Top Air Force Officials Resign in Nuclear Snafu

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It’s about time, and it’s beyond frightening that the people charged with guarding our nuclear arsenal have become this lax: Gates ousts Air Force leaders in historic shake-up.

And if you really want to be scared, imagine what nuclear security is like in the former Soviet Union.

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert Gates ousted the Air Force’s top military and civilian leaders Thursday, holding them to account in a historic Pentagon shake-up after embarrassing nuclear mix-ups.

Gates announced at a news conference that he had accepted the resignations of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley and Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne — a highly unusual double firing.

Gates said his decision was based mainly on the damning conclusions of an internal report on the mistaken shipment to Taiwan of four Air Force electrical fuses for ballistic missile warheads. And he linked the underlying causes of that slip-up to another startling incident: the flight last August of a B-52 bomber that was mistakenly armed with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

The report drew the stunning conclusion that the Air Force’s nuclear standards have been in a long decline, a “problem that has been identified but not effectively addressed for over a decade.”

Gates said an internal investigation found a common theme in the B-52 and Taiwan incidents: “a decline in the Air Force’s nuclear mission focus and performance” and a failure by Air Force leaders to respond effectively.

In a reflection of his concern about the state of nuclear security, Gates said he had asked a former defense secretary, James Schlesinger, to lead a task force that will recommend ways to ensure that the highest levels of accountability and control are maintained in Air Force handling of nuclear weapons.

UPDATE at 6/5/08 6:47:52 pm:

And it gets worse: 5th Bomb Wing flunks nuclear inspection - Air Force News, news from Iraq - Air Force Times.

The 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., has failed its much-anticipated defense nuclear surety inspection, according to a Defense Threat Reduction Agency report.

DTRA inspectors gave the wing an “unsatisfactory” grade Sunday after uncovering many crucial mistakes during the weeklong inspection, which began May 17. They attributed the errors primarily to lack of supervision and leadership among security forces.

Inspectors from Air Combat Command also participated, but the Air Force refused to provide specifics on their findings.

Security broke down on multiple levels during simulated attacks across the base, including against nuclear weapons storage areas, according to the DTRA report, a copy of which was obtained by Air Force Times.

Inspectors watched as a security forces airman played video games on his cell phone while standing guard at a “restricted area perimeter,” the DTRA report said. Meanwhile, another airman nearby was “unaware of her duties and responsibilities” during the exercise.

(Hat tip: ratherdashing.)

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