by lyle e davis
There are those that believe that President George W. Bush ordered a nuclear air strike against Iran and that the U.S. military and certain elements of the intelligence services mutinied against him, refusing to make a first strike.
These theories follow a strange incident involving a B-52 which flew from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, with six fully armed Advanced Cruise Missiles, each equipped with nuclear bombs capable of exploding at anything from 5 kilotons to 150 kilotons.
One conspiracy theorist, columnist Wayne Madsen says flatly: The Labor Day weekend incident of 2007 involving the B-52 flying from Minot AFB in North Dakota to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana was not an 'accident' as reported by the Air Force, but a revolt by US Air Force and other US intelligence agencies against Bush-Cheney plans for a pre-emptive nuclear and conventional strike on Iran.
He’s not alone.
Author Dave Lindorff wrote a column for Atlantic Free Press, "Was That Nuclear-Armed B-52 Flight Destined for Iran?"
‘There's something definitely screwy about the August 30 incident in which a B-52 bomber flew from Minot AFB in North Dakota to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana carrying five fully armed Advanced Cruise Missiles, each equipped with nuclear bombs capable of exploding at anything from 5 kilotons to 150 kilotons.
The government has been quick to say that the flight, which violated a number of long-standing orders regarding shipment of nuclear weapons in US airspace, was a ‘mistake.’
But was it a mistake?
"I just can't imagine how all of this happened," said Philip Coyle, a senior adviser on nuclear weapons at the Center for Defense Information. "The procedures are so rigid; this is the last thing that's supposed to happen."
Author and military/weapons historian, Kent Ballard, said: “All U.S. military personnel have taken a vow not to defend a President or an administration or even a foreign policy. They have taken a vow to "uphold and defend the Constitution". One could also point to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the portion that says no uniformed service man or woman is obligated to obey an illegal order.
Something isn't right with this story or collection of stories. But apparently, somewhere in the maze, someone stood up for their vows.”
Author Larry Johnson, “Staging Nukes for Iran?” 05 Sep 2007: “My (Retired Air Force B52 Pilot) buddy ... reminded me that the only times you put weapons on a plane is when they are on alert or if you are tasked to move the weapons to a specific site ... Barksdale Air Force Base is being used as a jumping off point for Middle East operations ... Why would we want to preposition nuclear weapons at a base conducting Middle East operations?
His final point was to observe that someone on the inside obviously leaked the info that the planes were carrying nukes. A B-52 landing at Barksdale is a non-event. A B-52 landing with nukes. That is something else. Now maybe there is an innocent explanation for this? I can’t think of one. What is certain is that the pilots of this plane did not just make a last minute decision to strap on some nukes and take them for a joy ride ... Did someone at Barksdale try to indirectly warn the American people that the Bush Administration is staging nukes for Iran?”
A comment on the Military Times Web site, where now over 20 pages of comments have been accumulated, summed it up like this, "Having spent many years as an Air Force Munitions Troop both overseas and CONUS, working both locations with conventional and special weapons, I don't see how this could have happened. Everyone involved, and their chain of command, should be fired, and removed from PRP. There are far too many policies and procedures in place that should have prevented this from happening." (The reference to the PRP is to the Personnel Reliability Program, a DOD directed program that ensures the reliability and dependability of people working on nuclear weapons.)
Again, Kent Ballard: “It appears to me we had something of a reverse "Seven Days in May" scenario played out where high-echelon U.S. military officers and enlisted men acted among themselves and against orders in order to prevent an American first strike on a non-nuclear country, and quite possibly to avoid nuclear war on a worldwide scale.
As to checks and balances, there is no way, none,-that a United States nuclear weapon could be accidentally armed. There are too many guards in place against such an accident, and guards upon the guards. These have been in place since the end of WW II and especially since the formation of the Strategic Air Command by General Curtis LeMay. Nor is there any way that an armed nuke could be accidentally loaded onto a B-52, primarily due to the same guards. Also, all USAF command pilots are required to sign off on anything loaded into the aircraft which they will be flying.”
