Minot/Barksdale Nuclear Bent Spear Incident-Part II

An Analysis & Critique

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” A. Conan Doyle


 

B52
B52H bomber loaded with two pylons carrying 6 AGM-129 ACMs each in flight

HighLonesomeLast month I posted part 1 of my piece on Minot/Barksdale here. In it, I reviewed the incident and the Defense Science Board’s final report on the incident in question. When the story broke, there were reports and writings all over the blogosphere connecting it with possible strikes against Iran, possible diversion for false-flag attacks here at home and even Chinese electronic tampering through backdoor access to Chinese-made semiconductors allegedly used in Air Force electronics. In this piece, I will examine some of these allegations as well as some of the deaths of Air Force personnel in an attempt to determine any relationship to the above incident.

As stated in Part 1, over 36 hours on August 29-30, 2007, two pylons of 6 AGM-129 cruise missiles one package containing inert payloads, the other 6 active nuclear warheads, were removed from the 5th Bomb Wing secure ordnance storage at Minot AFB, mounted on a B-52H bomber like the one pictured above carrying identical pylon payloads and flown 1100 miles to Barksdale AFB where they were discovered by ground crews after sitting, unguarded on the tarmac for 11 hours. The resulting Nuclear Security Alert and it’s aftermath investigations led to a wholesale review of Air Force Nuclear Weapons Handling procedures and precipitated an unprecedented wave of disciplinary actions across the ranks, up to and including the resignations of the Air Force Chief of Staff Michael Moseley and Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne. Although the weapons never left overall Air Force custody, they passed through five separate chain-of-custody handoffs requiring visual inspections on two bases until being discovered by the unloading crew at Barksdale.

The DSB final report found the following:

1. Over time, nuclear weapons movement procedures for bomber weapons have been compromised for expedient work processes. This evolution occurred without adequate review and approval above the Wing level.

2. There was confusion over applicability of nuclear weapons handling procedures for nuclear weapons systems that do not contain nuclear weapons.

3. The practice of storing nuclear munitions in the same facility with nuclear-test, nuclear-training and nuclear-inert devices led to confusion and unnecessary access to nuclear weapons.

4. The various levels of inspection activities failed to detect these changes in process which compromised established procedure. The Nuclear Operational Readiness Inspection process required only limited mission performance, sometimes generating as few as one aircraft being subjected to inspection.

This combined with the increased tempo of conventional bombing operations led to an overall erosion of standards within the nuclear weapons mission. In other words, it was a FUBAR SNAFU of the highest order. For me, the one glaring omission not addressed was how nuclear warheads, by all informed accounts, easily identifiable and rigorously alarmed to prevent improper movement, could have been removed from Secure Ordnance Storage in the first place without setting off alarms as soon as they crossed the threshold.

Others have asked this question and posited possible answers such as Dave Lindorff here, Wayne Madsen here and Larry Franklin here. All speculated that this was a case of an alternate command structure outside of the Presidential Command Authority staging weapons for use against Iran. Madsen went so far as to tie this incident to the Operation Orchard Strike by Israel against a suspected Syrian/North Korean nuclear site. Walter Pincus at the Washington Post generally echoed the DSB’s report here. So let’s take a look at the possible scenarios as outlined above.

Staging for an Iran Attack

Lindorff, Madsen and Franklin all posited a possible covert attack on Iran, Madsen wrote it was to coincide with the Israeli strike on Syria. To accomplish this, a separate chain of command was allegedly set up through the VP’s office and key elements in the Air Force command structure outside of the Presidential Command Authority. The problem with such a scenario is that the authentication procedures for nuclear launch in the PCA would be impossible to duplicate without detection. While there is a remote possibility that such a regime might work to move nuclear weapons, authorizing launch would be an entirely different matter. Also recognize that many of our nuclear weapons storage and Nuclear power plant facilities are secured with alarm and monitoring systems provided by Magal Security Systems, an Israeli government controlled security company. If the fix was in, this company or whichever one was tasked to build the Minot Security system would have to be involved as well. Such a situation would not reflect well on that firm’s reputation for infrastructure security. Also, since Barksdale AFB was home to the 2nd Bomber Wing flying identical aircraft and having an identical weapons inventory, including AGM-129s, it would be much easier to stage such a scenario at Barksdale with fewer personnel involved. In any case, Gates’ housecleaning of the Air Force subsequent to this incident would seem to have removed many of the alleged links in this “alternate Chain-of-Command”.

