Belgian base breach sparks nuclear worries
By KEVIN DOUGHERTY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 6, 2010
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — A recent security breach of a Belgian air force base widely believed to possess U.S. nuclear warheads is being downplayed by Belgian military officials who maintain the activists never got close to any sensitive areas.
Videotaped and later aired on YouTube, the security breach shows six anti-nuclear activists gaining access to Kleine Brogel Air Base last weekend. The activists were arrested by Belgian authorities, but not before they ambled across the snow-covered base for at least 20 minutes.
A similar stunt occurred last November, according to Ingrid Baeck, a chief spokeswoman for the Belgian Ministry of Defense, who sought to minimize the danger.
"I can assure you these people never, ever got anywhere near a sensitive area," Baeck said in a telephone interview Friday. "They are talking nonsense."
U.S. military spokesmen in Europe referred queries to NATO, because the alliance is responsible for the control of sensitive munitions stored at Kleine Brogel and other locations on the Continent.
As per NATO guidance, Baeck would not confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons at the Belgian base, which has a small U.S. detachment.
Two years ago, an internal U.S. Air Force investigation found significant deficiencies at military bases in Europe that store nuclear bombs. Some of the bases failed to meet some of the most basic security requirements outlined by the U.S. Defense Department, according to the report.
"Inconsistencies in personnel, facilities, and equipment provided to the security mission by the host nation were evident as the team traveled from site to site," the report stated. "Examples of areas noted in need of repair at several of the sites include support buildings, fencing, lighting and security systems."
But Baeck challenged the activists’ claims they went undetected for well over an hour, that guards were unarmed and that they were able to approach a hardened bunker containing sensitive materiel undeterred.
"It was an empty bunker, a shelter," Baeck said of the building.
The perimeter fence around the base is roughly 10 miles in circumference and one-third of it is heavily forested. Baeck said the Belgian military always patrols the area, knowing that if someone slips through the outer fence there are multiple layers of additional security, each more robust than the last.
"When you get close to sensitive areas, then it’s another cup of tea," Baeck said.
Kleine Brogel has for decades drawn the ire of anti-nuclear activists. In the 1980s, some protests even drew elected politicians, Baeck said.
Like Baeck, the Belgian base commander, Col. Fred Vansina, vehemently denied the base was under any grave threat.
"Our installations are very well secured, in different ways," Vansina said in the Dutch newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws. There was "no single security incident, whatever the activists claim."