Deadly missiles: not as sexy as Britney


Have we ever before seen a major news event disappear from public view so completely and so quickly? Or a story with such potential significance so widely ignored and minimized?

And what do we make of that?

I’m talking about the supposedly mistaken transport of either five or six missiles carrying nuclear warheads from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana on Aug. 30. The Air Force said the warheads were being shipped for “decommissioning.”

The basic facts were reported by writer Michael Hoffman in an article Sept. 5 in the Army Times and Military Times:

A B-52 bomber “mistakenly” loaded with five nuclear warheads (later reported as six) flew from Minot to Barksdale. The nuclear warheads “should have been removed in Minot before being transported to Barksdale” according to three Air Force officers who tipped the reporter. They also said the missiles carrying the nukes were mounted on pylons on the bomber’s wings – as are missiles which are to be fired.

Hoffman said the officers who gave him the facts asked not to be identified “because they were not authorized to discuss the incident.”

In fact, of course, no one was so authorized. The three officers appear to have acted as whistle blowers.

After Hoffman’s report was published, USA Today and one or two other publications picked it up, and then over a few days, most large newspapers published a truncated version of the story – only a few paragraphs in most cases.

The Air Force, which generally stonewalls on such stories, quickly admitted that the nuclear weapons had been improperly transported and maintained that “the transfer was safely conducted and the weapons were in Air Force custody and control at all times.”

That quickness was surprising, given the service’s history when caught in other mistakes, and has caused some observers to speculate that some high-level Air Force brass was happy that the story reached the public – perhaps because there was evil afoot that was blocked by the publicity.

Hoffman quoted Steve Fetter, a former Defense Department official who used to work on nuclear weapons policy, and Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, about the possibilities of nuclear detonation, radiation or plutonium leaks and the possibility of the warheads being swiped by terrorists or “rogue nations.” No danger of detonation or leaks, the experts said, and the risk of bad guys getting the nukes was “minimal.”

Did that reassurance cause you to go, “Whew!” and decide that all is well?

Me either.

Of course an investigation, led by Maj. Gen. Douglas Raaberg, director of Air and Space Operations at Air Combat Command Headquarters, was launched immediately “to find the cause of the mistake” and “figure out how it could have been prevented.”

Having been given such gasbag assurances, the country’s corporate news outfits dropped the story as they would a road apple accidentally picked up when reaching for a dropped wallet. If you listened carefully at the right moment, you could probably have heard the collective murmur of “Thank God that’s over” and the following happy shouts of “What’s Britney up to?”

Never have so many inadequate journalists asked so few questions about an incident carrying so many possible national and world-wide implications.

Fortunately, some very bright bloggers and good reporters for on-line news operations have been asking the right questions, although they’re not getting anything like adequate answers, and they reach only a tiny percentage of the population.

Here are some facts your local newspaper almost certainly didn’t give you, and the major unanswered questions:

* Were five missiles with nuclear warheads transported to the Louisiana air base, or were there six? Hoffman originally said five, but later Air Force statements indicated it was six. Amid the stammering and stuttering, it came to appear that six nuclear missiles left the storage area in North Dakota, but only five arrived in Louisiana. I have been unable to find any resolution or explanation of that difference. The possibilities, if a nuclear warhead is missing, are numerous and in all cases terrible.

* Why were the missiles transported on bombers? There have been standing orders for 40 (forty) years against such flights over U.S. soil. The procedures, therefore, are pretty well established. They were instituted after several accidents in which nuclear bombs or rockets were dropped or involved in crashes. Standard procedure for many years has been to separate the warheads from missiles, disarm the warheads and only then move them on specially fitted transport planes. The transports are rigged to prevent, or at least minimize, radiation leaks in event of a crash.

Nuclear weapons are never to be transported while attached to missiles or on combat planes unless they are to be used in war. All movement of nuclear weapons must be approved by the commanding generals of major service commands, who must “authorize and approve transport modes and movement routes for nuclear weapons in their custody,” according to an article by Chuck Simpson on

* The Air Force said the warheads were being transported for “decommissioning.” If true, why were they flown to Barksdale in Louisiana, which is — incidentally, of course — a staging base for B-52s being sent to the Middle East? Several writers said that warheads to be disassembled normally are sent to Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, or to a base at Tucson, Arizona. They are within easy ground transport range of the the Pantex plant outside of Amarillo, Texas, where nuclear weapons are “decommissioned.”

* Some people familiar with the handling of nuclear weapons have said flatly that a mistake of the type claimed by the Air Force is not possible. Here’s why:

–There is a carefully designed computer tracking system for nuclear weapons.

–Several ranking individuals must sign approvals before such weapons can be removed from their storage bunkers.

–Nuclear warheads carry distinctive red warning markings, which are entirely different from the immediately recognizable markings on non-nuclear practice warheads.

