Archive for September 6th, 2007

The last time the Air Force was asked to “stand down” was on September 11, 2001.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Six nuclear warheads on cruise missiles were mistakenly carried on a flight from North Dakota to Louisiana last week, prompting a major investigation, military officials have confirmed.

The plane took the cruise missiles from Minot Air Force Base to Barksdale Air Force Base for decommissioning Thursday, the Air Force said.

“This is a major gaffe, and it’s going to cause some heads to roll down the line,” said Don Shepperd, a retired Air Force major general and military analyst for CNN.

Shepperd said the United States had agreed in a Cold War-era treaty not to fly nuclear weapons. “It appears that what happened was this treaty agreement was violated,” he said.

The warheads should have been removed from the missiles before they were attached to the B-52 bomber, according to military officials.

The crew was unaware that the plane was carrying nuclear weapons, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the extraordinary sensitivity and security surrounding the case.

The mistake was discovered after the plane’s flight to Louisiana.

Minot Air Force Base is in north central North Dakota, and Barksdale Air Force Base is in northwest Louisiana near the Texas border.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell made clear that concerns about the “error” had escalated to the highest levels.

“Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates was quickly informed of this incident … and he has been receiving daily briefings from Gen. Buzz Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff, on actions that the Air Force is taking and the progress of their investigation,” Morrell told reporters Wednesday.

“I can also tell you that it’s important enough that President Bush was notified of it.”

Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton, head of the House Armed Services Committee, called the revelation “deeply disturbing.” He said Wednesday that the committee will press the military to “strengthen controls” after the incident.

Military officials told CNN that the incident was a major breach of security rules surrounding nuclear weapons. One official said that he could not recall anything similar happening.

The Air Force announced that all flights of fighters and bombers in the United States will be halted on September 14 to allow for a review of procedures. [Our emphasis.]

Once the mistake was discovered, the Air Force immediately began an inventory of all of its nuclear weapons, a military official said.

Maj. Gen. Douglas Raaberg, director of Air and Space Operations at the Air Combat Command in Langley, Virginia, has been ordered to investigate how the nuclear-tipped missiles were flown across the country without anyone knowing, officials said.

The squad commander responsible for the munitions has been relieved of duty, and several others have been “decertified” from handling nuclear weapons, officials said.

A military official told CNN there was no nuclear risk to public safety because the weapons were not armed. Officials believe that if the plane had crashed or the missiles somehow had fallen off the wings, the warheads would have remained inert and there would have been no nuclear detonation, though conventional explosive material in the warhead could have detonated.

Military officials also say the missiles could not have been launched because of multiple security procedures required to be enacted before any launch would have been authorized.

Shepperd agreed with military officials that the situation could not have caused a nuclear detonation.

But he added, “Any time you have nuclear material on board, if the airplane crashes, nuclear material can be spread in the immediate area of the crash, so you get radioactivity in the immediate area of the crash.”

“This is serious business, but it was not dangerous business,” Shepperd said.

The story was first reported by the Military Times, a group of privately published newspaper.

Here is what an ex-military officer said about this accidentHow stupid would anyone have to be to ‘accidentally’ load nukes onto planes from alarmed and secure bunkers, against regulations, at the risk of being shot on the spot? They don’t ship live nukes on airplanes because of the risk of crash. Those are usually shipped by truck with armed guards with full-auto M-16’s and armored vehicles in caravans, not on public roads, and definitely never by air. No one could have gained access to those nukes without written permission, given the failsafe backups and security measures.”

***Update Sept. 9

Another ex-military man heard from – I’m not an expert, but after a 24 year career with the USAF I can’t believe how this could have been an honest mistake. First of all, nuclear weapons are protected by two policies- the no lone zone, which means that no one individual is allowed in a nuclear storage area without an escort,and 2, verfiable custody. This means that the identity of the object being removed is positively identified and all steps of custody are fully documented. Now, even if these weapons are unique, the USAF would still keep dummy missiles of the same type on hand to train the munitions technicians responsible for loading. But training missiles are easily identified by the manner in which they are painted. Even then verifiable custody should have exposed the error before the missles left the munitions storage area. Methinks there’s something rotten in Denmark- or in this case, Barksdale.

We have a question – why are fighters being grounded? The nuclear-tipped cruise missiles were on bombers, not fighters! According to experts, fighters don’t carry nukes.

9/14 – it was reported today by a spokesman for NORAD that fighters were NOT part of the stand-down.

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We’re really sorry – but we have such a hard time getting excited about reports of “terrorist plots foiled” when something like this happens –

SYDNEY (AFP) – Stars of a hit Australian comedy show, one dressed as Osama bin Laden, came within 10 metres [about 10 yards] of the hotel where US President George W. Bush was staying in a prank on Thursday, witnesses said.

