Errant Nukes; Syrian Mystery
Dispatches From The Edge
“Loose nukes sink…” well, just about anything.
The official story is that on Aug. 30, the U.S. Air Force (AF) “mistakenly” loaded six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on a B-52 at Minot, North Dakota and flew them to Barksdale, Louisiana for decommissioning. The mistake was discovered and the munitions officer at Minot was suspended pending an investigation.
Except the story doesn’t make any sense and it certainly didn’t happen the way the AF says it did. At least according to the hundreds of current and retired military personal and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) with nuclear experience who are writing letters to the Army Times and military websites essentially charging that the AF is lying.
“Ain’t no way in hell that anybody in the U.S. military could do anything ‘inadvertently’ with a nuke,” writes a retired NCO who worked with nuclear weapons.
Another veteran with lots of hands-on experience says, “the safeguards involved in nuclear munitions in all the armed forces are incredibly complex,” and when nuclear weapons are involved, “all kinds of red lights go off in everyone’s systems.” The military is so up-tight about nuclear weapons procedures, the writer says, that in one incident an NCO who violated a “no go” area was fatally bayoneted by a guard.
There are any numbers of things that don’t make sense about the “official” version.
For one thing, when nuclear weapons are moved by air, it is in a special C-130s designed to prevent radiation leakage in case of a crash. But in the Aug. 6 event, the missiles were attached to the wings of the B-52, which as one wag commented was like “shipping ammunition in a gun.”
Secondly, if the nukes were going to be decommissioned, they would have been sent to Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. From there the warheads would have been transferred to the Pantex facility in Amarillo, Texas for dismantling. Barksdale, in contrast, is one the main staging bases for the Middle East.
Some commentators argue that the only way the operation could have avoided the “red lights” was by leap frogging the normal chain of command. Only the National Security Agency or Vice-President Dick Cheney’s office has that kind of juice. In May 2001, Cheney was placed in charge of “all federal programs dealing with weapons of mass destruction.”
One theory is that Cheney was trying to ship nukes to the Middle East in preparation for a strike on Iran. But transporting nukes to the Middle East would be like sending coals to Newcastle: U.S. forces in the theater are bristling with nuclear weapons.
A former officer writes that it might even have been a “cost-cutting” maneuver—albeit a dumb one—to save money by putting the nukes on a regular flight rather than using the expensive, specially designed C-130.
Some have even suggested that it was a plot by Christian evangelicals trying to bring on the apocalypse. As silly as that might sound, a 2006 study for the U.S. War College by Col. William Millonig concluded that “conservative Christian and Republican values have affected the military’s decision making and policy recommendations.” and warned that “America’s strategic thinkers, both military and civilian, must be aware of this and its potential implications on policy formulation.”
So the explanations for the errant nukes range from “Grand Conspiracy,” penny pinching, to new Testament crazies. Major incompetence is a strong candidate as well.
And who blew the whistle? One military source says that if the Army Times ran the story, it was because someone very high up the command chain told them to do it. According to the source, the only way the story could have come out is if “the dime dropper wore at least three stars, if not four.”
What gets lost in all this is that the Advanced Cruise Missile packs a W-80 warhead with an explosive power of from five to 150 kilotons. The atomic bomb that flattened Hiroshima and killed 220,000 people—100,000 of them in a millisecond—was 13 kilotons. Schelpping these things around by “mistake” is something that Congress, not the Air Force, needs to investigate. Identifying who authorized the operation would go a long way toward finding out how six nuclear weapons went AWOL. .
Maybe the media should drop OJ and start asking some questions?
“Loose warplanes…” well, it is not clear exactly what those Israeli jets that violated Syrian airspace Sept. 6 were up to, except that they weren’t there for the reasons the U.S. State Department is claiming.
The aircraft, according to Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, dropped “bombs” in Syria’s arid northern plains and “fuel tanks” in Turkey. The Turks called the incident “unacceptable.”
The Israelis are mum.
On Sept. 11, unnamed “officials” in the Bush Administration told the New York Times that the Israelis bombed a “weapons cache” that Syria was sending to Hezbollah in Lebanon. But that story had no legs. The bombing—if there was one—took place on the Turkish-Syrian boundary, a long way from Lebanon’s northern border. On top of which, Hezbollah is in south Lebanon.
Three days later, Andrew Semmel, the acting deputy secretary of state for nuclear nonproliferation policy, trotted out another explanation: Israel bombed a covert nuclear program set up by the North Koreans.
According to Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator and a senior fellow at the New American Foundation, neoconservatives in the Bush Administration are trying to sabotage talks with North Korea and any detente with Syria. “They [neocons] want to torpedo the North Korea deal” and “make sure there is no cooperation in Syria.”
And right on cue, former UN Ambassador and neocon stalwart John Bolton was writing in the Wall Street Journal that “Iran, Syria, and others might be ‘safe havens’ for North Korea’s nuclear-weapons development, or may already have benefited from it.” He then told the New York Times that continued talks with North Korea over ending its nuclear weapons program “would be a big mistake.”
Chiming in was U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who wrote in the New York Sun, “Damascus has been developing its nuclear facilities,” and warning, “Syria poses a growing threat that the U.S. must confront.”
But when the international Atomic Energy Agency investigated Syria in 2004, it found no evidence of a nuclear program.
Joseph Cirincione, director for nuclear policy at the Center for American Progress, says “The story nonsense.” He says the 40-year old Syrian nuclear program “is too basic to support any weapons capability. Universities have larger programs than Syria.”
Another possibility is that the Israelis are preparing to whack Iran. Northern Syria is one of Israel’s corridors into Iran (the other is through Jordan and Saudi Arabia). According to Time, the Israeli incursion was designed to test Syria’s Russian made Pantsyr air defense system, a mixture of missiles and 30 mm cannons that is supposedly immune to jamming. According to Time, Iran is also deploying the Pantsyr around its nuclear facilities.
The corridor explanation makes some sense, probing the Pantsyr does not. The latter is a short-range tactical system and any bombing of Iranian targets will be from high altitude using satellite-guided munitions. Even Syria’s new SA-24 missile system can only reach 22,000 feet, not high enough to seriously bother U.S. or Israeli planes.
So, what were those warplanes up to? Mapping radar sites? Spoiling for a fight? Humiliating the Syrians?
Dark armies are moving by night, with potential catastrophe at every turn.