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WASHINGTON — The Air Force’s 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming failed its nuclear surety inspection this week, the third nuclear unit to fail a security investigation this year, a nonprofit watchdog group reported Tuesday.

Officials with the Project on Government Oversight say members of Congress received a memo from the wing’s inspector general, Lt. Col. Mark Avery, noting that the unit’s management of nuclear missiles and its "tools, test, tie down and handling equipment" were both rated "unsatisfactory" by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

"We talk to guys [in the Air Force] about the security of the nuclear program, and they don’t think the Air Force is up to it these days," said Peter Stockton, a senior investigator with POGO.

The inspection, which began Dec. 3, covers the administration of the wing’s technical operations, supervision of missiles, maintenance of facilities and security of the nuclear materials.

Air Force officials would not confirm the report of the failed inspection. Capt. Mary Danner, chief of public affairs for the wing, said the full review wasn’t scheduled to be finished until Wednesday, but even after that officials won’t discuss ratings or sensitive details of the investigation.

On Monday, Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog reported the inspection failure, quoting sources that cited lapses in training and personnel qualification rules.

The 90th Missile Wing’s failure would be the latest misstep for the Air Force’s nuclear security efforts. Last month, the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., failed its surety inspection because of similar training and personnel problems, and in May the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., failed a similar review.

In June, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley and Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne were forced out for numerous instances of careless handling of the nation’s nuclear arsenal, including a 2007 incident in which six armed nuclear missiles were accidentally transported across the country.

In September, six Air Force generals and two Army generals were punished for their roles in the mistaken shipment of fuses for nuclear warheads to Taiwan two years earlier.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Minot Air Force Base last month to review improvements there in the last year. In a statement he called the past mistakes "unacceptable" but added that the service is "now moving in the right direction to reclaim the standards of excellence for which it was known throughout the Cold War."

Prior to the inspection the wing’s inspector general released a memo telling the unit that the upcoming review would be a more thorough inspection than previous ones, and that the unit would be held to a higher standard than in the past.


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