Author Michael Salla writes in a disturbing piece in OpEdNews recently: “the weapons should also not have been flown at all on a B-52, as there have been standing orders for 40 years against such flights over US soil, following several accidents in which bombs or nuclear-armed rockets were lost because “broken arrow” incidents including inadvertent bomb drops or crashes. A second order, issued in 1991 at the end of the Cold War by George Bush’s father, barred the loading of nuclear weapons on any bomber. Any pilot would have known this, as would any ground support people loading the missiles on the B-52.”
So just what is going on here?
Salla suggests the worst: that this was likely a deliberate action, ordered through a chain of command outside the Pentagon. Salla notes that it has been widely reported that the top brass in the US military (note: with the exception of some whackos in the Air Force), have staunchly opposed any use of nuclear weapons in the event of an air attack on Iran. So an order to send nuclear-armed cruise missiles to the Persian Gulf region, if that's what this flight was, would not likely have come through the normal chain of command from the Secretary of Defense through the Air Combat Command (ACC, successor to SAC). It would, Salla hints darkly, have come through the back channel set up since even before 9-11 by Vice President Dick Cheney, who is known to be pushing for an attack on Iran, and who would like nothing better than to use nuclear weapons to disable Iran's nuclear processing facilities.
“We’re talking High Treason here, if Salla is right,” says Dave Lindorff, in a column written for the Atlantic Free Press. He says: “Salla suggests that behind the scenes, Gates and the generals, who clearly distrust and dislike the vice president and who don't want an Iran attack, will use this incident to go after the vice president and force him into a "medical" resignation. He says that the exposure of the flight will also put any attack on Iran on hold, because military leaders will be worried that there are other nuclear weapons that have been introduced into the equation secretly, either for use in Iraq or for a "black flag" operation against US forces.”
The Timeline Analysis:
Tuesday, August 28: President George W. Bush signaled an escalation of tensions with Iran in a speech before the American Legion convention in Kansas. He warned that the Middle East now lay in the shadow of a "nuclear holocaust" because of the Iranian nuclear program. He accused Iran of acting as a state sponsor of terrorism, intervening against the US forces in Iraq, and also made allegations about Iran as a backer of Hezbollah and Hamas. Diplomatic observers recognized that this speech constituted an important intensification of US threats against Iran.
Wednesday, August 29: US Air Force personnel loaded six cruise missiles onto the wing mounts of a B-52 intercontinental strategic bomber at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. Each of the missiles carried a nuclear warhead of between 5 and 150 kilotons of explosive power.
Thursday, August 30: The possible rogue B-52, with its cargo of six deadly nuclear-armed cruise missiles, made the 3.5 hour flight across the US to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. This B-52 bomber flew over at least six or seven of the United States for three and a half hours, and then parked on a runway ramp for another 10 hours, while, supposedly, no one in the White House, the Pentagon, or Air Force top leadership knew it. Barksdale is the number two US headquarters for nuclear warfighting, second only to Offutt AFB in Nebraska.
(The Air Force has not permitted its bombers to overfly U.S. territory since the late 1960s when a series of nuclear weapons accidents involving the U.S. Air Force in this country and abroad created embarrassing scandals.)
An Air Force colonel showing the weapons payload of a B-52 at Minot Air Base in 1998. (AP photo)
Barksdale is also the jumping-off base for direct B-52 bombing runs into the Middle East, a role which Barksdale played in the shock and awe campaign in Iraq in the spring of 2003. By the time the rogue B-52 reached Barksdale, cataclysmic events were not far off.
The blunder was supposedly reported to President George W. Bush after the nuclear warheads were discovered when the aircraft landed at Barksdale, a military official said on condition of anonymity.
The US Air Force has relieved the munition squadron commander at Minot Air Base in North Dakota of his duties, and launched an investigation into the August 30 incident, a Pentagon spokesman said.
"At no time was there a threat to public safety," said Lieutenant Colonel Ed Thomas. "It is important to note that munitions were safe, secure and under military control at all times."
The Pentagon would not provide details, citing secrecy rules, but an expert said the incident was unprecedented, and pointed to a disturbing lapse in the air force's command and control system. "It seems so fantastic that so many points, checks can dysfunction," said Hans Kristensen, an expert on US nuclear forces. "We have so many points and checks specifically so we don't have these kinds of incidents," he said.
