Loose Nukes

I was horrified to read, buried on page A9 of Thursday’s Chronicle, the story about the B-52 bomber that was “mistakenly” armed with nuclear warheads before undergoing a cross-country flight.

I am equally disturbed at the lack of the sort of follow-up one should think a sobering revelation such as this would command. Are we to just swallow the Air Force’s assertion that this was merely an accident, despite senior Homeland Security Committee member Edward Markey’s statement that “we have been assured for decades that [such an event] was impossible?”

One has only to peruse the blogs of those men and women who have, over the years, been intimately familiar with military protocol regarding our weapons of mass destruction to get a sense that something is seriously amiss.

I can think of three scenarios, each one more chilling than the last, that could possibly explain how such a thing might happen. The first being the cold comfort that the Air Force might be telling the truth, and this is all just a horrible snafu. If this is the case, then the protocols the Department of Defense currently have in place are criminally ineffective and we need to lock down our national arsenal and start from scratch.

Of course one doesn’t need a tin foil hat to think that maybe this is all an elaborate ruse, a psychological operation designed to “remind” other nations and the American people that our nuclear arsenal is still in place, and possibly, in play. This scenario, while slightly less stupefying and more Machiavellian by degrees than the first, allows the administration to quietly, on page A9, to float the meme out to the collective consciousness.

The third choice, I fear, is the most obvious. This operation was not a mistake. However, a whistle blower noticed those warheads hanging off the B-52 wings like some Satanic fruit and the Pentagon got caught with its hand in the nuclear cookie jar. Is it a coincidence that the bomber (and bombs) in question landed at Barksdale Air Force Base, a staging area for the Middle East theater?

None of these scenarios is acceptable. In an age where anyone can track a package as it moves across the country, to imagine that six warheads could just go missing for a day is a stretch. It should also go without saying that said weapons are not playthings to be used to psych out one’s adversaries. Lastly, nuclear weapons are certainly not meant to be first-strike preemptive weapons, no matter how the Bush Doctrine reads. To say that this would set a bad precedent would be a deadly understatement. One has to believe that to use nuclear weapons in an arena as volatile as the Middle East would be to court disaster on an unimaginable scale.

As American citizens, we are ultimately responsible for the actions of our government, and by extension, our military. We must demand that the House Armed Services Committee, the Homeland Security Committee, and Congress begin independent investigations into this matter immediately.

We must also demand that our media take the initiative and keep the American people informed on matters of life and death.

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