers about the mysterious crash near here almost five decades ago of a B-36 bomber carrying an inactive atomic bomb. The gigantic bomber -- 50 metres long with a 70-metre wingspan -- was apparently flying without a crew when it plowed into Mount Kolaget in the vast Coast Mountains range on Feb. 13, 1950.

    It was carrying an inactive Mark IV Fat Man atomic bomb similar to one dropped on Nagasaki when it got into trouble over Hecate Strait, according to a U.S. military declassified report. Three engines were ablaze and the giant aircraft was losing altitude. Crew members dropped the bomb over the strait and bailed out.
    • by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @02:31AM (#20491047) Homepage
      A nuclear weapon without its pit is not a threat to anyone. The pit is the fissionable plutonium sphere that is imploded to produce a nuclear detonation. In early U.S. nuclear weapons, the pit was stored separately from the rest of the bomb. To arm the bomb, the weapons officer opened the bomb casing and inserted the pit. This was usually done in flight, to reduce the danger of an accident during take-off. Since it took hours to reach the target, the crew had plenty of time to perform the procedure.
  • Obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by Stormwatch ( 703920 ) <.rodrigogirao. .at. .hotmail.com.> on Thursday September 06, 2007 @01:19AM (#20490631) Homepage
    "I know there's one country in the world that doesn't have some horrible weapon of mass destruction, they don't have some horrible weapons lab in the mountains... Jamaica. They would never make an atomic bomb. They may make an atomic bong. But I'd rather fight a war with an atomic bong. Cuz when the atomic bomb goes off there's devastation and radiation. When the atomic bong goes off there's celebration!" -- Robin Williams
  • by Plutonite ( 999141 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @01:25AM (#20490671)
    Central Command: Blue Bird C451, this is central, do you copy.
    C541: Copy, over.
    Central Command: We have good news and bad news for you, over.
    C541: Ready to reciev orders, over.
    Central Command: Good news is you're going to be famous. Now your payload..
    C541: Yes Sir.
    Central Command: Can you verify your current payload?
    C541: Kidney beans and tomatoes sir, over.
    [Muffled laughter, static]
    Central Command: Actually, those are nuclear warheads on your left wing, lieutenant.
    C541: Spicy kidney beans? Over.

  • by blingbing ( 781894 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @01:25AM (#20490679)
    "We have a Broken Arrow"
    "A what?"
    "A Broken Arrow. It's when we lose a nuclear weapon."
    "I don't know what's scarier, the fact that we lost nukes or the fact that it happens often enough that we have a name for it"

  • by Lodewijk ( 3307 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @03:43AM (#20491431) Homepage
    And I was not even allowed to check in toothpaste.
  • by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <moiraNO@SPAMmodparlor.com> on Thursday September 06, 2007 @04:23AM (#20491635)
    Mounting Nukes (armed or not) to a planes wing - as they *say* it happend - is a mistake. However, this whole thing could just be some 'sword-rattling' (as we call it in Germany) towards we-own-the-northpole Russia, we're-building-nukes Iran or both. Maybe it's just as someone here said: Someone leaked that somebody is rearanging the US nukes and they molded a PR stunt out of it. "OMFG, if someone would've dropped them, OMFG they are so dangerous, our (and this is an actual quote) potential enemies need to know that we can handle our nukes professionally."
    I smell lot's of proactive appliance of psychology here.
  • grin (Score:4, Funny)

    by Bastard of Subhumani ( 827601 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @05:15AM (#20491919) Journal

    Surely the late Stanley Kubrick is somewhere smiling at this one
    Well assuming some decay and/or shrinking of soft tissues in the face which might lead to his teeth being exposed, you might get that impression, yes.
  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @07:31AM (#20492595) Journal
    It's not "We got nuked, screw the elections we're declaring martial law" time yet is it?

    It's always too early for that ;).
  • HLS? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by psbrogna ( 611644 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @09:15AM (#20493355)
    Where was Homeland Sec. during all this? Were they too busy policing perilous nail clippers on board commercial flights and potential Toiletry Catastrophes of unprecedented magnitude? I'm not sure if I completely agree with the apparent focus of their resources. Perhaps they should consider adjusting the scope of their monitoring activities.
  • by Quila ( 201335 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @09:15AM (#20493359)
    It's not so much that nukes were flown, but in the accountability of nuclear weapons. While the nukes were always under Air Force control and there was never any danger, the fact remains that the Air Force didn't know where six of its nukes were for three hours. They thought they were at the base when in fact they were on a plane. All of our military must have physically-verified paper accountability of all of its nuclear weapons for every second of every minute of every hour.... you get the picture.

    Imagine an inspector coming up to the commander in those three hours, "Where are those nukes?" and he says "Oh, they're here in this --- OH SHIT!" You don't know at that moment if they've been misplaced or if they've been stolen. Everybody panics. The President must be informed.

    Any violation of the accountability rules is taken dead seriously. You can get punished if the nukes never moved but you messed up the paperwork, so heads will roll here.

    Disclaimer: I worked with nukes before, although not these.
    • Noooo (Score:4, Interesting)

      by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland@NOSpAm.yahoo.com> on Thursday September 06, 2007 @11:47AM (#20495277) Homepage Journal
      It is very much that nukes were flown, it is a treaty violation, and a biggie. It is the reason there is account ability in place to help ensure this doesn't happen.

      "...the fact remains that the Air Force didn't know where six of its nukes were for three hours."

      I know the press likes to make it seem that way, but that is probably not true at all. Based on my experience I would say it isn't true at all.
      They new they were on the missile. They new the missiles had been moved. If anyone went to look for them, they would have known immediately where they were.

      Yes, of course the president is notified, because he will need to deal with the political ramifications of the treaty violation. Not bbecause people are 'panicking'. In my experience with nukes we don't panic, we quickly deal with the issue.

      Sorry, but I feel I need to be clear The media is implying that the nation was in some sort of dangerous situation and someone could have been killed. Some sites are implying that this nearly lead to a nuclear explosion. Fortunately the main stream media has at least put the comments in saying detonation wasn't possible;which as you know is true.

      "Disclaimer: I worked with nukes before, although not these."
      meh, who hasn't? ;)

God made the integers; all else is the work of Man. -- Kronecker