August 30, late afternoon through September 5: Although the Air Force tried to keep the matter quiet, someone, somehow, leaked to the Military Times that this B-52 had landed and was loaded with six stealth AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missiles, each armed with a W-80-1 nuclear warhead. Just one of those Advanced Cruise missiles can have a nuclear yield of as high as 150,000 tons of high explosive, ten times the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima.Military Times Staff writer Michael Hoffman, who broke the story, writes that his initial source for the story was three officers "who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the incident."
So this may be a case where some military officers who knew something wrong was happening did the honorable, patriotic thing and went public with a publication they trusted, both to do the right thing, and to protect them.
Shock waves began to build within the military. What made the incident so shocking is that the safety and security procedures around nuclear weapons are supposed to make it impossible for such an incident to happen. Every step is spelled out in exacting detail, rehearsed again and again, and examined in on-site inspections.
That the information was leaked to the public is, in itself, highly unusual. The leaking of classified information on U.S. nuclear weapons disposition or movement to the media, is, itself, unprecedented. Air Force regulations require the sending of classified BEELINE reports to higher Air Force authorities on the disclosure of classified Air Force information to the media.
As it happens, September 5th, the day the story was leaked, was the day before the Israelis attacked the alleged nuclear installation in Syria.
September 6: Israel launches OPERATION ORCHARD, an air attack on a reputed Syrian nuclear facility in Dayr az-Zwar, near the village of Tal Abyad, in northern Syria, near the Turkish border.
With the leak on September 5th to the Military Times, confirmed by the Pentagon later in the day,
the rest of the nation's press and commentators jumped on the story. The Army Times on September 5 ("B-52 mistakenly flies with nukes aboard," Michael Hoffman, September 5, 2007. The Washington Post, Josh White, September 6, 2007. ("In Error, B-52 Flew Over U.S. With Nuclear-Armed Missiles," The Nieman Watchdog Report: September 09, 2007. “A B-52 with six armed nuclear missiles A B-52 flew over the U.S. for 3-1/2 hours. What's the story here?" Wayne Madsen Report, September 24, 2007, "Air Force Refused to Fly Weapons to Middle East Theater."
Furiously trying to establish damage control on the story, the Air Force maintained that the nuclear weapons were under their control the whole time, which may be technically correct, but such statements evade the central issue. Who was in charge and how did this happen?
US lawmakers expressed outrage at the incident.
"It is absolutely inexcusable that the Air Force lost track of these five nuclear warheads, even for a short period of time," Representative Edward Markey, a Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. "Nothing like this has ever been reported before and we have been assured for decades that it was impossible," said Markey.
Two Republican lawmakers on committees overseeing military affairs, Jim Saxton and Terry Everett, said in a joint statement they were "deeply concerned" by the incident and said the United States must "ensure our nuclear assets are protected by the highest safeguards."
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates was notified early Friday, September 7th, of the incident by Air Force chief of staff General Michael "Buzz" Moseley, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.
"I can also tell you that it was important enough that President Bush was notified of it," Morrell said.
"The munitions squadron commander has been relieved of his duties, and final action is pending the outcome of the investigation," he said. "In addition, other airmen were decertified from their duties involving munitions."
Hans Kristensen said he knew of no other publicly acknowledged case of live nuclear weapons being flown on bombers since the late 1960s.
The nuclear weapons expert said the air force keeps a computerized command and control system that traces any movement of a nuclear weapon so that they have a complete picture of where they are at any given time.
He said there would be checks and detailed procedures at various points from the time they are moved out of bunkers until they are loaded onto planes, and flown away. "That's perhaps what is most worrisome about this particular incident -- that apparently an individual who had command authority about moving these weapons around decided to do so," he said. "It's a command and control issue and it's one that calls into question the system, because if one individual can do that who knows what can happen," he said.
The Air Force, however, appears to be trying to stonewall an independent investigation, and cites their policy to not comment on nuclear weapons matters to avoid providing information to the press. Nevertheless, the accident appears to have been the most complete and dangerous breakdown in the command and control of nuclear weapons in U.S. history. Reportedly Defense Secretary Gates and President Bush are both receiving daily briefings on what is being learned about how the accident happened and the status of the investigation. This is not surprising, given the utter seriousness of the matter.