False-Flag Attack/Missing Nuclear Weapon

The initial report published by Military Times stated that 5 operational nuclear weapons were found at Barksdale. This was later revised to 6 after the source location of the weapons was determined. Many posit that one of the warheads was removed somewhere in transit. The problem with this scenario is that every report I’ve read about this incident states that the AGM-129s were always prepackaged on pylons of 6 weapons each and only the warheads themselves were removed and replaced with dummies prior to tactical ferry. Once the pylons were moved from secure storage, they were mounted on the bomber as a whole unit rather than as individual weapons. Additionally, one commenter on Johnson’s article at TPM with experience in AF nuclear weapons storage pointed out that Barksdale’s 2nd Bomber Wing is actually twice the size as the 5th Wing at Minot, with twice the weapons storage area making it a better storage site for decommissioning.

Unexplained Personnel Deaths

Five Air Force Personnel died in the months surrounding this incident. Of these, only Airman 1st Class Todd Blue was even peripherally related to the incident. He died on Sept. 10, 2007. Blue served in the 5th Security Forces Squadron at Minot. This unit is tasked with security for all weapons storage facilities of the 5th Bomb Wing. What is unclear is whether Blue was on duty on the day of the incident in question. He did NOT have any responsibility for any weapons movements scheduling or operations and his role would have been to guard the facility and any approved nuclear warhead movements outside the storage area.

Air Force Captain John Frueh was found dead on Sept. 8, 2007 near Badger Peak in Washington State, just across the border from Portland, Ore. Where he had traveled to attend a friend’s wedding. Frueh, a major-selectee was attached to the USAF Special Operations Command, part of the JSOC unit headquartered at McDill AFB, Fla. Despite these facts, no connection was ever found between Frueh and the Minot/Barksdale Incident.

Senior Airman Clint Huff and his wife, Linda, were killed in a motorcycle accident near Shreveport, La. On Sept. 15, 2007. Huff, attached to the 26th Operational Weather Squadron at Barksdale, also has no known connection to the Minot/Barksdale incident.

1st Lieutenant Weston Kissel of the 23rd Bomber Squadron of the 5th Bomb Wing was killed in a solo motorcycle accident while on leave in Tennessee on July 17, 2007. While Kissel was a B-52 pilot, his death a month before the incident would leave him with no connection to it.

Senior Airman Adam Barrs, of the 5th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, was killed in a single-car auto accident on July, 5 2007, as a passenger. The car was driven by Airman 1st Class Stephen Garrett. There is speculation that Barr’s specialty, communications and navigations systems could be relevant to the incident but his death over the July 4th holidays both predates the incident and had no direct link to it.

Additionally, the Military Times published a story stating 237 nuclear handling deficiencies in the Air Combat Command in total just since 2001. This report would also buttress the DSB’s conclusion of an overall erosion of nuclear handling procedures. Strangely enough, the actual Bent Spear incident is not included in that list. Scott Vest, a former USAF Captain and Munitions Specialist with the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot also has an interesting article on the subject here that also buttresses the DSB report.

As for the Chinese semiconductor hack story, I only found one website postulating the theory. That I would have to dismiss out of hand due to the fact that semiconductor suppliers don’t have any knowledge of the use their products have after they are sold.

In conclusion, despite all the dire warnings and postulations, I see nothing here that would indicate anything other than the DSB’s findings of an erosion of the nuclear mission due to increased conventional operations, downgrading of the nuclear mission and personnel & budgetary cutbacks that were warned about to the Air Combat Command as far back as 1992. The scope of SecDef Gates’ housecleaning and the fact that resignations and disciplinary actions went all the way to the top of the Air Force command structure are consistent with both the gravity of the incident and the desire by the DOD to put their nuclear house in order.

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Comments

  1. Thank you, Ishmael! One of my concerns: Israel’s Magal Security System. You are talking about a country that has been stealing our intel/def. secrets. In fact, when it comes to espionage against us It’s been among top 3 countries for…decades!

    Side note: Antiwar’s Scott Horton Interviews me on Dennis Hastert, Political Termite, listen here: http://antiwar.com/radio/2010/01/05/sibel-edmonds-2/

  2. What did you expect to find?

    …and if you did find something nefarious and posted it, I assume we would be hearing about your “suicide”.

  3. I read this, thought I would share,

    …noted that there is an old Iranian saying that translates roughly as “IF you trip over a pebble, then it would have been an Englishman that put it there.”

    Kinda reminds me of the Turkish Star Wars training video.

  4. JamesLaffrey says:

    We waited a month to get a mere reaction to the government’s story?

    As you said: “For me, the one glaring omission not addressed was how nuclear warheads, by all informed accounts, easily identifiable and rigorously alarmed to prevent improper movement, could have been removed from Secure Ordnance Storage in the first place without setting off alarms as soon as they crossed the threshold.”

    * Yeah, that’s what we talked about a month ago. Did you do any investigative work toward answering that question? What do you know? What do you think?

