Jan 25, 2009

Atomic Bombshells

Shaping up America's nuclear deterrent.
The Wall Street Journal, Review & Outlook - 24 January 2009

The Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff lost their jobs last year after two incidents involving the misuse of nuclear materials. In one, nuclear-armed cruise missiles were loaded on a B-52 bomber and flown across the country without anyone noticing for a day and a half. In the other, nose cones fitted with nuclear triggers were erroneously shipped to Taiwan.

Neither of those mishaps ended badly, and in retrospect the nation can say thanks for the wake-up call. The blunders focused attention on a problem that might otherwise have gone undetected until catastrophe struck: the neglect of U.S. nuclear forces and -- even more dangerous -- a lack of understanding at the Pentagon about nuclear deterrence.

These are the key findings of the Pentagon's task force on nuclear weapons management, which recently released its final report. The task force was appointed by Defense Secretary Bob Gates in the wake of the Air Force scandals and was led by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger. Its initial report, last September, examined the Air Force's errors in its stewardship of nuclear weapons and made several recommendations. These mostly have been implemented, and the latest report commends the Air Force for its swift action.

The task force has now cast its eye more broadly and concludes that the "lack of interest and attention have been widespread" throughout the Pentagon's leadership. The exception is the Navy, which is responsible for submarine-launched nuclear weapons. Even there, though, not all is well. While the report finds the Navy's handling of nukes acceptable, it says there is evidence of some "fraying around the edges."

The Schlesinger panel makes a series of recommendations aimed at improving oversight and policy. They include establishing a position of assistant secretary of defense for deterrence, reducing the nonnuclear related responsibilities of U.S. Strategic Command, and beefing up inspections.

But the task force's most worrisome finding will require a new mindset. The panel finds a "distressing degree" of inattention to the role of nuclear deterrence among senior civilian and military leaders, especially regarding its psychological and political value. It proposes educational measures to "enhance understanding" of why we have a nuclear deterrent -- which, put simply, is to avoid the use of nuclear weapons. If adversaries believe the U.S. deterrent is weak, they might be tempted to use nukes against us or threaten to do so.

But there's a proliferation point too. The U.S. provides a nuclear umbrella for 30-plus countries. If our allies lose confidence, Mr. Schlesinger said at a press conference announcing the report, "five or six of those nations are quite capable of beginning to produce nuclear weapons on their own." This is precisely the opposite of what the nuclear-free-world types like to argue: If only the U.S. would get rid of its nukes, other countries would follow suit.

It's now up to the Obama Administration to move on the task force's findings. But adopting the management and personnel changes the report recommends won't be enough. "Strengthening the credibility of our nuclear deterrent should begin at the White House," the report states. If the new President makes clear his commitment to the U.S. nuclear deterrent, that attitude will echo down the chain of command.


Anonymous said...

The DoD briefing, Nuclear Weapons Management Briefing, The Secretary of Defense´s Task Force on Nuclear Weapons Management speaks with reporters at the Pentagon., 48:34, www.dodvclips.com, and the release of the report was January 8, 2009.

Frank, if you google "nuclear weapons," and "Los Alamos" everyday, then you will not be 2 1/2 weeks late.

Right now, within the Air Force, they are discussing where the new Air Force Global Strike Command, e.g. the new SAC, where it is gonna be placed, whether it is:

-- Barksdale AFB, La.
-- F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo.
-- Malmstrom AFB, Mo.
-- Minot AFB, N.D.
-- Offutt AFB, Neb.
-- Whiteman AFB, Mo.

The choice is expected late spring or early summer of 2009.

Frank Young said...

Yes, I saw it. I'm about three posts behind right now (that I know of). This one was requested and already written so I pasted it.

Frank Young said...

PS Send me anything you want posted, with a URL to the source if possible. It usually gets posted the same day or the next.

Anonymous said...

Another wonderful article by the WSJ.

Will Obama and the Congress listen? Probably not. Downsizing and budget reductions are likely for the US strategic nuclear complex.

Some within Congress seem genuinely embarrassed that the US even supports a strategic nuclear force and appear to be hoping it will just slowly rot away.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, rogue, arrogant, cowboy butthead, c-student scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory lost a barcode and purchased a mustang...oh, wait, nevermind. Heck, drain the swamp anyway. Off with their heads.

Anonymous said...

If the rogue, arrogant, cowboy butthead, c-student scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory would stop travel all together it would help. They don't show up at the conference's and instead make a family vacation of it!

Anonymous said...

They don't show up at the conference's and instead make a family vacation of it!

1/26/09 9:37 AM

Names and details, please.

Anonymous said...

There were some REAL security incidents (for example, Wen Ho Lee, the missing disc that was found behind the copy machine -- a location that had previously been searched, Jessica Quintana). And plenty of safety incidents. But, as has been shown many times, LANL didn't have significantly more safety & security incidents than similar institutions.

Unfortunately, these incidents lead to some poorly executed oversight that produced false positives like the missing barcode incident. Lab management first denied false positives were possible, then they completely failed to see how serious a PR problem a false positive could become. Frustrated, management decided to call their employees names like butt-heat and cowboy, as if that would help.

The press aggravated the situation with their one-sided, facts-be-damned, coverage of the Lab that played well with Santa Fe types and anti-nuke and anti-Lab politicians. Lab management couldn't even keep an easily explained incident like the Mustang story from being distorted by the press into yet another false but often quoted "LANL screw-up". The press and anti-nuke types celebrated at having a convenient and self-flagellating whipping boy.

The press is always happy to blow bad news out of proportion, especially if their victim doesn't fight back; politicians would rather Lab money was going to their own district; and the Lab really did have some highly publicized safety & security incidents which they dealt with (sort of), then they implemented oversight that turned out to be neither useable nor dependable (at the expense of their employees -- like their current polygraph and drug testing policies), and they failed miserably with PR.

