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2/5/2010
SECURITY BREACH AT US NUCLEAR WEAPONS SITE IN BELGIUM

Ever wonder how secure our stash of nuclear weapons are at bases all over Europe?

I never did - before today.

Hans Kristensen writing at the Federation of American Scientists Security Blog:

A group of people last week managed to penetrate deep onto Kleine Brogel Air Base in Belgium where the U.S. Air Force currently deploys 10-20 nuclear bombs.

Fortunately, the people were not terrorists but peace activists from a group known as Vredesactie, who managed to climb the outer base fence, walk cross the runway, breach a double-fenced security perimeter, and walk into the very center of the air base alongside the aircraft shelters where the nuclear bombs are thought to be stored in underground vaults.

The activists penetrated nearly one kilometer onto the base over more than an hour before a single armed security guard appeared and asked what they were doing. Soon more arrived to arrest the activists, who later described: “The military blindfolded for hours, they forced us to kneel in the snow, arms outstretched at 90° and threatened us if we intend to return to the base in the months to come.”

The activists videotaped their entire walk across the base. The security personnel confiscated cameras, but the activists removed the memory card first and smuggled it out of the base. Ahem…

Here’s the video of their exploits:

Absolutely unbelievable. The video shows the activists strolling into the top secret area where the nukes are kept in bunkers. They deface one of the bunkers with some signage and then continue walking the length of the restricted area.

A child could have penetrated what passes for security at the site. And the fact that they actually had to wait in order to achieve the object of their little excursion - to be arrested - places what happened during this incident in the realm of black comedy.

Jeffrey Lewis of Arms Control Wonk has more:

It looks like the activists approached Kleine-Brogel from the farms to the south of the airbase. Indeed, another group hopped the fence in November 2009. Apparently, they planned to go out on the runway and get arrested just like the previous group in November 2009. But, according to the group’s website “to their surprise, they were able to walk for over an hour on the runway.” (One of the press reports suggests it was forty minutes.)

The base is surrounded by signs indicating that the area is patrolled by guard dogs, but Milou was nowhere to be found.

Eventually, they noticed an open gate to the area where US nuclear weapons are believed to be stored. Belgian peace groups had previously identified the area based on a map handed out an airshow. (As you can see from their website, they had very good maps.)

It looks like this was a side gate — apparently it had been left open to keep from freezing shut — so the activists were able to enter the secure area and approach one of the hardened aircraft shelters from the rear. If you could get inside, it would look something like this.

1-6

Lewis adds, “They then walked the length of the plaza — having traversed both the width of the base, and now the width of the secure area for nuclear weapons — when security force finally showed up.”

The Belgium security guy was clueless. Evidently, his weapon was unloaded and he seemed annoyed that his routine had been disturbed.

Lewis:

The reality is that significant shortcomings exists in the security of European airbases where US nuclear weapons are stored. That was made absolutely clear to me on my visit to SHAPE — and it was reported in the 2008 Air Force Blue Ribbon Review. Host-nations are supposed to provide security but they often cut corners. This is basically confirmed by the Belgian commander of the base, who explained that he just doesn’t have enough security forces:

Onze luchtmachtbasis is in totaliteit 450 hectare groot. Een derde is bosgebied waarin ik me drie weken kan bevinden zonder te worden gezien. Vandaar dat we onze bewaking, gelet op onze getalsterkte, concentreren op enkele gevoelige zones.

That works out to, more or less, “Our airbase is 450 hectares in size. A third is wooded areas in which I could stay perfectly well for three weeks without being seen. That is why we concentrate our surveillance on a few sensitive zones where there are aircraft and equipment.” (The translation is by the Open Source Center.)

If the Belgian commander concentrates security on “a few sensitive zones where there are aircraft and equipment…” how in God’s name did these activists go undetected for an hour? Is this what the bloke considers “concentration” of his security forces?

God help us.

Lewis isn’t shy about telling us how to rectify the situation:

As excuses go “It’s a big, wooded base and I don’t have that many troops” doesn’t cut it. In fact, when we are talking about nuclear weapons, it frankly sucks. When it comes to securing nuclear weapons, the United States Air Force has standards for both denial and recapture. If the Belgians and other NATO members won’t provide the forces and equipment necessary to meet both standards, then it is time to put the weapons on a US airbase.