Two stars of the satirical programme “The Chaser’s War on Everything” were among 11 crew members charged after the stunt, involving a fake motorcade of three black limousines flying Canadian flags in the heart of Sydney.

Surrounded by fake security men in black suits but lacking security passes for the ongoing Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, the pranksters managed to get past one important security checkpoint, witnesses said.

Their network said stars Julian Morrow and Chas Licciardello were filming for the programme when they were stopped a short distance from Sydney’s InterContinental Hotel, where Bush has been staying.

“They were producing a stunt, they were producing material,” said Peter Ritchie, spokesman for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). “They were shooting for the programme, they were at the hotel. Police detained them and ABC lawyers and management are with the boys.”

Team members said they thought Canada would be a country that might not be too closely scrutinised and might realistically have only three cars in a motorcade.

Police said the 11 were bailed after being charged with entering a restricted area without justification under special laws that have increased police powers for the duration of the APEC meeting.

Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino declined to discuss the president’s security arrangements but panned the stunt, rolling her eyes and deadpanning “that sounds absolutely hilarious.”

The US leader is among a long list of world leaders coming to Sydney for the APEC summit, which has been marked by protests and a security lockdown which has left large parts of the city centre fenced off.

The head of the New South Wales state police APEC investigation squad condemned the comedians.

“While it appears it was a prank, the current APEC security environment isn’t the place to do it in,” he said.

“Who they are is irrelevant — they were charged like anyone else who breaks the law.”

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer denied the stunt had revealed a chink in the intense security arrangements.

“The point is they were in any case arrested, so I think the security works,” he said.

It was not the first time the “Chaser” team has brushed with the law. Licciardello was charged with offensive conduct last year over a prank outside a rugby league match, but the charge was later thrown out in court.

On Wednesday the same team appeared at an anti-APEC protest, with a member appearing as a police officer on a pantomime horse, highlighting the fact that an outbreak of equine influenza has prevented police horses being used for security at APEC.

Those who hoped that – with the victory of the antiwar party in 2006, the departure of Rumsfeld and the neocons from the Pentagon, the rise of Condi and the eclipse of Cheney – America was headed out of Iraq got a rude awakening. They are about to get another.

Today, the United States has 30,000 more troops in Iraq than on the day America repudiated the Bush war policy and voted the GOP out of power. And President Bush, self-confidence surging, is now employing against Iran a bellicosity redolent of the days just prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

What gives Bush his new cockiness? The total collapse of the antiwar coalition on Capitol Hill and the breaking of the Congress.

Last spring, Bush vetoed the congressional deadlines for troop withdrawals, then rubbed Congress’ nose in its defeat by demanding and getting $100 billion to support the surge and continue the war.

Before the August recess, Democrats broke again and voted to give Bush the warrantless wiretap authority many among them had said was an unconstitutional and impeachable usurpation of power. They are a broken and frightened lot.

Comes now evidence congressional Democrats have not only lost the pro-victory vote, but forfeited the peace vote, as well.

According to a Zogby poll the last week in August, just two weeks before Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker report, Americans, by 45 percent to 20 percent, give this Democratic Congress lower grades on handling the war than the Republican Congress it replaced.

Fifty-four percent of the nation believes, contra Harry Reid, the war is not lost. That is twice the support that Bush enjoys for his war leadership, a paltry 27 percent. But, by nine to one, Bush’s leadership on the war is preferred to that of the Congress of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

Incredibly, only 3 percent of the nation gives Congress a positive rating on its handling of the war. Congress has lost the hawks, and the owls, and the doves. No one trusts its leadership on the war.

And George W. smells it. He no longer fears the power of Congress, and his rhetoric suggests he is contemptuous of it. He is brimming with self-assurance that he can break any Democratic attempt to impose deadlines for troop withdrawal and force Congress to cough up all the funds he demands.

Confident of victory this fall on the Hill, Bush is now moving into Phase III in his War on Terror: First, Afghanistan, then Iraq, then Iran.

Do not take this writer’s word for it. Hearken to the astonishing rhetoric Bush used at the American Legion Convention in Las Vegas against Tehran:

“Iran … is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. … Iran funds terrorist groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which murder the innocent and target Israel. … Iran is sending arms to the Taliban. … Iran has arrested visiting American scholars who have committed no crimes. … Iran’s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.

“Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. … We will confront this danger before it is too late.”

Bush has repeatedly warned Iran to cease supplying Iraqi insurgents with arms and enhanced IEDs for attacks on our troops in Iraq.

How has Tehran responded to Bush’s virtual ultimatums?

“The attacks on our bases and our troops by Iranian-supplied munitions have increased in the last few months – despite pledges by Iran to help stabilize the security situation in Iraq. …

“Iran’s leaders cannot escape responsibility for aiding attacks against coalition forces and the murder of innocent Iraqis.”

