The Pentagon has been stonewalling on my requests for answers to key questions. For two weeks a public affairs office has been declining to respond to my question about whether the six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles flown by B-52 from Minot AFB to Barksdale AFB were programmed for specific targets, and if so what theose targets were, or even whether the team that investigated the incident checked to see if they were targeted.
The Air Force and Pentagon have also declined to explain whether US nuclear weapons in storage in US bunkers have been provided with the same alarm and motion-detection sensors that the National Nuclear Security Agency helped to install on the nukes being stored on Russian bases.
Clearly if such devices are standard on US nukes, as several Air Force active and retired personnel have assured me is the case, then there is no way that those weapons could have been removed from the Minot bunker by “mistake” as claimed the Air Force’s official report on the incident.
The Pentagon has also refused to state whether the missiles were fueled up or not.
Finally, there is another big question that has not even been asked. Supposedly the reason the B-52 was flying to Barksdale with 12 missiles is that they are part of a total of 400 of these things, all of which have been declared obsolete and slated for destruction. But if all those Advanced Cruise Missiles are obsolete, then there is simply no reason for having any of them fitted with nuclear warheads. If they’re obsolete, none of them would be on stand-by status. No one at Minot would ever be mounting a nuke on a cruise missile. Note that the Air Force is not claiming that the initial mounting of six warheads onto six missiles was a “mistake.” Only that nobody in the subsequent chain of events was alerted to the fact that the warheads had been mounted. But why would warheads have been mounted on obsolete weapons in the first place?
Meanwhile, I have no knowledge as to the accuracy of this, but one Air Force vet tells me that the Advanced Cruise Missiles that were nuclear armed and mounted on a launch pylon on the B-52 in question would have been electronically linked to the plane automatically (which has the capability to program and re-program the targeting of the missiles), and that therefore the pilot of the plane would have instantly seen on his instrument console that he had nukes on board that flight. He also told me that the idea that the pilot would only have checked out the missiles mounted on one wing–by chance the wing that had the six missiles with dummy warheads–instead of both pylons and all 12 missiles as required, which is the claim of the Air Force report, is ludicrous. As he notes, pilots on these aging Stratofortresses see the pre-flight check as a life-or-death matter. Anything wrong on these planes can mean loss of the plane and even loss of the lives of the entire crew and of people on the ground. That would include the secure mounting of the missile cargo.
As a former semi-trailer driver myself, I know that those checks of all the main systems–air brakes, trailer linkage, tire pressure, lights, etc.–are not taken lightly. Before you head out on the road with a trailer truck, you check out all the critical systems, because you know your life depends on their working properly. Surely this would be much more true with a strategic bomber, especially when it is carrying 12 missiles under its wings.
There is another question, raised by an Air Force vet in a comment below, which also bears investigation. The Air Force is claiming that the B-52 was supposedly ferrying 12 unarmed cruise missiles to Barksdale for disassembly. But a B-52, an antique aircraft which requires a big crew, demands enormous amounts of sevicing and repair and wastes a prodigious amount of fuel, is a terribly inefficient way to ferry these weapons to a graveyard. It would be infinitely cheaper to truck the missile bodies overland, or to stack and ship them in cargo planes, and in fact it simply defies belief that the Air Force would be doing this with Stratofortresses.
The more you look at this story, the more obvious it is that the Air Force claim that this was all just a big “mistake” has to be a blatant cover-up of the truth.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His n book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s newest book is “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org