The story sounded like a sequel to "Dr. Strangelove". Leaked by the Pentagon's news service, Military Affairs to quell scuttlebutt racing through the ranks-and perhaps warn the world-a U.S. Air Force B-52 strategic bomber "mistakenly" loaded with six nuclear cruise missiles took off from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota on August 30, 2007 and flew for more than three hours over at least five states, before landing at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
The mistake was so egregious, the National Command Authority comprising President George BU.S.h and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates were quickly informed. The SecDef has since been assured that nuclear weapons "were part of a routine transfer between the two bases… at no time was the public in danger."
Both statements are false.
In fact, nuclear weapons like these are carefully crated for shipment between bases, and placed inside the bomb bays or cargo compartments of transporting aircraft. In stunning contrast, this reporter has learned from two independent and highly placed sources that the six Advanced Cruise Missiles dangling from the B-52's fatigued and flexible wings were fully armed and ready to fire-except for a single fail/safe switch under the Command Pilot's control.
The quickly blacked out episode has prompted an Air Force investigation. Gates, whose official defense computer was hacked last June, necessitating the shutdown of the entire SecDef network, has ordered daily briefings on the Air Force inquiry. The Minot base commander, who might turn out to be the hero in this frightening affair, was relieved of his command.
DR. STRANGELOVE VISITS BOURBON STREET
As far as anyone knows, no U.S. aircraft has ever been armed with a full wartime loadout of six nuclear weapons. "Nothing like this has ever been reported before and we have been assured for decades that it was impossible," declared Representative Markey, co-chair of the House Task Force on Nonproliferation. [AP Sept 5/07; Seattle Times Sept 5/07]
Hans Kristensen, an expert on U.S. nuclear forces, says he knows of no other publicly acknowledged case of live nuclear weapons being flown on bombers since the late 1960s. [http://ace.mu.nu]
Director Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" was released in 1964
Each of the six ACMs carried a "dialable" 150-kiloton W80-1 warhead--for a combined total of 60-times the destructive power of the bomb that melted the city and inhabitants of Hiroshima--over the unsuspecting residents of five states. Depending on the route flown, a half-dozen armed nuclear weapons wafted for three-and-a-half hours over North Dakota and either South Dakota or Minnesota, Nebraska or Missouri, Oklahoma or Arkansas, and Louisiana.
It's no secret that Dick Cheney and his presidential surrogate intend to bomb Iran into the Kingdom to Come. [BBC News Aug 29/07]
But New Orleans?
"What does the government have against Louisiana?" asked a blogger named Lobster Martini. [www.democraticunderground.com]
The "mistake" was supposedly discovered when the B-52 landed at Barskdale, where the plane should have been secured by an armed security detail. Instead, it simply parked on the flight line, where ground crew noticed the words "nuclear armed" stenciled on the sides of the missiles.
Three officers confirmed the warheads were, in Bush's argot, "nucular."
But the mission could have ended in a "broken arrow" nuclear calamity if the bomber had crashed, or inadvertently dropped its ordnance. Munitions, and even entire engines-such as the No. 1 turbine that fell off an American Airlines DC 10 after taking off from Chicago's O'Hare airport in May, 1979, killing two people on the ground and all 271 people onboard-occasionally drop from underwing pylons in flight. [Chicago Tribune May 26-30/79; National Transportation Safety Board Aircraft Accident Report NSTB-AAR-79-17]
A few other examples:
-- A B-36 ferrying a nuclear weapon from Biggs Air Force Base, Texas to Kirtland accidentally drops a bomb in the New Mexico desert. [ww.nuclearfiles.org]
-- A fighter pilot accidentally dropped a BDU-33 dummy bomb into a house, narrowly missing a family of three. [www.f-117a.com ]
-- A 500-pound bomb fell from an FA-18 plane during a routine training exercise and exploded on the edge of a U.S. base 100 miles north of Sarajevo. [ AP July 17/02]
-- A National Guard F-16 fighter jet on a nighttime training mission strafed an elementary school in New Jersey with 25 rounds of depleted uranium ammunition. [AP Nov 4/04]
-- Another U.S. Air Force practice bomb accidentally on the Yorkshire countryside in England. [ BBC Jan 12/04]
-- Electromagnetic interference from military transmitters may have caused an F-16 jet to accidentally drop a 500 pound bomb on rural West Georgia. [Montreal Gazette May 12/89]
A crash, mid-air explosion or structural breakup-not uncommon occurrences with heavily-laden B-52s-could have ignited the high explosives used to implode the warheads. The ultimate dirty bomber's fantasy could have seen plutonium--the deadliest substance ever conjured by humans-raining down over what would become a statewide "national sacrifice zone", off-limits to all life-forms for more than 4 billion years.
Barksdale AFB is no stranger to nuclear accidents. On July 6, 1959, a C-124 "Flying Boxcar" crashed on takeoff, completely destroying the aircraft and the nuclear weapon it was carrying. [www.cdi.org]
See: "Broken Arrows"
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