This is a case for war. Indeed, it’s an assertion by President Bush that Iran is colluding in acts of war against the soldiers and Marines and allies of the United States. What does he intend to do?

“I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran’s murderous activities. … We’ve conducted operations against Iranian agents supplying lethal munitions to extremist groups.”

This suggests that U.S. forces may already be engaged in combat operations against Iranians.

Who or what can stop this drive to war?

Last spring, Nancy Pelosi herself, after a call from the Israeli lobby, pulled an amendment that would have forced Bush to come to Congress for specific authorization before attacking Iran. Before the August recess, the Senate voted 97 to zero for a resolution sponsored by Joe Lieberman to censure Iran for complicity in the killing of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

The resolution explicitly rejected authorization for immediate military action, but the gist of it declared that Iran is participating in acts of war against the United States, laying the foundation for a confrontation.

What is to prevent Bush from attacking Iran and widening the war, at a time and place of his choosing, and sooner than we think?

Nothing and no one.

Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail] is co-founder and editor of The American Conservative. He is also the author of seven books, including Where the Right Went Wrong, and A Republic Not An Empire.

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By Robert Scheer

OK, throw another $50 billion down the rat hole that is the Iraq occupation.  It’s only money, if you ignore the lives being destroyed.  That’s what the White House is asking for, in addition to the $147 billion in supplementary funds already requested, and Congress will grant it after Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker follow President Bush’s photo op in Iraq’s Anbar province with a dog and pony show of their own.  Meanwhile, the Democrats are totally cynical about this continuing waste of taxpayer dollars and of American and Iraqi lives, and, wanting Bush to hang himself with his own rope, they will deny him nothing.

In the effort to retaliate against terrorists who hijacked planes six years ago with an arsenal of $3 knives, this year’s overall defense budget has been pushed to $657 billion.  We are now spending $3 billion a week in Iraq alone, occupying a country that had nothing to do with the tragedy that sparked this orgy of militarism.  The waste is so enormous and irrelevant to our national security that a rational person might embrace the libertarian creed if only for the sake of sanity.  Clearly, the federal government no longer cares much about providing for health, education, hurricane reconstruction or even bridge safety, as the military budget now dwarfs all other discretionary spending, despite the lack of a sophisticated enemy in sight.

Numbers are boring, and the media act as if there is no difference between a million and a billion dollars thrown at the military—let alone the trillion-dollar projected cost of the Iraq war.  That last figure is well documented in a solid study out of Harvard co-authored by Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz but ignored by the mass media So too a recent authoritative report from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office that, despite the $44.5 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars already poured into reconstruction, little detectable progress has been made in Iraq’s crucial oil and electricity systems.

Remember when Paul Wolfowitz, then the Pentagon’s resident neocon genius, assured Congress that Iraqi oil money would easily bear the entire cost of America’s Iraqi adventure?  Now the GAO tells us that, even after spending an additional $57 billion on the Iraqi oil and electricity infrastructure, and assuming peace is restored, Iraq would still not produce enough oil and electricity to meet local demand until the year 2015.

Aside from corruption and the lack of security, the biggest problem in supplying Iraq with electricity is that the national electrical grid has broken down, and different factions, divided largely along ethnic and religious lines, are grabbing what they can.  This kind of anarchy is emblematic of the new, emerging Iraq, in which the central government has declining sway over the nation’s decisions.

That latter point was underscored this week by Bush’s happy-faced visit to a highly fortified and isolated American outpost in Anbar province.  After posing gamely with the troops at the Al-Asad base, Bush celebrated the return of Sunni areas to the control of U.S.-armed militias—composed largely of former insurgents who have at least temporarily decided that their Shiite rivals, currently in control of the central government, are a more pressing enemy than the American occupiers.  Speaking of one such group of Sunnis trained by the Americans and dubbed the “Volunteers” by their instructors, a U.S. soldier told The Washington Post, “I think there is some risk of them being Volunteers by day and terrorists by night.”

That is exactly what has occurred on the Shiite side, where anti-U.S. religious groups have completely infiltrated the American-trained Iraqi military and police forces.  In Iraq’s Shiite-controlled south, the domination of the military and police by the fiercely anti-American Madhi Army and other militias was ensured by the final withdrawal of British troops from Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city and a vital center of oil production, on the same day that Bush visited Iraq.  Instead of the liberated, united and democratic Iraq promised by this invasion, we are left with a nation ruled by religious fiefdoms sustained far into the future by U.S. taxpayers.

The French and the Germans, hoary veterans of various failed European adventures in imperialism, warned us about precisely this outcome.  While U.S. troops spill blood to guard broken oil pipelines, the Chinese and others go merrily about the world buying up black gold on the open market.  But hey, don’t worry about your tax dollars and the waste of lives—eat some freedom fries and learn, like our president, to keep smiling.

From Truthdig.com