The most direct route to securing US nuclear weapons in Europe is to immediately - like yesterday - consolidate all remaining forward deployed nuclear weapons to just one or two US airbases in Europe. Take your pick from Aviano, Incirlik, Lakenheath and Ramstein. This would immediately improve the overall security of the weapons, while starting a dialogue about whether forward-deployed weapons are really essential to maintaining NATO’s nuclear character twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is a point that several of us made in a letter to the President

Our European allies have always been of two minds with regard to basing nuclear weapons on their soil. Privately, they wish the arrangement to continue while publicly, they assure their restive left wings that they want the nukes out. We’ve been dealing with this kind of two-faced policy for almost half a century so I suppose we should be used to it.

But unless our allies are going to get much more serious about securing these weapons, perhaps it would be safer to do as Lewis and his colleagues have suggested and move all the nukes currently stored on sites where there is local security responsibility to a couple of US Air Force bases. The price for a security breach involving terrorists or organized criminal elements would be just too high.

This is actually reminiscent of a US Air Force scandal from a couple of years ago where a shocking lapse in security occurred in this country:

A B-52 from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot was supposed to transfer unarmed air-launched cruise missiles to Barksdale to be decommissioned, but munitions loaders accidentally attached nuclear-armed missiles to the pylons. The missiles were flown to Barksdale and sat unguarded on the tarmac for several hours before anyone realized what happened, some 30 hours after the mistake was made.

The 5th Bomb Wing commander, two group commanders and the 5th Munitions Squadron commander were relieved of their commands.

The Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff also eventually were canned as a result of this, and a couple of other nuclear screw-ups. Gates sent a message at that time that this kind of laxity with nuclear weapons would not be tolerated. The lesson apparently took because we’ve had no such lapses since then - at least, none of which we are aware.

Those weapons in Europe are being targeted by the START talks. Given the questionable need for nukes that are forward based in Europe today, perhaps, in the end, getting rid of them would be the best option.

By: Rick Moran at 8:57 am
12 Responses to “SECURITY BREACH AT US NUCLEAR WEAPONS SITE IN BELGIUM”
  1. 1
    Z. Mazurak Said:
    11:49 am 

    There’s couple of factual errors in your post.

    #1 It’s a mistake to give credit to, or listen to, anything the “Arms Control Association” or some other wacky pacifist organization writes. That organization (like the FAS, the UCS, the CSW and many other groups) favors nuclear disarmament and general disarmament. Both of these policies would be disastrous. The fact that some Belgian pacifists have managed to enter a nuke storage doesn’t mean that nukes should be scrapped. It just means that bases must be properly guarded, and the lax standards at European bases, for which European countries are to blame (not the USAF), mean that American nukes should be shipped back to the US.

    #2 The reason why SECAF Wynne and USAF Chief of Staff Moseley were sacked was not the B-52 mishap, but rather their disagreement with the politically-correct SECDEF, Robert Gates, over US defense policies and threat perceptions. Specifically, while Gates firmly believes in the fantasy that the US will never wage any conventional wars or face any conventional enemies, Wynne and Moseley have been urging him and the Congress to invest in crucial defense programs necessary to protect the US against China, Russia, and rogue states.

    It is pitiful that you can’t tell the difference between fact and opinion. But then, you always were an out of control nutjob.

    ed.

  2. 2
    Z. Mazurak Said:
    11:50 am 

    Plus, it would be a serious mistake to cut the US nuclear arsenal. The START treaty is unacceptable.

  3. 3
    Z. Mazurak Said:
    12:18 pm 

    “It is pitiful that you can’t tell the difference between fact and opinion. But then, you always were an out of control nutjob.”

    A nutjob? Is that the best reply you can give? I pointed out the errors in your post not to bash you or insult you, but merely to show you that you’re wrong on a few issues that you listed.

    Those are not “factual” errors. Jesus Christ you give an opinion on why the gentlemen were canned and you expect anyone to accept that as fact?

    Get a grip.

    ed.

  4. 4
    Z. Mazurak Said:
    12:28 pm 

    “Those are not “factual” errors. Jesus Christ you give an opinion on why the gentlemen were canned and you expect anyone to accept that as fact?”

    Actually, that was only one of the many things I commented on, but given that you’ve brought this one up, let me tell you: almost every Washington insider will tell you that the principal reason why Wynne and Moseley were sacked was that they disagreed (as many other people do) with Gates on defense programs, including the F-22 and C-17 programs which they struggled to defend, and which Gates opposes. The rift caused such a severe argument that Gates eventually sacked both of them (I can give you a link to the evidence if you’re interested, because this issue was even once talked about on Capitol Hill). He has already managed to close the F-22 program, and is now trying to shut down the C-17 line.

