Conspiracy theory of the week: Minot AFB (where the nukes came from) airman dead

Story and discussion here.

The official story is that on August 30, six nuclear-armed cruise missiles were loaded onto a B-52 in Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and flown to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana by mistake. But theories are floating around the Internets that the nukes were actually bound for the Persian Gulf, perhaps to be used on Iran – or that they’re meant to be detonated in the U.S., a “nuclear 9/11” to justify a wider war. All seems very silly, but the idea of the U.S. military losing track of any of its nukes by mistake, however briefly, seems even sillier, and now this happens . . . hmmmm . . .

(Do tinfoil hats actually block radiation?)

I don’t know. You tell me.

Mistakes are made all the time, even mistakes with nuclear weapons. I don’t know why people find it so appealing to fabricate elaborate and implausible stories to explain what is more easily explained by incompetence or indifference. Yes, I said indifference. If you work with something long enough, no matter how dangerous it is it becomes second nature to you. I suspect that those two elements combined to crate an extremely minor and overblown incident.

You know darn well this was thwarted by Jack Bauer. :slight_smile:

I’ll subscribe to the cock-up theory. Bit of an enormous cock-up though - how many people had to sign-off on the material from armoury (or whatever the US calls such a thing) until it was airborne? How many levels of fail is that? What is the procedure to punish people for, heh, losing track of nuclear weapons?

You said:

I thought the armed forces were super trained? Cold-eyed defenders of freedom? Can you give me pointers to send to the UK MoD in case any of our nuclear warheads get lost? Thanks!

Of course, if the U.S. government wanted to nuke Iran, it could simply use submarines. We still have a fleet of missile-armed subs, don’t we? They could be put in place off Iran’s coasts in secret at any time.

Line from the movie Broken Arrow

"I don’t know what’s scarier, losing a nuclear weapon or that it happens so often there’s actually a term for it. "

Once in a while, Hollywood gets it right. :smiley:

Trained, yes. Super trained? Whatever that means.

You can leave the sarcasm at the door. The men and women of the Armed Forces are people, just like you and me. They do, in fact, make mistakes.

Tell them not to respond to such an event the way they responded to the Windscale fire. That is, since apparently nobody in the United Kingdom makes mistakes, not even itty bitty ones, let alone catastrophic ones.

Any US Department of Energy nuclear weapon[sup]*[/sup] that was detonated could be readily be identified by the unique characteristic isotope ratios from fallout residue. Not only could you identify it as being fabricated by a U.S. facility, but you could actually determine the reactor, and with the appropriate information the time and section of the reactor in which the material was produced. In addition, you’ll see characteristics of the enrichment or seperation process; the U.S. has historically used the laborious gaseous diffusion process, whereas any modern weapons will used some type of centerfuge seperation. So, forget any nonsense about using weapons from the U.S. stockpile to “fake” an attack, here or abroad. Unless you are going to assert that thousands of scientists and engineers who will have access to residue data are all in on the conspiracy, it just doesn’t float.

Stolen nuclear weapons would also be next to useless for any immediate purpose. Modern safety interlocks like those found on the W80-3 “physics package” carried by the AGM-129 follow the “strong-link/weak-link” principle, requiring a matching set of codes to activate, and automatically deactivating should environment conditions indicate that it is not in operation mode, i.e. you can’t detonate it sitting on the ground with just an activation code. It’s also one of the most modern designs, incorporating all modern safety features (single-point safe, fire resistant pit, highly insensitive explosive, advanced static discharge resistance) which would make it virtually impossible for someone bypass the safe and arm systems and easily rig it to detonate; you’d effectively have to rebuild the entire weapon to detonate it. There are designs–some still in the reserve stockpile–which could potentially be caused to fizzle by a partial detonation or by accident (hence, why the W-78 can’t be air transported) but almost all of these are in the Inactive Stockpile and/or are scheduled for disassembly and reprocessing.

This isn’t to excuse the egregeous lapse of security in unknowingly transporting nuclear weapons. This serves to highlight the need for tighter controls, idiot-safe handling procedures and security systems, and reducing the Active Stockpile to minimum necessary levels, particularly portable weapons. Unfortunately, the Air Force and Strategic Command is being cut to minimial levels, and lacking a clear strategic threat and all that comes with that the first impulse in cost cutting is to reduce budgets for maintenance and training. But it does not follow that this is some kind of conspiracy, and it’s highly doubtful that this is the fault, either deliberately or unintentionally of one individual; more likely a systemic failure in security culture.