So now we have another poorly thought out response -- let's make it impossible to get ANY work done or even get rid of the scientists altogether! And, oh yeah, keep calling them names! The current response is like issuing blunt (pre-school style) scissors in response to a surgeon making an error, or replacing all of the surgeons with bricklayers. The real loser here is the national interest, which no one seems to be very interested in.

Anonymous said...

"lack of interest and attention have been widespread" throughout the Pentagon's leadership."

Rats! Looks like NNSA will keep the NWC rather than moving to DOD.

Anonymous said...

I hope, 11:43, that a nuclear weapons lab is held to a higher level of security requirements than other institutions. And if other institutions have problems, that is not an excuse to do a poor job with security at LANL.

Quit whining and take some care with the nation's secrets.

Anonymous said...

11:43 am: Don't listen to 5:09 pm, who is just another jerk who knows nothing about LANL or its business.

You have hit the nail on the head, and your observations are correct and salient, not "whining" as 5:09 pm supposes. Bravo! Unfortunately, nobody who can do anything about the problem is listening.

Maybe if a whole bunch of clerical and support services people get RIFed, affecting the Valley and not just Los Alamos county, the right people will start to listen.

Anonymous said...


Speaking of Wen Ho Lee,

Did they ever find those missing tapes?

If he was not spying, it's hard to beleive he would make the tapes in the first place.

I wonder what happened to them.

Anonymous said...

I spit on every vehicle in the parking lot that has an OBAMA sticker. I can't help it. If I see that the license plate is from SF County, I spit twice.

Anonymous said...

So you're a vandal as well as a bigot, 9:21?

Anonymous said...

Even worse are those Obamanos stickers. Hey, Obama fans, did you know that your nice paying job at the lab is about to go Vamanos?

Anonymous said...

Such a tired stereotype. One can disagree with/disapprove of Obama without being a bigot. There really are a multitude of reasons, none of which have to anything to do with race.

In fact, most of the reasons for disliking Bush's first term, apply even more strongly to Obama.

Anonymous said...

If anyone knows who 9:21 is, please put an Obama sticker on his car.

Anonymous said...

Obama's Showdown Over Nukes


... "Shortly after taking the oath of office on Tuesday, he turned what had been a campaign promise into an official presidential commitment: the new Administration "will stop the development of new nuclear weapons," the White House declared flatly on its website, with no equivocation, asterisks or caveats."

What I found on the Whitehouse Website related to nukes (under Foreign Policy):

"Move Toward a Nuclear Free World: Obama and Biden will set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and pursue it. Obama and Biden will always maintain a strong deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist. But they will take several steps down the long road toward eliminating nuclear weapons. They will stop the development of new nuclear weapons; work with Russia to take U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles off hair trigger alert; seek dramatic reductions in U.S. and Russian stockpiles of nuclear weapons and material; and set a goal to expand the U.S.-Russian ban on intermediate-range missiles so that the agreement is global."

Looks like RRW is DOA with the new Administration.

Anonymous said...

Looks like RRW is DOA with the new Administration.

1/27/09 5:55 AM

Not only that, but to buy "good will" with the rest of the world, I expect this new Administration will drastically cut what remains of the US nuclear weapons budget. Most of the increase for non-proliferation efforts is rumored around DC to be destined for the State Department and not the NNSA.

Start looking for other options if you work at LANL or LLNL. Time is running out.

Anonymous said...

They even want to get rid of the guns that protect the nukes!


Audit: DOE has too many weapons - Knoxnews, Jan 27th, Frank Munger

According to an Inspector General report released today, DOE sites have 2,635 unneeded weapons. The surplus was created by changing security requirements in the years that followed 9/11, the report said.

The IG audit said that DOE and NNSA are not always properly managing the inventories of surplus weapons and that the weapons -- valued at more than $2.8 million -- could be used by other agencies or law enforcement.

Another finding: "Sites were not always identifying, tracking and properly disposing of potentially high-risk and sensitive equipment. in particular, we identified control weaknesses in this area related to weapons sights and scopes."

Y-12 and ORNL were not among the sites audited by the Inspector General, but they were among the DOE/NNSA sites that provided information to the IG for the report.

Anonymous said...

The destruction of the US nuclear weapons complex and our unilateral disarmament couldn't be coming at a better time, huh?

*** Iran Nuke THIS year! ***

'Uranium For Iran Nuke In 2009'
Tuesday January 27, 2009

Iran will have enough enriched uranium to make a single nuclear weapon later this year, the prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) predicts.

"During 2009, Iran will probably reach the point at which it has produced the amount of low-enriched uranium needed to make a nuclear bomb."

(Mark Fitzpatrick, International Institute for Strategic Studies)

"But being able to enrich uranium is not the same as having a nuclear weapon."

However, the survey reports doubts over US Intelligence estimates that Iran halted its work on nuclear weapons six years ago.

This points to Tehran's continued development of long-range ballistic missiles able to reach targets in Israel and beyond.


Anonymous said...

"unilateral disarmament"?? Lay off the crack, pal. We're about 10,000 short of that.

You are a dumbshit. Even if our weapons corrode for the next 10 years, they still provide a fully credible deterrent.

Anonymous said...

1/26 8:48 pm: "Speaking of Wen Ho Lee,did they ever find those missing tapes? If he was not spying, it's hard to beleive he would make the tapes in the first place. I wonder what happened to them."

It was proved forensically that he made them. He admitted it and claimed he put them in a dumpster behind the (old) Ad Building. The county landfill was searched exhaustively for many weeks, and they were never found. Some believe thay are now in China. I'm afraid we'll never know.