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It's Sunday Morning, Do You Know Where Your Nukes Are?

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My colleagues and I went to the NIH the other day to meet with a doctor who is interested in trying an experimental treatment for a fatal genetic disorder. Our lab has been developing the treatment for several years. The meeting was to coordinate efforts to get rapid FDA approval for testing the treatment on one afflicted baby, who will die without treatment. What does this story have to do with nukes? Bear with me.

When we arrived at the entrance gate to the NIH we had to stop our car at a checkpoint populated with many armed guards and had to show our IDs, which indicated that we were from the military university across the street from the NIH. We were nonetheless ordered out of the car, and asked the deposit the contents of our pockets into trays before being herded through not one but two separate metal detector devices. The car was then searched as we waited. We were allowed to collect our belongings and given temporary NIH IDs, and then got back in the car and proceeded slowly down the road into the NIH campus.

We were stopped again a short while later and had to show the temporary NIH tags that we were just given. Preceding again into the NIH campus we got to the building where the meeting was to take place. We were stopped again and this time the steering wheel of the car was swabbed and the trunk of the car searched again. Finally, we were allowed to park the car and go to the meeting.

My point in bringing all of this up is that security at government and military facilities in the United States is at an absurdly high level. Far higher than necessary considering that the NIH is basically like a university campus, not a military nuclear storage facility.

And yet an article in the Washington Post today which details how six nuclear tipped cruise missiles were “accidentally” flown from Minot air base in North Dakota to Barksdale base in Louisiana chalks the whole incident up to lax security procedures… at a nuclear storage facility.

The official story so far goes like this. Minot air base stores nukes with non nukes in the same igloo bunkers. The type of cruise missiles that were being retrieved from the bunker were AGM-129s, which can only take two types of warhead; nuclear, or dummy nuclear. The nuke warheads are color coded red, and the dummies color coded silver. Silver good… red bad.

The munitions custodian officer who was in charge of retrieving the missile pods from the bunker reportedly “did not notice” that 6 of the missiles had red warheads, and proceeded to move them to the tarmac for loading onto the wings of an aging B52H bomber. After loading 6 nukes on one wing, and 6 dummies on the other wing, a flight officer reportedly only bothered to check the wing that contained the dummy warheads, and then without looking at the other group of missiles, cleared the plane for takeoff.

Separated from the rest of the world only by a chain link fence, the plane sat on the tarmac for 15 hours unguarded, with the unguarded missiles having the equivalent nuclear destructive power of 60 Hiroshima bombs. The next day, the nukes were flown to Louisiana in a plane that was not rated for transportation of nuclear weapons, creating what nuke experts call a “bent spear” incident, meaning an unauthorized movement of weapons outside the chain of nuclear command.

After landing at Barksdale air base, the plane and nukes sat unattended again for 9 hours before the nukes were “noticed” by one airman who was involved in removing them from the wings. All in all, the nukes were out of authorized command and control for over a day.

The official story of confusion and negligence is very disturbing. If true, it indicates that our nuclear weapons supply is very poorly guarded, at a time when military security is supposedly at an all time high due to be so-called “war on terror”. The other possibility, that munitions officers and flight crews were ordered to move the missiles secretly, listed as AGM 129 cruise missiles with dummy warheads, is even more disturbing. Either way, something is very wrong here.

So, what does this all have to do with our meeting at the NIH? Security at the NIH was extremely high, and even though we had ID cards from a neighboring military university, the guards went through all the motions. Considering that nuclear weapons were involved at Minot, it is hard to understand how security there could have been so much more lax. The question remaining in my mind is, was it simply lax nuke security, which is terrifying, or was it ordered from higher up, which is even more terrifying? I wonder if we will ever have an answer.

Oh, and by the way. The FDA refused our request to try to save the baby with the fatal genetic disease.
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John R. Moffett PhD is a research neuroscientist in the Washington, DC area. Dr. Moffett's main area of research focuses on the brain metabolite N-acetylaspartate, and an associated genetic disorder known as Canavan disease.

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