    Meanwhile, our government continues another successful denial of facts (perhaps another actual cover-up) in regard to the Xmas plane butt bomber. http://haskellfamily.blogspot.com/ The Haskells were on the plane and continue to make excellent blog posts.

    People, the bravest and sanest among us must govern. WE need to govern. We cannot put our trust in the next new slick likely-liar(s) to come along. Let’s get it together.

  5. How many contributors to this site know how to raise a chicken, harvest it, grow seasonal crops, start a greenhouse with flats to bump up to six packs for early spring planting? I can see a lot of urbanites that know how to parse words, do engineering, but part of getting it together is the ‘basics’ when it all comes down, because this country works on a crisis mentality. Ishmael did a lot of research, used his knowledge base, probably did not get paid much, since this site is just starting up, and investigative reporting requires connections, such as getting past no fly lists to do investigative reporting. While we have the Internet, it is us that have to get it done. I would like to hear positive comments. Thanks very much. Ya know come to think of it, sounds like a bunch of frogs getting warmed up in the pot, and scared to jump out of bed on a cold morning, and get it done.

  6. Konstantin says:

    Besides the scenario of the possible attack on Iran ordered by “President” Dick Cheney and his sidekick “vice president” George Bush, there is the other scenario of a possible false flag in the US by Cheney, alluded to by Cheney on his Face the Nation April interview, which would be the provocation for the attack on Iran, concurrent with one of the drills which goes live, meaning the events in the drill actually occur for real.

    After the incident, it’s said that “President” Dick Cheney and his sidekick “vice president” George Bush were demoted to figureheads without any real power for the remainder of their terms, while Brzezinski’s policies are instituted instead.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  7. Thank you for all your kind comments.

    Sibel:
    Yeah, Magal concerns me as well. That said, there is currently no available info that specifically states the they were the supplier for the Minot Weapons Storage Facility. From my reading of their history, I would infer they cut their security teeth working on the Dimona facility. I DO have serious reservations about ANY foreign-owned company providing ANY security for sensitive locations like Nuclear power plants or weapons storage facilities.

    TrueOil:
    I tried to have no expectations when I went into this. When I reviewed the articles dealing with the episode, I found a lot of hyperbole with very little factual evidence to back it up. I am not, by nature, a concpiracy theorist. So I tried to examine the existing facts and follow them where they lead.

    edit_mommies: What can I say? Tangential, as always.

    JamesLaffrey: Let’s remember that these weapons were in the process of being decommed due to START treaty requirements. When I was in and dealing with these weapons in the 1970’s, we had no individual warhead alarms and the only way to tell them apart was that nuclear-inert exercise weapons were painted blue and live war shots were painted white. The alarms were on the magazine itself to prevent entry. Only when they were turned off were Armed sentries posted and entry lists used. It would seem to this humble correspondent that the Minot Storage facility was similarly set up. On balance, it’s been my experience that bureaucratic inefficiency always trumps any organized conspiracy. Now combine the known facts.

    1. The weapons were being decommed and transferred by tactical ferry as nuclear-inert to Barksdale for decommissioning. The reason Barksdale was chosen was it had twice the weapons storage area than Minot due to 2 bomber wings being located there.

    2.There had already been some 20-30 previous flights that had occurred without incident. They were referred to as “milk runs” for that very reason.

    3. Because these “milk runs” were supposed to occur sans nukes, they expected to find no warheads on board. For that very reason, securiy procedures that should normally have been followed weren’t due to operational tempo and the belief that no actual warheads were involved.

    4.Despite all the stories about individual alarms on warheads, this info was all based on inference due to the measures the US helped the Russians institute on their nuclear arsenals. Nowhere did I find any instance of someone saying, I was in the program and there WERE individual warhead alarms”. It also follows that if you are providing such alarms, you will install them on active weapons systems first, not systems slotted for decommissioning.

    5.The erosion of AF handling procedures was a known issue and had been spotlighted in reports to the Air Combat Command as far back as 1992. Add to that the increased tempo of conventional arms operations in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan and the nucelar mission got even shorter shrift.

    6.My own personal experiences in the field are some 30 years old and in a different service altogether. In fact, the US Navy’s nuclear security regime was used as an example for the Air Force to emulate in the DSB’s report.

    I tried to go into this with an open mind and no prejudices one way or the other. The more I researched these stories the less I found that was relevant to the investigation and the incident to such a point that I was reluctant to address them and only did so to place the ancillary reports into a proper context using my own experiences in the field as a guide. What I did find that wasn’t speculation all buttressed the DSB’s report. Indeed, the scope of disciplinary actions across the ranks indicated to me that the AF knew they were caught with their pants down and were making every effort to correct the deficiencies. I daresay that more heads rolled over Minot/Barksdale than ever did after 9/11.

