U.S. Missileers Left Blast Doors Open in Security Breach

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Oct. 23, 2013, 8:02 a.m.

U.S. Air Force per­son­nel with re­spons­ib­il­ity for launch­ing ground-based nuc­le­ar-tipped mis­siles twice in 2013 kept a blast door open in vi­ol­a­tion of se­cur­ity policy, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­por­ted on Tues­day.

The blast doors at the sub­ter­ranean in­stall­a­tions — where in­ter­con­tin­ent­al bal­list­ic-mis­siles are kept primed for fir­ing — are not sup­posed to be kept ajar if any mis­sileers in­side are nap­ping, in or­der to en­sure an in­vader can­not seize the launch keys held by the Air Force of­ficers.

U.S. mis­sileers are drilled to ad­here to all nuc­le­ar-se­cur­ity and safety reg­u­la­tions 100 per­cent of the time, be­cause even small mis­steps have the po­ten­tial to lead to cata­strophe. The As­so­ci­ated Press was in­formed by of­fi­cials with per­son­al know­ledge about the 2013 blast door vi­ol­a­tions that oth­er sim­il­ar trans­gres­sions have taken place and not been dis­covered.

“The only way that you can have a crew mem­ber be in ‘rest status’ is if that blast door is shut and there is no pos­sib­il­ity of any­one ac­cess­ing the launch con­trol cen­ter,” Air Force Glob­al Strike Com­mand chief Lt. Gen. James Kow­al­ski said in an in­ter­view. His com­mand has charge of the Air Force’s ap­prox­im­ately 450 ICBMs as well as its fleet of stra­tegic bombers. The Minute­man 3 mis­siles are dis­trib­uted evenly across three bases in Montana, North Dakota and Wyom­ing.

There are lay­ers of phys­ic­al de­fenses an in­vader would have to over­come be­fore even ap­proach­ing the blast doors.

The Air Force said in a state­ment that se­cur­ity of the ICBMs was not at risk fol­low­ing the April in­cid­ent at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., and May in­cid­ent at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., “due to the mul­tiple safe­guards and the pro­tec­tions in place.”

Two launch crew com­mand­ers and two deputy com­mand­ers re­ceived ad­min­is­trat­ive pun­ish­ments for their roles in the in­cid­ents. One of the of­ficers ac­know­ledged leav­ing the blast doors open un­detec­ted on oth­er oc­ca­sions.

The As­so­ci­ated Press was aler­ted to the blast-door vi­ol­a­tions at Malmstrom by an of­fi­cial who wanted the in­cid­ents pub­li­cized out of a be­lief they showed just how prob­lem­at­ic dis­cip­line among ICBM crews has be­come. As the Cold War fears of a nuc­le­ar holo­caust have re­ceded from the minds of Amer­ic­ans, so too ap­par­ently has the im­pulse among cer­tain mil­it­ary mem­bers to ri­gidly ad­here to all nuc­le­ar safety and se­cur­ity rules.

“This is not a train­ing prob­lem,” said Kow­al­ski, who earli­er this month was con­firmed by the Sen­ate to be­come head of U.S. Stra­tegic Com­mand. “This is some people out there are hav­ing a prob­lem with dis­cip­line.”

The blast-door vi­ol­a­tions are part of a string of re­cent em­bar­rass­ing in­cid­ents for Glob­al Strike Com­mand and its uni­fied com­batant com­mand, Stra­tegic Com­mand. Earli­er this month, the Air Force of­ficer with re­spons­ib­il­ity for all ICBMs was re­moved from his post fol­low­ing con­cerns about prob­lems with al­co­hol, and Stra­tegic Com­mand’s deputy com­mand­er was de­moted and trans­ferred to an­oth­er po­s­i­tion amid an of­fi­cial in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to wheth­er he gambled with fake chips at a casino. In Au­gust, an ICBM wing at Malmstrom that over­sees one-third of the coun­try’s silo-based mis­siles failed a safety and se­cur­ity in­spec­tion. In April, 19 ICBM launch-con­trol of­ficers were tem­por­ar­ily pulled from their as­sign­ments after they dis­played low re­gard for se­cur­ity pro­ced­ures dur­ing an ex­am­in­a­tion.

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