Twice this year alone, Air Force officers entrusted with the launch keys to nuclear-tipped missiles have been caught leaving open a blast door that is intended to help prevent a terrorist or other intruder from entering their underground command post, Air Force officials have told The Associated Press. The blast doors are never to be left open if one of the crew members inside is asleep -- as was the case in both these instances -- out of concern for the damage an intruder could cause, including the compromising of secret launch codes.... The crews who operate the missiles are trained to follow rules without fail, including the prohibition against having the blast door open when only one crew member is awake, because the costs of a mistake are so high.
The latest developments in the U.S. nuclear arsenal are clearly alarming, but to fully appreciate the severity of the issue, some backstory is in order. In fact, let's revisit one of Rachel's segments from a couple of weeks ago.
In 2007, the crew at Minot Air Force Base in Minot, North Dakota, accidentally loaded six missiles with live nuclear warheads onto a B-52 for transport to Louisiana. Upon arriving, the six, live, nuclear-tipped missiles sat unguarded on a tarmac for nine hours. Nuclear operations at Minot were quickly suspended. When the base tried to pass inspection and end the suspension, it failed.
Soon after, an Air Force base in Barksdale, which also protects nuclear weapons, also failed its nuclear safety inspection.
This year, an Air Force base in Malmstrom, Montana, which also protects nuclear weapons, also failed its nuclear safety inspection.
Two weeks ago, the U.S. military's #2 official in charge of nuclear weapons got fired after he was found to have used counterfeit poker chips at an Indian casino. Days later, the U.S. military's #1 official in charge of nuclear weapons also got fired for reasons that have not yet been made public.
And with all of this backstory in mind, consider this report from the Associated Press today.
One of the lapses happened in Minot, the other at Malmstrom.
It's worth noting that there's no reason to believe these errors led to a security breach, though that's cold comfort -- they could have caused a crisis, which is why safeguards are in place to prevent situations like these.
Perhaps it's time for a larger conversation about the U.S. nuclear arsenal?