    Simon:
    Thanks for the props. Like most folks here, I’m just another schlub and concerned citizen. I left weapons work 30 years ago because I didn’t like the karma and felt I had already did my part of the Faustian bargain. Also remember that I came to the field with a leftist perspective fom the SF bay area of the 1960’s. What I have attempted to do is examine what I write about through that lens and from that experience. I have no special contacts in the nuclear regime and am merely trying to use Open Source Intelligence techniques to determine, to bowdlerize Gertrude Stein, If there was any There there. What I found was a great deal of speculation and hyperbole with little or no actual evidence to back up the speculation.

  8. Konstantin:
    Missed your post while I was writing the above. I looked at the false-flag reports and asked myself what it would take to carry it off. How many key people would have to be in on the conspiracy and where would they have to be? I kept running into the same question. Why would you try to divert a warhead from one base to another and have to involve at least 12 extra people in your conspiracy when the same type of weapon could have been diverted from Barksdale with fewer people involved far more easily? If there was a parallel Presidential Command Authority routed through Cheney, why concentrate on Minot when Barksdale had twice the number of warheads to divert and fewer people to involve? It just didn’t add up to me.

    Also remember that, as stated above, more people paid a disciplinary price for this incident than ever did after the 9/11 attacks. Also remember that, of the personnel who died that were cited in reports, only two had any possible involvement at Minot and then only peripherally. Airman Blue would only have dealt with security in the movement of any NUCWEPS and had no actual access to the facility. Even then, it was undetermined if he was even on duty that day. The only other death of someone that night have been needed was Airman Barrs and he was killed a month BEFORE the incident took place.

  9. JamesLaffrey says:

    @Ishmael:
    I very much appreciate your reply, and I admire your direct engagement with commenters.

    Sincerely,
    JL

  10. From ‘Letadlo’ at Talking Points Memo Cafe, via google search. This always looked like useful information. From a _very_ sceptical observer. YMMV.

    >>>
    This post is a long one. I make no apologies though because there are some aspects of this case where more info is required and this motivated me to post. All of the technical/procedural statements I make here can be checked and I have no doubt that some readers will do just that.

    For those in a hurry, here is a summary:

    1) Nukes do not get accidentally loaded for transport. The orders required, procedures and security in place make it frankly impossible.
    2) It is against US military regulations to transport nuclear weapons loaded in combat position on an aircraft over US soil and everyone who works in the chain of command with nuclear weapons handling knows this. If being transported by aircraft, they must be crated and carried in the hold of a transport plane which is specially built to carry such weaponry.
    3) The aircrew must be made aware of what they are carrying and would have been.
    4) ACM’s are not decomissioned at Barkesdale. This is done at Kirtland AFB, NM. There is no valid reason for flying nuclear-armed ACM’s for Barkesdale for decom.
    5) The fact that the military even acknowledges this “mistake” is cause for conjecture and concern as to what actually happened.

    Now the details.

    Okay, to begin: there is no way nukes could be accidentally loaded for transport. Nukes on a base are stored separately from other ordnance, not just for security but because if they were stored with some conventional ordnance and that ordnance accidentally detonated (which has unfortunately happened on occasion), then while the nukes wouldn’t “go off” in a nuclear blast there would be the risk of dispersing radioactive materials and the subsequent fallout. (Pun intended. Sorry.)

    …. Plus much more
    >>>

    Search for this and two more _very_ informative posts by Letadlo – Barksdale Nukes Fiasco –
    http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/2007/09/05/staging_nuke_for_iran/

  11. @ Ex Pat

    You’re right with what you saying at point 4 in your list. This misleading information was even published on a official USAF website. Why the hell would they do so, if they would’nt try to cover-up something real big?

    It’s a matter of fact, that Nukes are NOT sent to Barksdale for decom. They even dont have the possibility there to do so. By the way: You mentioned that this is done at Kirtland AFB. Are there any more “sites” like this in the US where Nukes come to an final end? If so, please let me know. Couldnt find much about this in the web.

    I also totally agree with point 1 & 2. Especially the transport of such weapons on a plane-wing is a No-Go even for the military. It’s well known actually that they have to follow the procedure in such a case as you pointed out.

    So now my question(s) to you guys: What do you “really” think about this Minot Incident? What could have been a “logical” reason for whomever to attach 6 live-nukes on a B-52 and fly them across the US just to dump them in Barksdale?

    I just dont get it. This whole issue seems to make no sense at all to me. Or do I simply not get the big picture here? What did “they” possibly have in mind with this?
    Well, what sense would make the Israel/Iran connection here? Israel has enough nukes themself to not only desroy Iran. So why would they need 6 AGM’s for such a attack from US stocks?

    Input please;-)

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