Highly trained intelligence people, both inside and outside of government and military circles, diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic, civilian observers who are interested in intelligence matters, war critics, students, and your everyday Jacks and Jills began to join the sometimes radical fringe element in questioning just exactly what happened, and why it happened.
The accident is so bizarre, something that is not supposed to ever happen, that it has spawned conspiracy theories that those six nuclear weapons were part of a secret plan to bomb Iran. Several commentators, in fact, advance the following theories, and provide background to support them:
According to Wayne Madsen, this was the case of loyal and patriotic military people refusing to obey an illegal order which could plunge us into nuclear war. As Madsen writes: "elements of the Air Force, supported by US intelligence agency personnel, successfully revealed the ultimate destination of the nuclear weapons and the mission was aborted due to internal opposition within the Air Force and the US Intelligence Community." ("Air Force Refused to Fly Weapons to Middle East Theater," September 24, 2007, Wayne Madsen Report.)
Madsen went on to argue it soon became apparent that the command and control breakdown, reported as a BENT SPEAR incident to the Secretary of Defense and White House, was not the result of command and control chain-of-command "failures" but the result of a revolt and push back by various echelons within the Air Force and intelligence agencies against a planned U.S. attack on Iran using nuclear and conventional weapons.
Add into the mix that Newsweek recently reported that Vice President Dick Cheney's recently-departed Middle East adviser, David Wurmser, told a small group of advisers some months ago that Cheney had considered asking Israel to launch a missile attack on the Iranian nuclear site at Natanz. Cheney reasoned that after an Iranian retaliatory strike, the United States would have ample reasons to launch its own massive attack on Iran. However, plans for Israel to attack Iran directly were altered to an Israeli attack on a supposed Syrian-Iranian-North Korean nuclear installation in northern Syria.
Madsen argues further that a U.S. attack on Iran using nuclear and conventional weapons was scheduled to coincide with Israel's September 6 air attack on a reputed Syrian nuclear facility in Dayr az-Zwar, near the village of Tal Abyad, in northern Syria, near the Turkish border.
He says further that Israel's attack, code named OPERATION ORCHARD, was to provide a reason for the U.S. to strike Iran. The neo-conservative propaganda onslaught was to cite the cooperation of the George Bush's three remaining "Axis of Evil" states -- Syria, Iran, and North Korea -- to justify a sustained Israeli attack on Syria and a massive U.S. military attack on Iran.
Madsen claims that his military sources on both sides of the Atlantic say there was a definite connection between Israel's OPERATION ORCHARD and BENT SPEAR involving the B-52 that flew the six nuclear-armed cruise missiles from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale. There is also a connection between these two events as the Pentagon's highly-classified PROJECT CHECKMATE, a compartmentalized U.S. Air Force program that has been working on an attack plan for Iran since June 2007, around the same time that Cheney was working on the joint Israeli-U.S. attack scenario on Iran.
PROJECT CHECKMATE was leaked in an article by military analyst Eric Margolis in the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper, the "Times of London." It is a program that involves over two dozen Air Force officers and is headed by Brig. Gen. Lawrence Stutzriem and his chief civilian adviser, Dr. Lani Kass, a former Israeli military intelligence officer who, astoundingly, is now involved in planning a joint U.S.-Israeli massive military attack on Iran that involves a "decapitating" blow on Iran by hitting between three to four thousand targets in the country. Stutzriem and Kass report directly to the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Michael Moseley, who has also been charged with preparing a report on the B-52/nuclear weapons incident.
Kass' area of speciality is cyber-warfare, which includes ensuring "information blockades," such as that imposed by the Israeli government on the Israeli media regarding the Syrian air attack on the alleged Syrian "nuclear installation." British intelligence sources have reported that the Israeli attack on Syria was a "true flag" attack originally designed to foreshadow a U.S. attack on Iran. Even after the U.S. Air Force and Intelligence community joined to block transporting the six cruise nuclear-armed AGM-129s to the Middle East, Israel went ahead with its attack on Syria in order to help ratchet up tensions between Washington on one side and Damascus, Tehran, and Pyongyang on the other.
Command and control breakdowns involving U.S. nuclear weapons are unprecedented, except for that fact that the U.S. military is now waging an internal war against neo-cons who are embedded in the U.S. government and military chain of command who are intent on using nuclear weapons in a pre-emptive war with Iran.
