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A retired high-level government source was called yesterday to respond to a nuclear incident in Montana. Apparently the silo doors of numerous ICBM missiles were opened.
Two such incidents during the Cold War era nearly started World War III. When silo doors open, it indicates the intention to launch missiles against another nation.
According to an essay published by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF), an organization dedicated to abolition of nuclear weapons: "The US experienced several near-accidents at its Cheyenne Mountain early warning station in the late 1970s. Twice, the equipment at the base generated false indications of a nuclear missile strike from Russia and nearly prompted US retaliation on both occasions."
According to Phil Patton, author of "Dreamland: A Cultural History of Area 51," an incident also occurred in 1980 in which "a multiplexer chip failed in a Nova 840 computer and sent a false missile warning to the national command center." Pattons says that it was the second such incident in less than a year. "In the first one, fake data from a war-sim was mistaken for the real thing, and the Pentagon was notified that a Soviet missile strike was under way. It took about eight minutes to determine that the end of the world was not, in fact, at hand."
Today, there are 200 Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles at Malmstrom Air Force Base at five missile alert facilities in Montana, with four operational missile squadrons assigned as combat-ready forces to continuously operate, maintain, and secure "strategic nuclear deterrence."
One of these squadrons declares on its web page that its squadron works "every day of the year, 24 hours per day" to "keep America free by operating and safeguarding her most destructive power."
According to the NAPF essayist, Justin Murray, "Despite the end of the Cold War, the United States and Russia once again find themselves on the brink of a nuclear Armageddon," but the threat "does not stem from hostilities or a premeditated, intentional strike but from miscalculation and computer errors." Murray states that both the U.S. and Russia maintain thousands of nuclear weapons in launch warning mode. While launch procedures in the U.S. demand almost instantaneous decision-making by the President, the situation in Russia is even more hazardous, where decay of early warning systems elevate the possibility of false alarms.
Of course, the unasked and unanswered question here is: what about terrorists?
There seems to be no indication that the incident in Montana is a terrorist-related one. However, the incident begs two crucial questions: first, are our systems inadequately protected?, and second, does the increase in development of more nuclear weapons under President Bush create greater dangers? (We already have approximately 9600 warheads and are talking about developing a new line of small nuclear weapons called "bunker busters.")
The answers are no and no.
First, the systems are inadequately protected because whenever you have a very sophisticated electronic system (and, in this case, systems), there is the potential for an accident and already there have been enough incidents to warrant shutting these dangerous systems down.
Second, there is no such thing as adequate control of nuclear weapons. Their management and control simply cannot be guaranteed. The return to proliferation of nuclear weapons is risking an End Game THE End Game. Although we might labor under the false belief that the Nuclear Genie is back in the bottle, even if she is, the cork is definitely not on.
The incident in Montana, which may never make it into the mainstream press, proves this.
Jennifer Van Bergen, J.D., is the author of The Twilight of Democracy: The Bush Plan for America (Common Courage Press, 2004). She has written and spoken extensively on civil liberties, human rights, and international law. She and Raymond Del Papa are currently organizing a major Forum on Dissent Since 9/11 in Miami from March 11-13. See www.partnersinprotest.org. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org