Still, this isn’t nearly as scary as the fact that the PAL locks on the Minuteman force were all set to exactly the same, easily remembered combination through the 'Seventies, unbeknownst to Presidents and DefSecs until Carter. :eek: And even a quick survey of Titan II accidents and near-accidents is enough to make one’s hair curl.


[sup]*[/sup]While nuclear weapons are controlled by Strategic Command and deployed via the labor of various Armed Forces services, nuclear weapons are owned and maintained by the Department of Energy through the aegis of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Well, that was fifty years ago. I’d like to be reassured that modern inventory control systems are better. Can you do that?

With nukes? In 2007? Well forgive me, but that’s not impressive. Can you give some hints and tips I might be able to pass along to my MoD in the current decade?

How about something more recent, then?


Are you done being holier than thou, or must I continue to bust you up with cites?

Look, you do realise that Sellafield is a civilian plant, doing all sorts of crazy reprocessing things for civilian power? (And, OK, some of the products end up elsewhere). It’s a big factory.

The question is - how competent is the USAF? The ones who can’t keep track of their own fucking bombs. You’ve avoided that, I think. Deflect. Deflect. So how is USAF inventory control these days? Finished articles, in the inventory and lost? Please reassure us! You haven’t, after all, addressed the point on this thread. It’s OK if you are just regular cannon fodder, but if you genuinely know then you may well be able to “Fight Ignorance!”.

I didn’t deflect anything. I said that the incident was likely a result of indifference and incompetence but didn’t measure up to some absurd conspiracy theory. You decided to start with the sarcasm.

As far as reassurance goes, I don’t owe you any reassurance. If you want to live in fear, please by all means do so.

You having a bad day, Airman? They’re just annoyed that we have to periodically bail them out of World Wars. :slight_smile:

Conspiracy theories aside…

Yep, people make mistakes. But those in charge of nuclear weapons should not be making these mistakes. Heck, even my job - it’s not nuke monitoring facility, but if I don’t do certain things or look for certains things, it’s my ass. The key here is that if you make mistakes over and over, or get too relaxed, you should be out the door with no second chance with critical things such as these. The people handling nukes need to be doing repetitive checks and balances and quality assurance to make sure that the nukes are where they need to be, and in the hands of those who need to have them. And it that fails through multiple levels, action should be taken to remove the possibility from happening next time.

The comment about the super trained? There are people that will make mistakes over and over, and there are people that are very good at what they do and do not make mistakes, or atleast take great measures to minimize mistakes. I believe what was meant by that question was - the people handling nukes should be the guy that triple-checks everything to make sure it’s right that it puts OCD out of style, and asks colleages to check his work. Not your average person who makes common forgivable mistakes like not leaving enough toilet paper, or putting pickles on your cheese-only burger order.

To attach multiple nuclear warheads to a plane that should not have been is an obvious failure on multiple levels that should not have occured, and “people make mistakes” just isn’t good enough at this level.

I’m not sure “appealing” is the right word here, Airman D. It’s more like, the current Administration has done a lot of secretive stuff. They faked up stories about yellowcake in Nigeria to get us involved in a war with Iraq on false pretenses. They created a group of secret prisons in Europe for secretly questioning terrorists. A lot of the stuff that went on at Guantanamo was what most Americans would unhesitatingly identify as torture if it was done to them or their loved ones.

We don’t trust our government, not one bit, nor should we. Naturally we get curious when “mistakes” happen. Like that yellowcake “mistake” was it?

What does the ‘Airman Dead’ part of the OP mean?

Did one of the people involved die in a strange accident?

Who knows? Airman Todd Blue was assigned to the bomber wing security unit at Minot, died while on leave, and “No further details have been released.” (Something appears wrong with the link in the OP – try it now.)

The Air Force Times has no more info than that.

You’re absolutely right. It makes much more sense to believe that it was some sort of setup. :rolleyes:

It’s people like you that make me glad that I have stock in ALCOA. Do me a favor, though. Whatever you do, don’t ever let me see you use the words “fighting ignorance”. You people make it into the punchline of a bad joke. Next time, be informed that the appropriate phrase is “spreading ignorance”.

Tangentially related CT: Of the seven soldiers serving in Iraq who co-authored an anti-war op-ed in the NYT, only three remain alive.