–Nuclear weapons are transported from storage bunkers to aircraft in caravans with guards armed with machine guns and rifles. At least two people, constantly within sight of each other, jointly control every step of the process, from removal from storage bunkers to loading on aircraft.

–In storage, nuclear weapons are connected to what are described as “sophisticated” alarm systems to prevent removal or tampering. Only a high ranking officer can order the alarm system to be turned off, which is necessary before weapons are removed from storage.

In sum, say those who’ve been part of the process, loading nuclear weapons into combat position on an aircraft by mistake simply isn’t possible. The implication is that someone of sufficient rank authorized the loading of those missiles on the bomber.

Several angry bloggers suggested that Vice President Dick Cheney, whose “back door” chain of command over portions of the military has been widely reported, authorized the transport of the nuclear missiles. One who mentioned that possibility was Dave Lindorff, an investigative reporter and author, co-writer with Barbara Olshansky of the recent book “The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office.”

Such writers also noted that Cheney is the leading advocate for bombing Iran in the White House debate on that issue, and that some, if not all, among his coterie of neocons favor a nuclear attack, as reported even in some of the big corporate newspapers.

I also have seen some speculations about false-flag provocations, quite logically reasoned, but we won’t go into that now.

Of course, any suggestion of vice presidential misconduct, or anything you or I might come up with as an explanation for the gaping holes in the official story, would amount to a conspiracy theory. And the uttering of the term “conspiracy theory” by anybody at all – general or janitor — means in this country that the subject can no longer be mentioned except in ridicule.

Still, I can’t help thinking it would be good if we had real, functioning news organizations in this country, as we once did. Back then, questions were asked when the official lies and cover-ups became obvious, and genuine answers were discovered with surprising frequency.

Someone may have stolen a nuke? Someone got around all of the safeguards in order to transport nuclear missiles in illegal fashion for unknown purpose? Congress could investigate and, if it demanded them, get to honest answers, but don’t hold your breath.

Oh, well. Have you heard the latest about O.J. Simpson and the jewelry heist?

posted by James @ 9:06 PM
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Many say attack on Iran coming soon

The American corporate news outfits are largely ignoring the likelihood of a Cheney/Bush attack on Iran, even while they provide all the time and space the White House desires for pre-attack demonizing of Iraq’s neighbor.

If you look at the places where real news now appears, however, the view is very different. The great preponderance of information suggests that our military will begin a war with Iran very soon, though at this point there is no solid information on timing. Some, such as former FBI agent Coleen Rowley, suggest the bombs may, or probably will, start falling within a few days.

Other observers, including some former government officials and intelligence officers say simply “soon.”

The corporate press and the big cable television outfits have reported that there is an ongoing “debate” over whether to bomb or not, and even Fox has said that Dick Cheney is the leading cheerleader for an attack.

Cheney, of course, seems never to have lost a supposed “debate” in the White House over any important matter. He may allow a bit of chatter, but, in the end, he rules.

Some of the biggest corporate newspapers have called the very idea of an attack on Iran “lunatic.” The New York Times, Washington Post and Baltimore Sun are among the papers that have used that word.

It’s obviously mad – genuinely insane — to argue that this country should or is in a position to take on another inevitably disastrous armed conflict.

The United States is suffering a crippling shortage of military personnel and equipment, and bleeding economically because of the illegal occupation of Iraq. Upward of 70 percent of the population wants to withdraw from the criminal, gut-tearing mess there. A majority of Americans don’t seem to care about the lives of innocent civilians in the Middle East, but they have made it clear the continuing deaths and maiming of young Americans is unacceptable. In pouring resources into Iraq, the administration has lost almost all of the gains made in Afghanistan a few years ago. The rational arguments against staying in Iraq, let alone attacking Iran, are overwhelming.

But when has sanity passed through the gates of the White House since Bush/Cheney entered?

Here are just a few of the facts and comments, which are accumulating at an accelerating rate:

–On Aug. 28, George Bush revealed that he had authorized the American military in Iraq to “confront Tehran’s murderous activities.” He justified the rather unspecific threat in a bellicose speech that also repeated the now familiar, unproven charges that Iran is arming Iraqi “insurgents,” and preparing to make nuclear weapons. Most corporate news outfits in this country ignored the speech, but it was widely reported abroad. The Guardian in Britain did a creditable job, as usual.

— On the same day, American troops raided a hotel in Baghdad and arrested several Iranian officials, including an employee of the Iranian embassy and six members of Iran’s electricity ministry who were in Iraq to discuss contracts for building power stations. U.S. newspapers did report that action. All the Iranis were released and no credible reason was given for the action. On the face of it, it was pure provocation.

–Early in August, the Bush administration declared Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, it’s elite military unit, a “specially designated global terrorist” organization. U.S. allies were seriously upset by the move, saying it unilaterally and unnecessarily escalated conflict with Iran and could lead to armed conflict. (And a number of observers said, “That’s the idea.”)

