For the past couple of years, Robert Burns of the Associated Press has been chronicling what he describes as the “deliberate violations of safety rules, failures of inspections,” and “breakdowns in training” of the United States nuclear missile force. He’s also found “evidence that the men and women who operate the missiles from underground command posts are suffering burnout.”
In what may be the biggest such scandal in Air Force history, 34 officers entrusted with land-based nuclear missiles have been pulled off the job for alleged involvement in a cheating ring that officials say was uncovered during a drug probe.
The 34 are suspected of cheating several months ago on a routine proficiency test that includes checking missile launch officers’ knowledge of how to handle an “emergency war order,” which is the term for the authorization required to launch a nuclear weapon.
And what about the drug probe? On January 9, in the Los Angeles Times, David Cloud reported:
Jennifer Cassidy, an Air Force spokeswoman, said two missile launch officers at Malmstrom [Air Force in Montana] were suspected of illegal drug possession. She refused to provide details, citing an ongoing investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. … Both have been barred from missile launch duty and their access to classified information has been suspended until the investigation is completed, the official said.
Oh, and don’t forget the chief of the intercontinental ballistic missile force, Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, who acted like a drunken ass during an official visit to Russia this past summer and was subsequently relieved of his command.
What’s to be done? Personally, I’d like to see nuclear deterrence jettisoned as the first and last resort of our national security policy and all nuclear weapons dismantled post haste. Needless to say, that’s not gonna happen anytime soon. No doubt, though, as with many abuses in civil service and government, the call will got out to privatize.
Of course, that would never happen with the launch forces because security concerns require them to be administered by the armed forces (the Air Force. But, much of the nuclear-weapons program is, as Real Clear Defense reported in September, already “run largely by private contractors and overseen by the NNSA, an arm of the U.S. Energy Department.” In fact, it explains, the program “has turned into a massive jobs program with duplicative functions.” More:
… The NNSA has racked up $16 billion in cost overruns on 10 major projects that are a combined 38 years behind schedule, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reports. Other projects have been cancelled or suspended, despite hundreds of millions of dollars already spent, because they grew too bloated.
… U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security financial and contracting oversight subcommittee, said a key problem is the Energy Department’s reliance on private contractors to carry out its mission. The DOE has fewer than 16,000 employees and more than 92,000 contractors.
In the immortal words of Executive Director of the Los Alamos Study Group Executive Director Greg Mello, quoted in the article: “The post-Cold War nuclear warhead complex has become a gigantic self-licking ice cream cone for contractors.”