Minot crew fell asleep on nuclear launch code shift
July 26, 2008
ARLINGTON, Va. — A crew fell asleep while watching nuclear launch code components on July 12 at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, Air Force officials said Thursday.
An investigation has determined there was no compromise of classified materials, the officials said.
The components are not the nuclear codes themselves, nor are they the keys that launch the missiles, rather they are devices that allow the missile crew to communicate with a missile, said Masao Doi, a spokesman for Air Force Space Command. The components were deactivated and the crew watching them was waiting for new ones when they fell asleep, prompting the 91st Missile Wing to launch an investigation, officials said.
"An investigation revealed the codes had remained secured in containers using locks which combos were known only to the crew during the entirety of the incident," an Air Force news release on Thursday said.
Commanders are reviewing the incident and will decide whether to recommend disciplinary action, the news release said.
Also Thursday, the watchdog group Project On Government Oversight [POGO] issued a release saying Minot was on lockdown after an airman accidently took home nuclear launch codes.
Not true, an Air Force official said. "No one took any codes home — [codes were] not lost or misplaced," Air Force spokeswoman Col. Marcella Adams said.
And Doi said Minot is not on lockdown.
Calls to Minot public affairs Thursday went unanswered.
POGO spokeswoman Ingrid Drake said the group stood by its source, whom she declined to identify. She also said the group has no direct knowledge of the incident, and it has not seen the Air Force’s investigation into the matter.
Officials from Congress said they had no knowledge of the incident.
Last August, Minot airmen accidentally loaded a B-52 with six nuclear weapons. The aircraft then flew to Barksdale Air Force Base, La. In the aftermath of the incident, the Fifth Bomb Group at Minot lost its certification to handle nuclear weapons, four officers were fired and 65 other Air Force personnel disciplined. That incident, along with the accidental shipping of nuclear missile parts to Taiwan, led Defense Secretary Robert Gates to fire the Air Force secretary and chief of staff.
In a statement Thursday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton called the incident unacceptable.
"Following a pattern of previous security failures, the latest report of a security misstep at Minot is very troubling," Skelton said.