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“On August 30, 2007, six nuclear warheads were removed from high security storage and installed in six Advanced Cruise Missiles at the Minot Air Force Base (AFB) in North Dakota. Then the missiles, designed to be fired from B-52 bombers, were attached to the wings of just such a B-52.
The B-52 then flew to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana without proper clearance and in violation of strict, decades-old Air Force prohibitions against transport of nuclear weapons by air….”
Author: John LaForge with NukeWatch in Wisconsin
Published in: Superior Telegram in Superior, Wisconsin
Date: December 18, 2007
Read the full article:
Armed B-52 Overflight: Accident or Interrupted Raid?
by John LaForge
On August 30, 2007, six nuclear warheads were removed from high security storage and installed in six Advanced Cruise Missiles at the Minot Air Force Base (AFB) in North Dakota. Then the missiles, designed to be fired from B-52 bombers, were attached to the wings of just such a B-52.
The B-52 then flew to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana without proper clearance and in violation of strict, decades-old Air Force prohibitions against transport of nuclear weapons by air. The no-fly rule was enacted after nuclear warheads were damaged or lost during bomber crashes in Greenland, Spain and South Carolina in the 1950s and ’60s.
Air Force officials admitted that, “The warheads were unaccounted for several hours while the missiles were in transit,” the Washington Post reported. Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard Newton told the BBC that the aircraft’s pilots and other crew members were unaware that they were carrying nuclear warheads. After their three-and-one-half hour flight, the weapons sat on a runway at Barksdale AFB for nearly ten hours before workers noticed that the nuclear warheads were inside the missiles.
Hans Kristensen, a weapons expert at the Federation of American Scientists, reports that the spectacularly unusual flight was the first time in 40 years that a nuclear-armed warplane was allowed to fly across the U.S. In 1991, President George H. Bush ordered nuclear weapons removed from all aircraft and surface ships.
The Air Force sought at first to bury the incident and issued a dismissive notice declaring, “No press interest anticipated.” But a few conscientious officers leaked the story to The Military Times which caused a worldwide sensation and forced the Air Force to conduct an investigation.
The Air Force now says the missiles were being delivered to Barksdale for decommissioning. Yet retired Cruise missiles are normally sent to Kirtland AFB, in New Mexico, which ships them to the Pantex dismantlement site in Texas. Barksdale AFB, on the other hand, trains all the B-52 combat crews and is the main staging area for B-52s heading into combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.
On October 20, 2007, Gen. Newton said the unauthorized fly-over involved an “unprecedented string of procedural errors.” Consequently, three Colonels and a Lieutenant Colonel, including a Wing Commander and the Base Commander at Minot, were sacked and 66 airmen were decertified for nuclear weapons handling.
However, calling such an extraordinarily complex and procedure-laden flight an “error” stretches credulity to the breaking point. Kristensen says, “It seems so fantastic that so many points, checks can dysfunction.” Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., told the Post, “Nothing like this has ever been reported before, and we have been assured for decades that it was impossible.”
Investigative reporter Dave Lindorff has found, “There is something deeply disturbing about the official report,” which claims that, “six nuclear warheads get mounted on six Advanced Cruise Missiles and improperly removed from a nuclear weapons storage bunker at Minot â€¦ then get improperly loaded on a B-52, and then get improperly flown to Barksdale AFB.”
The problem with the official explanation, Lindorff writes, is that “all nuclear warheads in the U.S. stockpile are supposedly protected against accidental transport or removal from bunkers by electronic anti-theft systems â€¦ and even anti-motion sensors that go off if a weapon is touched or approached without authorization.” Under strict Air Force rules at least two people had to have deliberately disabled those alarms.
The Air Force cover story begs more questions than it answers. Who ordered the disabling of alarms and sensors, and the arming and loading of missiles? Why did the bomber fly to Barksdale? Were the missiles flyable, fueled up and ready to fire? Finally, did the Military Times news scoop foil a surprise attack, say on Iran, as researcher Michael E. Salla has asked? Congress should be pressed to investigate.
John LaForge (firstname.lastname@example.org) has worked with Nukewatch in Wisconsin for 20 years, the last 15 as a staff member, and edits its quarterly newsletter.