The United States Air Force is conducting an investigation into drug use by at least 11 officers in charge of America’s nuclear weapons. The Pentagon has increased the number from the 10 announced last week at six different bases (five in the U.S., one in the U.K.). Naturally, it’s a little difficult to get the Air Force to say more, but saying that the people who can incinerate the globe are on drugs is unsettling in the same way that you might say the Pacific Ocean is moist.
But it gets worse. Two of those implicated in the drug investigation are among 34 people who have been accused of cheating on their proficiency tests at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. That includes their knowledge of how to handle the “emergency war order.” The EWO is what kept us Cold War babies awake all night — the order to launch the thousands of warheads America possessed (and still does). All 34 are suspended from duty; there are only about 600 in the entire Air Force’s nuclear weapons section.
There’s still more bad news. This kind of crap has been going on for quite a while. Last spring, the USAF decertified 17 launch officers at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, later raised to 19. At the time, it was the largest decertification ever, brought on by “poor performance” and “bad attitudes.” They had two months of retraining before their certifications were restored.
Let’s not forget this from ABC News: “In October the general who commands the nuclear missile force was fired for engaging in embarrassing behavior, including drunkenness, while leading a U.S. delegation to a nuclear exercise in Russia.”
I’m not done. Back in 2008, a report by Navy Adm. Kirkland Donald, director of naval nuclear propulsion, revealed widespread problems in the way the Air Force handled nuclear weapons. It was so bad that Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley and Secretary Michael W. Wynne lost their jobs and went into retirement.
I’ll let the Air Force Times do the explaining of the “accidental transfer in August  of six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Barksdale Air Force Base, La. A B-52 from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot was supposed to transfer unarmed air-launched cruise missiles to Barksdale to be decommissioned, but munitions loaders accidentally attached nuclear-armed missiles to the pylons. The missiles were flown to Barksdale and sat unguarded on the tarmac for several hours before anyone realized what happened, some 30 hours after the mistake was made. The 5th Bomb Wing commander, two group commanders and the 5th Munitions Squadron commander were relieved of their commands.”
And the AF Times added, “In March , it was discovered that the Air Force had mislabeled nuclear warhead fuses, which led to the classified components accidentally being shipped to Taiwan in 2006. [Secretary of Defense] Gates said the incident made him realize that problems with the Air Force’s nuclear weapons handling procedures were systemic rather than isolated.” By the way, this is the same Defense Secretary Gates whose new book has come out that slams the president over Afghanistan. It seems that Gates didn’t really fix anything when it comes to Air Force nukes.
This would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous. We aren’t talking about paper products at Dunder Mifflin, or burger shipments to McDonald’s. These are nuclear weapons. One can take out a city of millions. The Federation of American Scientists notes, “The current Minuteman force consists of 530 Minuteman III’s located at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.; Malmstrom AFB, Mont.; Minot AFB, N.D.; and Grand Forks AFB, N.D.” That’s in addition to the bombs deliverable by airplane.
One last thought before I go screaming off into the night. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, the service’s top civilian official who has only been on the job four weeks, is going to visit the nuclear bases personally and have all the officers retested. She said, “I want all of you to know that, based on everything I know today, I have great confidence in the security and the effectiveness of our ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] force. And, very importantly, I want you to know that this was a failure of some of our airmen. It was not a failure of the nuclear mission.”
She has confidence in the security and effectiveness of our ICBM force. Well, that’s makes one of us. Anybody else?