Officials in Washington said the declaration by the White House will allow the government to go after the Iran army corps’ financial operations -– as in bank accounts. This was reported by the bigger U.S. newspapers, but generally hidden in back pages.

The Pew Global Attitudes polls show, by the way, that people around the world regard us as a bigger threat to world peace, and something more akin to terrorists, than the Iranis.

— People who follow the news are aware that Bush/Cheney officials and supporters have been out on the circuit, demonizing Iran in the same way they plumped for the Iraq invasion. One of the buckets of lies was dumped by John Bolton – remember him? — during a speech to a bunch of big-buck business people in California a few days ago. Now again working for right wing propaganda mills such as the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, Bolton argued for an air attack on Iran to “remove the nuclear threat” (which United Nations inspectors say doesn’t exist and may never exist) AND to bring about a “regime change.”

That speech got little or no coverage in most areas of the country, despite Bolton’s closeness to George Bush and his administration, which he served in a couple of positions, including ambassador to the U.N., but it reached the people who count to the administration.

— Jean Bricmont, a professor of physics in Belgium and a member of the Brussels Tribunal, a foundation-funded tribunal of distinguished individuals which examines war crimes, stated flatly in an article for Counterpunch that “All the idiological signposts for attacking Iran are in place.”

–Rowley, a former FBI agent who was honored by Time Magazine in 2002 for blowing the whistle on failures of the agency at the time of the 9/11 attack, is in regular contact with other former agents and intelligence officers. She said in an email to some peace activists within the last few days that “when the campaign to bomb Iran is rolled out in just a few more days -– and there seems little doubt that it will be rolled out at this point, it’s going to be a QUICK campaign leaving little time for people to wake up and get mobilized and to get others mobilized…”

— Paul Craig Roberts, a very conservative economist – widely described as the “father of Reaganomics” – and a nationally syndicated columnist, recently published an article called “The War Criminal in the Living Room.” He was referring to George W. Bush on television, in case you didn’t see the connection.

In his article, Roberts listed point after point to demonstrate the intent of attacking Iran; aircraft strike forces deployed of Iran, deployment of missiles and planes near Iran greatly increased, refitting of B2 stealth bombers to carry 30,000 pound “bunker buster” bombs, alteration of official war doctrine to allow a first-strike nuclear attack against Iran and other non-nuclear countries, and much more.

“The Bush administration has made its war plans for attacking Iran and positioned its forces without any prior approval from Congress,” Roberts wrote. “The ‘unitary executive’ obviously doesn’t believe that an attack on Iran requires the approval of Congress. By its absence and quietude, Congress seems to agree that it has no role in the decision.”

Roberts also said flatly that “The ‘Iran issue’ has been created by the administration, not by Iran.” And, near the end of his piece: “Whatever form of government Bush is operating under, it is far outside an accountable constitutional democratic government.”

None of the items mentioned here is anything like conclusive in itself. Probably no three or four such reports are conclusive. But these are just a tiny percentage of the reports, speeches, magazine and newsletter articles that have appeared in the past two to three weeks indicating that an attack on Iran will take place, and probably soon.

The weight of the information and highly informed opinions is very great.

Additionally, of course, the Bush crowd often has gone outrageously on the attack when public opinion and objective facts have been against them. Creating a crisis and trading on fear has worked for them many times in the past.

On Sept. 11, what the corporate press still is calling the Petraeus report on “progress” in Iraq is due. Most newspapers and even some broadcasters have reported that the report is, in fact, being written by the White House, yet the corporate media continue to play the White House propaganda game by pretending in most reports that Gen. David Petraeus, military commander in Iraq, is the author.

Polls and other reports strongly suggest that the contents of that report won’t matter much to the public; most of us are long past believing anything the administration has to say on the subject.

Further, several reports have beaten the White House to the punch by declaring that the situation in Iraq fails to meet the latest set of the administration’s own “benchmarks.” The Associated Press reported Sept. 4 that Baghdad has failed to meet 11 of the 18 political and security goals that Bush said were necessary. The U.S. Government Accountability Office said Iraq had met only three of the 18 goals.

How do you counter such facts and get the American public behind your perpetual war? Why, by making the crisis even bigger, of course, and manufacturing a new and still more horrific threat. By escalating the endless war.

To all who read this: I beg you to contact your members of Congress, and the White House, and tell them you will not tolerate an attack on Iran. Guarantee every member that any support for an Iran attack will mean you will work hard with others to eject them from office. Don’t be shy, don’t be coy. Don’t scream, but don’t shy away from expressing anger at the possibility of a new war.

Call, write, email, but do it today. Please. You can find your members of Congress in your local telephone directory under Government Offices. Or you can telephone this switchboard and get their office numbers in Washington: 1-800-614-2803. Or you can Google their names and find their web sites; the web sites carry contact, including email, information.

If all the noise about a coming attack is wrong, wonderful. If not, we must do what we can to stop the insanity.