    But, as I said, the Wynne-Moseley sacking issue was not the only issue I commented on. I have not yet seen any serious rebuttals of the points I made above about nuclear weapons (#1).

  5. 5
    B.Poster Said:
    10:21 pm 

    Tne peace activists are worried about the wrong nuclear arsenal. They should be worried about the Russian nuclear arsenal. The Russian nuclear arsenal is the largest and most advanced in the world. Also, Europe’s dependence on Russian oil means the Russians can pretty much black mail the Europeans any time they wish. Western European leaders and the peace activists have mis identified who the real threats are.

    If we are going to remain a major world power we are clearly going to need forward based nuclear war heads some where. Also, our nuclear arsenal and our conventional forces will need to be upgraded and increased substantially. The biggest threats to America stem from Russia and China, especially Russia. Unless our nuclear and conventional forces are substantially upgraded and vastly increased in numbers, we will continue to trail Russia and our forces will continue to be inadequate.

    Doing this upgrade will cost a great deal of money. Unfortuately we may not have it right now. If we can’t do this, the other option is give up trying to be a major world power. Actually this may be our only viable option at this time

  6. 6
    Surabaya Stew Said:
    11:10 am 

    This issue isn’t getting any press over at any other blog or media outlet, thank you Rick for bringing it to my attention! Guess nuclear weapons security isn’t sexy enough an issue for people these days.

  7. 7
    Steven Said:
    11:24 am 

    As someone who used to guard nuclear missiles at a facility in central Bavaria (that looked strikingly similar to this one) I just want to say - HOLY SMOKES! Security sure has become lax in the twenty years since I was in the military.

  8. 8
    Sig94 Said:
    1:41 pm 

    I always thought that persons caught trespassing on a nuclear weapon storage facility should be shot on sight. Shoot just one or two of these idiots and the trepassing nonsense will stop. The activists do it because they know the consequences are relatively minor.

  9. 9
    B.Poster Said:
    3:49 pm 

    “Privately they wish the arrangement to continue, while publicly they assure their restive left wings they want the nukes out.” With all due respect this is a fundamental misread of the situation. Both publicly and privately they want the nukes out. Especially now more so than ever. They simply like the money we are no doubt paying them. Also, it gives them opportunities to say they are standing up to the hated Americans. This scores points with the restive left wings.

    Western European leaders view America as a strategic competitor. As such, they wish to see it undermined in any way possible and will stop at nothing within their power to undermine its interests. If some thing bad should befall America, there would be celebrating among Europe’s leaders. It may not be done publicly, however, there would be at least private celebrations if some calamity should befall America.

    Also, Western Europe is heavily dependent upon Russian oil and Russia behaves as though America is an enemy. By undermining America’s interests, Western Europe is more likely to remain in the good graces of Russia and from their perspective, Russia acts as a bulwhark against America.

  10. 10
    Skeptic Said:
    8:40 pm 

    The thing about F.A.S. — while I think that the policies for which they advocate are madness, I’ve never been able to fault their facts. If I’m looking for reliable information about any military hardware, for example, their website is as clear, correct, and concise as can be, not just about geeky specifications, but also about numbers in service and how reliable that estimate is.
    When anti-war zealots were trying to convince me that “the USA armed Saddam” I would print out lists from FAS of what arms the Iraqi armed forces had, and ask them to mark which ones the US had supplied…

  11. 11
    Carroll Matthews Said:
    6:26 pm 

    Our great European friends want,as usual for us to protect them but are quick to show everyone how bad we are. These people forget what sacrificies the Americans have done to protect their asses over the years. Stand up and be counted or let us go home! Most of them are too young or stupid to know. The Russians, Chinese, Iranians, North Koreans, etc. know! They hate us!!

  12. 12
    Training in geweldloos verzet tegen kernwapens Pinged With:
    5:58 am 

    [...] "Our European allies have always been of two minds with regard to basing nuclear weapons on their soil. Privately, they wish the arrangement to continue while publicly, they assure their restive left wings that they want the nukes out. We’ve been dealing with this kind of two-faced policy for almost half a century so I suppose we should be used to it. But unless our allies are going to get much more serious about securing these weapons, perhaps it would be safer to do as Lewis and his colleagues have suggested and move all the nukes currently stored on sites where there is local security responsibility to a couple of US Air Force bases. The price for a security breach involving terrorists or organized criminal elements would be just too high." http://rightwingnuthouse.com/archives/2010/02/05/security-breach-at-us-nuclear-weapons-site-in-belgi... [...]

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