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Colorado’s 49 Nuclear Weapons on Hair Trigger Alert…and a Drunken Air Force General in charge of 450 Land-based ICBMs.

June 26, 2018

Sisters Ardette Platte and Carol Gilbert at N-8, a Trident III nuclear missile site where a protest against the nuclear arms race took place, October 7, 2017

 

Nuclear Notes – 3

N-8, One of Colorado’s 49 nuclear missile silo sites.

They go up there once a year.

“They” are people from a number of groups whose concern from the dangers of nuclear have never wavered, even though the issue has faded from the front pages and hardly makes a ripple anymore. They include Coloradans active in the Green Party, the indomitable Sisters of Loretto, and their circle of supporters, the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center out of Boulder, folks associated with the Colorado Coalition for the Prevention of Nuclear War and a few associated stragglers like myself.  The people involved are knowledgeable and committed, overwhelmingly pacifist, many religious. They are also among those who do annual events marking the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki here in Denver that Nancy and I try to attend when possible.

“There” refers to a nuclear missile site just west of New Raymer, Colorado, called “N-8,” one  of 49 sites in N. E. Colorado with Minuteman III missiles on hair-trigger alert, that are of the 300-500 kiloton magnitude – The Hiroshima bomb was 20 kilotons by way of comparison. Colorado’s 49 nukes are part of a larger system of land based nuclear missiles that includes 450 of these death machines scatter among seven, states, mostly in the northern Mid Western states of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota, Nebraska as well as Missouri.

This past October (2017) I went with them to Colorado’s “missile counties.”

I had been to nuclear missile sites before but it had been decades, too long, “me thought.” There was a time some thirty years ago during the height of Cold War tensions between the then USSR and the USA, when the danger of nuclear war was, without a doubt, the pre-eminent peace issue in Colorado…and the world. As the nuclear danger has become even more dangerous though, it has become less noticed, appreciated; it has slipped out of the public consciousness, certainly here in the USA and past milestones are a distant memory if remembered at all. Americans in their overwhelming majority are no longer agonizing over the threat of nuclear war.

As former U.S. Secretary of Defense, William J. Perry noted,

The problem is, it’s no longer fading. “Today, the danger of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War,” Perry said in an interview in his Stanford office, “and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger.

The anti-nuclear weapons’ movement led to the closing of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons’ Plant nw of Denver in the late 1980s, a plant that produced plutonium triggers for U.S. made nuclear weapons.  Rocky Flats may have been closed down, the Cold War ended, but the nuclear arms race continues, and in some ways more out of control than it has ever been, more dangerous for world peace – and more costly financially than ever.

Iliff, Colorado a town just south of the missile area. At one time, the cattle ranch of John Wesley Iliff, after whom the Iliff School of Theology in Denver is named, extended throughout most of this region where the Trident Missiles are located.

Colorado’s “Nuclear Missile Counties”

It wouldn’t be surprising if the overwhelming number of Coloradans are unaware of their existence and the degree to which, as a result of their presence, that the state is a prime target for nuclear weapons adversaries who might try to neutralized the missile sites with nuclear strikes of their own. In the language of nuclear policy, it’s called “counter force’: strike your adversary’s nuclear force before it can get off the ground.

Far from the madding crowds making their way to Colorado’s Front Range in search of its natural beauty, entrepreneurial opportunity and legal marijuana, Colorado’s 49 Trident III nuclear missiles are concentrated in the more sparsely populated northeast corner of the state, close to the state lines of neighboring Wyoming and Nebraska (that also house nuclear missiles in large numbers).

Colorado’s Tridents are generally located between Grover to the northwest to just north of Crook in the state’s extreme northeast corner. It is a hilly irrigation agriculture and grazing region east of interstate I-25 and northwest of I-76 of sparsely populated towns of Raymer, Padrun, Peetz, quite lovely, politically conservative for the most part. The larger urban centers making a kind of encircling the missiles in a semi-circle include Greeley, Ft. Morgan, Sterling and Julesberg.

Trump’s plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapon force

Given the current administration’s plans to modernize the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal, it is highly unlikely, without the kind of mass movement that forced Rocky Flats to close, that any of Colorado’s missile silo sites are about to close down. Nearly five months ago, on February 2, 2018, the Trump Administration announced what is referred to as a “Nuclear Posture Review” the main points of which include:

Nine days later (February 12, 2018) the Trump Administration, referred to as “Strangelove lives” requested the largest increase in nuclear missile spending since 1962. The proposed upgrades include making smaller “more flexible” nuclear weapons, yet another attempt, like the neutron bomb of the Reagan years to make the concept of nuclear war more palatable.

With warhead research, testing and production spending already at all-time high for US, the administration requested estimated $1.8 B (18%) increase in warhead spending to the $11 billion overall budget for (nuclear) “Weapons Activity.”  Weapons activity, ie. modernization of the nuclear force is a small but key element in the Pentagon’s military budget. Some $65 million is allocated for the upgrades.

As Max Taibbi reported in Rolling Stone,

“While the world continues to be transfixed over the gruesome images coming from the border, business went on as usual in Washington. Earlier this week, the Senate quietly passed the $716 billion “John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.

The bill, which passed 85-10 in a massive show of bipartisan support, represents a considerable boost in defense spending across the board – roughly $82 billion just for next year.”

