Friday, 25 Jul, 2008 Current Events

Air Force Missile Launch Officers Fell Asleep on Watch


Three crew members of Air Force fell asleep, when holding classified launch code devices. An incident led to an investigation by military and National Security Agency officials.

The investigation revealed that the missile launch codes were no longer usable and were secure at all times. The incident that happened on July 12 follows a number of mistakes made by Air Force, damaging the reputation of the service.

The misstep, caused by the crew members of Minot Air Force Base triggered a probe by the 91st Missile Wing, involving codes specialists at the 20th Air Force, U.S. Strategic Command and the National Security Agency. It was another knockdown for troubled Air Force.

Last month some of Air Force leaders, including the Air Force secretary and the chief of staff were dismissed for their failure to fully address a number of nuclear-related tasks.

Secretary Robert Gates said that the decision was taken after they reviewed an internal report on a blunder shipment to Taiwan of four Air Force fusing devices for ballistic missile nuclear warheads.

He also mentioned about the other incident that happened in August, when B-52 bomber was armed with six nuclear warheads by mistake and sent from Minot Air Force Base to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

In the current incident no one faced the punishment yet, requiring further investigation of the case.

Air Force officials said that the code devices were outdated as missiles had new codes. Three officers appeared to remain behind the locked doors, having the old code components that represent large classified devices, allowing the crew to control the missiles.

Air Force Col. Dewey Ford, a spokesman at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs said that the officers were waiting to return to the base and fell asleep.

The codes are regularly changed according to the schedule and there were four of the crew on duty at that time. One of the crew members was not in the room with the three officers who fell asleep.

The investigation showed that the codes remained secured in the containers with the crew and guarded by armed facility forces.

Senator Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said that the mistakes Minot Air Force Base were disappointing and unfortunate.

"This appears to me to be an incident in which codes were not compromised but some rules were broken, and those broken rules were reported," Dorgan said. "This does not appear to me to be equal to flying an airplane loaded with nuclear weapons halfway across the county — that was extraordinarily serious".

The new officials of Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz as a chief of staff, and Michael Donley, as a secretary, promised to work to restore trust and confidence in the service.

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