Nuclear missile silo security team failed training exercise last year
From our "Waking Nightmare" file, we learn from Fox News about a training exercise last year at a Minuteman missile silo where the Air Force security team failed to retake the silo in a simulated attack in a timely manner.
The general outline of the failure was known last year, but AP got the specifics through an FOIA request.
It is extremely doubtful that terrorists could launch the missile - unless they had a code key to decipher presidential orders. As we learned on 9/11, nothing should be taken for granted when it comes to the capabilities of some terrorist outfits, so the "critical deficiency" as the Air Force referred to the incident, was alarming.
The crew went through a second exercise and, after retraining, passed with flying colors.
The report indicated that the security team was required to respond to the simulated capture of a Minuteman 3 nuclear missile silo by hostile forces, termed an "Empty Quiver" scenario in which a nuclear weapon is lost, stolen or seized. Each of the Air Force's 450 Minuteman 3 silos contains an intercontinental ballistic missile armed with at least one nuclear warhead and ready for launch on short notice on orders from the president.
The Air Force review examined why the security force showed an "inability to effectively respond to a recapture scenario." It cited a failure to take "all lawful actions necessary to immediately regain control of nuclear weapons" but did not specify those actions.
A section apparently elaborating on what was meant by the phrase "failed to take all lawful actions" was removed from the document before its release. The Air Force said this was withheld in accordance with Pentagon orders "prohibiting the unauthorized dissemination of unclassified information pertaining to security measures" for the protection of "special nuclear material."
The document provided no details on how the silo takeover was simulated, the number of security forces ordered to respond or other basic aspects of the exercise.
The prize for terrorists or others who might seek to seize control of a missile would be the nuclear warhead attached to it, since it contains plutonium and other bomb materials. A rogue launching of the missile is a far different matter, since it would require the decoding of encrypted war orders transmitted only by the president.
In 2009, the Air Force cited a "post-9/11 shift in thinking" about such situations, saying that while this scenario once was considered an impossibility, the U.S. "no longer has the luxury of assuming what is and what is not possible."
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which helped conduct the Malmstrom inspection last August, has called its inspections "likely the most intense, invasive and critical" in the U.S. military. The agency says on its website that its drills are designed to "ensure everybody knows their job, the proper procedures — and how to react when chaos unfolds and the situation changes."
The missilemen have had a rough time recently. Scandal, poor leadership, and poor morale have all contributed to a negative public impression of the specialists. Secretary Hagel sought to turn that around with these exercises and instead, discovered a weakness where none was thought to exist before.
Presumably, we can rest easy knowing our nuclear deterrent is safe. But not every scenario can be foreseen and you would hope they would make these training exercises a regular part of the routine.