It is not clear from what I have read if any of this budget will go for Trident III missile silo upgrades but it appears that the ground base nuclear missile program which the Colorado missile program is a part of is not likely to change. Bill Clinton’s Defense Secretary, quoted above, William J. Perry had argued on technical grounds that “there are sound strategic reasons to phase out America’s fleet of 400 silo-based Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). A plan had been tabled to remove them, referred to as “the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). But at a cost of “somewhere” between $61 to $100 billion over a 15-20 year period, and with other (supposedly) pressing Defense funding needs, the program has been pushed on the back-burner indefinitely.  As a result, defense analyst James E. Doyle argues,  the land based system will probably remain in place until the 2030s when they reach the end of their service lives.

Silo Accidents, Human Error, Incompetency…

They have happened, as have accidents in nuclear weapons productions plants, Rocky Flats being case in point. A recent examine follows.

On January 25, 2016, the Denver local affiliate of CBS news reported that a nuclear accident had taken place on May 17, 2014, the information of which was initially withheld from the then Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel’s office for some time. A review of the accident by the Air Force’s Accident Investigation Board did not begin until some three months after the incident.

Quoting from the CBS report:

…It [the report given to the Associated Press] said the Minuteman 3 missile “became nonoperational” during a diagnostic test on the evening of May 16, 2014. The next morning a “mishap crew” chief, who was not identified, “did not correctly adhere to technical guidance” during trouble shooting efforts, “subsequently damaging the missile.”No further details about the damage or errors were disclosed.”

While the Air Force refused to give the details of the accident, claiming security considerations, they did note that the price tag for the damage was $1.8 million; this, the CBS report notes “suggests that the airmen’s errors might have caused physical damage,” – this according to Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists. But the Air Force refused to to explain the nature of the accident. The three servicemen involved were stripped of their certification to perform nuclear weapons duty but a year later, all three were re-certified and returned to duty.

There have been other such “malfunctions,” “accidents.”

Furthermore, it is not only technical accidents that have taken place. Other breeches of security have been reported. Take, for example a report from May, 24, 2018 at the National Public Radio website, the headline of which reads “Air Force Uncovered LSD Use Among Airmen Guarding Nuclear Missiles. The opening paragraph of the article should give some food for thought:

“Responsible for guarding nuclear missiles at F.E. Warren Air Force Base near Cheyenne, Wyoming, more than a dozen U.S. Air Force airmen were disciplined for using and/or distributing LSD while off-duty. Six of them were convicted in courts martial, including the leader of the drug ring who pleaded guilty to using and distributing LSD and using ecstasy, cocaine, and marijuana.”

This was happening at one of the three air bases – the other two being Malmstrom AFB in Montana and Minot AFB in North Dakota – with overall responsibility for maintaining the entire system of 450 land based intercontinental ballistic missiles on U.S. soil.

Another incident, not long before in 2013, an inspector general found Major General Michael Carey “…frequently rude to his counterparts, socialized with suspicious foreign women and became so drunk that a witness worried he required help standing while leading a U.S. delegation to Russia in July 2013.” Inebriated at a Mexican restaurant in Moscow, Carey attempted to join the restaurant band, but they apparently refused. More details of Carey’s drunken escapade are elaborated upon in a Washington Post article (the link to which is at his name above.)

When questioned by Air Force Security, Carey had difficulty remembering much of his Moscow visit.

Carey was fired – at a lower rank- from his post a few months later, in October, 2013 as the former commander of the 20th Air Force responsible for overseeing the 450 ICBMs. But court martial charges were not brought against him. Shortly thereafter 34 officers stationed at Warren Air Force based were dismissed from their posts when an Air Force investigator uncovered the fact that they had all cheated on proficiency tests assessing their knowledge of how to operate nuclear weapons.

As Miltary.com noted:

Carey’s firing was one of several setbacks for the nuclear force over the past year. The Associated Press has documented serious security lapses and complaints of low morale and “rot” within the intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, force, as well as an independent assessment of “burnout” among a sampling of nuclear missile launch officers and junior security forces.

A drunken loud mouth general and an LSD, ecstasy, cocaine ring leader responsible for 450 missiles, a few of which alone could destroy life on earth as we know it! One of the airmen convicted in the more recent incident, Airman Basic Kyle Morrison admitted that “he could not have responded if recalled to duty in a nuclear security emergency while high on LSD.” Accidents, service men responsible for U.S. ground based intercontinental missiles stoned, out of it on LSD, cocaine, ecstasy or whatever, drunk to oblivion. … one has to wonder for every similar incident or accident that goes reported, how many of them never reach a public forum.

______________

Nuclear Notes – 1

Nuclear Notes – 2

Nuclear Notes – 4

 

 

 

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Bill Conklin permalink
    June 26, 2018 2:26 pm

    Another very informative article Rob, keep it up! Daniel Ellsberg recently published a book called “The Doomsday Machine.” If I remember right, he gives us a 50% chance of a nuclear weapon event before 2030. If evolution has the correct story, we evolved as hunter gatherers and made stone weapons for several million years. Then in a very short time our technical knowledge got so far ahead of our ability to understand the situation, that we have a good chance of destroying the human species. If Nukes don’t get us, then Capitalism and the destruction of the Earth and the burning up of all the fossil fuels with no way to power civilization will finish us. If religion has the correct story, then God is a tremendous underachiever. Either way, the future is grim!

Trackbacks

  1. Nuclear Notes – 4 – Rocky Flats – Nuclear Stain on Colorado’s Front Range | View from the Left Bank: Rob Prince's Blog
  2. Nuclear Notes – 5 – More Accidents of Radioactive Waste – Rocky Flats Nuclear Pollution Lives On In Idaho, New Mexico | View from the Left Bank: Rob Prince's Blog

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