CHECKMATE and OPERATION ORCHARD would have provided the cover for a pre-emptive U.S. and Israeli attack on Iran had it not been for BENT SPEAR involving the B-52. In on the plan to launch a pre-emptive attack on Iran involving nuclear weapons were, according to our sources, Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley; members of the CHECKMATE team at the Pentagon, who have close connections to Israeli intelligence and pro-Israeli think tanks in Washington, including the Hudson Institute; British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, a political adviser to Tony Blair prior to becoming a Member of Parliament; Israeli political leaders like Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu; and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who did his part last week to ratchet up tensions with Iran by suggesting that war with Iran was a probability. Kouchner retracted his statement after the U.S. plans for Iran were delayed.
In another highly unusual move, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has asked an outside inquiry board to look into BENT SPEAR, even before the Air Force has completed its own investigation, a virtual vote of no confidence in the official investigation being conducted by Major General Douglas Raaberg, chief of air and space operations at the Air Combat Command.
Madsen went on to reveal Gates asked former Air Force Chief of Staff, retired General Larry Welch, to lead a Defense Science Board task force that will also look into the BENT SPEAR incident. The official Air Force investigation has reportedly been delayed for unknown reasons. Welch is President and CEO of the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA), a federally-funded research contractor that operates three research centers, including one for Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President and another for the National Security Agency. One of the board members of IDA is Dr. Suzanne H. Woolsey of the Paladin Capital Group and wife of former CIA director and arch-neocon James Woolsey.
Madsen says he has learned that neither the upper echelons of the State Department nor the British Foreign Office were privy to OPERATION ORCHARD, although Hadley briefed President Bush on Israeli spy satellite intelligence that showed the Syrian installation was a joint nuclear facility built with North Korean and Iranian assistance.
The nuclear brinkmanship involving the United States and Israel and the breakdown in America's command and control systems have every major capital around the world wondering about the Bush administration's true intentions.
Michael Hoffman, who broke the story originally in the Military Times, wrote in a later column:
The risk of the warheads falling into the hands of rogue nations or terrorists was minimal since the weapons never left the United States, said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, an independent research and policy think tank in Washington D.C.
At no time was there a risk for a nuclear detonation, even if the B-52 crashed on its way to Barksdale, said Steve Fetter, a former Defense Department official who worked on nuclear weapons policy in 1993-94. A crash would ignite the high explosives associated with the warhead, and possibly cause a leak of plutonium, but the warhead's elaborate safeguards would prevent a nuclear detonation from occurring, he said.
"The main risk would have been the way the Air Force responded to any problems with the flight because they would have handled it much differently if they would have known nuclear warheads were onboard," Fetter said.
It's still unclear specifically how the B-52's flight from Minot to Barksdale would have been different since most nuclear security protocols are classified. But, Kristensen said the flight pattern might have been different since there would have been airspace restrictions. Also, security at both airports would have heightened considerably and the communications between the pilot and the control towers would have been altered, he said.
In concluding his column, Wayne Madsen said, “If it turns out that Cheney was behind this incident, that its goal was as sinister as Salla suspects, and that it was only the brave action of several officers who went public and leaked information about it that led to the undoing of the plan, it may take more than behind-the-scenes pressure from the Defense Department to take down the vice president.
Moreover, if Cheney simply resigned, without the incident being exposed publicly, Americans would not ever know how close we came to global disaster, martial law, and the end of America as we know it. It is essential that Congress get to the bottom of this one.
Every person remotely connected to this mission needs to be called before Congress and put under oath to explain what happened. An independent prosecutor should also be named to start a criminal investigation.
As Philip Coyle pointed out . . . After years and years of U.S. government officials warning of the dangers of "loose nukes" and accusing Russia, Pakistan or other nations of not adequately controlling their nuclear weapons, we find that we have not one but six American loose nukes right here at home. Is this an exaggeration? Before you decide, imagine the outcry if Russia or some other nuclear weapons nation reported the same botched circumstances, the same incompetence.
"This is really shocking," Coyle said. "The Air Force can't tolerate it, and the Pentagon can't tolerate it, either."
Sources: All sources in this article have been referenced within the story itself. Readers who are interested in additional information are urged to Google “B-52’s, Minot AFB.” There are many, many entires.