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Speaking Truth to Power v. United States Strategic Command, et al::

Jules Zacher

Speaking Truth to Power v. United States Strategic Command, et al

Philadelphia, PA, February 22, 2014 -- In response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by Speaking Truth To Power on May 30, 2013, and subsequent to a legal complaint filed in federal court to compel the release of related documents, the U.S. Strategic Air Command and the U.S. Department of Defense have released information regarding the March 2013 inspection of a nuclear missile command unit assigned to the 20th Air Force of the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command.
The documents released to Speaking Truth To Power reveal several issues of public importance with regard to management of the nation’s nuclear arsenal.  Complacency, lack of morale, and lack of leadership ability appear to be endemic among the soldiers entrusted with the management, command, and control of nuclear weapons systems.
On March 4, 2013, the Inspector General of the USAF Global Strike Command began a Consolidated Unit Inspection of the 91st Missile Wing, stationed at Minot Air Force Base near Minot, North Dakota.  Consolidated Unit Inspections are typically aimed at testing subject units on their policies and procedures regarding daily operations, record keeping and a variety of other operational facets.
Completed on March 13, 2013, the results of the inspection revealed that the 91st Missile Wing had received a “marginal” rating on Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) operations, the unit’s lowest rating received in the inspection.   Following this finding, between seventeen and nineteen ICBM officers were suspended in April 2013 for a period of sixty days.
In May 2013, Global Strike Command conducted a command-wide training exercise which included inspections, without notice, on each of the missile units falling under its command.  As a result of this exercise, six of the previously suspended officers received early reinstatement by the end of the month; ten more officers were reinstated by June 17, 2013.
Concerned with the underlying causes of the inadequacies revealed in the March inspection, Global Strike Command analyzed and presented its Root Cause Analysis on these results to U.S. Strategic Air Command leadership in early August, 2013.  According to this analysis, the suboptimal inspection results were a direct result of lack of training and testing, and of poor leadership.  In addition, corrective actions are suggested by Global Strike Command to ensure that the 91st Missile Wing achieves and maintains proficiency in ICBM operations.
Several inspections and operational assessments were conducted by Air Force personnel in September 2013, to ensure the competency of the 91st Missile Wing’s ICBM operations.  The first of these assessments was the 20th Air Force Headquarters Operations Assessment from September 4-7.  The second assessment was undertaken by the U.S. Strategic Air Command leadership from September 22-27, who determined that its ICBM operations were safe.  Finally, from September 23-30, Global Strike Command and the 20th Air Force Headquarters conducted a joint Nuclear Surety Staff Assistance Visit, resulting in a comprehensive report on its findings.
Speaking Truth To Power continues to pursue the transparency of government agencies of all types.  To this end, the organization is pressing forward with its efforts to compel the U.S. Strategic Air Command to remove redactions from a collection of presentation slides, titled “91st Missile Wing Review Actions” and produced by the Office of the Inspector General.  In addition, Speaking Truth To Power is seeking the release of reports and other sources of information which had provided the content of the 91st Missile Wing Review Actions slides.

The results, revealed to date, of the Root Cause Analysis conducted by Global Strike Command following the March 1, 2013 Consolidated Unit Inspection of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base identified poor leadership and lack of training and testing in its ICBM units.  These results may not have come as a surprise to anyone working in and around Minot AFB, though; by 2013, Minot AFB and many of its units had already become rather familiar with poor unit readiness, poor performance, and questionable accountability of the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
In August 2007, an aircraft located at Minot AFB was mistakenly loaded with six missiles containing nuclear warheads, and was then permitted to depart for Louisiana’s Barksdale Air Force Base.  While the incident had received only limited publicity, its effects were widespread—twenty-five airmen were reprimanded, and several field officers were eventually stripped of their commands.  In an incident review, the Defense Advisory Board later cited “systemic problems” that had “developed over more than a decade and have the potential for much more serious consequences.”
The 5th Bomb Wing, located at Minot, failed a nuclear surety inspection in May 2008.  In its report on the inspection, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency noted that its inspectors had observed one security forces airman played video games on his mobile phone while assigned to provide security to a “restricted area perimeter.”
Two months later, in June 2008, a truck carrying a Minuteman III rocket booster overturned after departing Minot AFB, en route to a remote launch site.  The cost of the recovery effort was approximately $5.6 million.
These incidents and others are part of, and contribute to, what can only be described as an environment beset by morale issues.  Following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Air Force missiliers had lost much of their sense of purpose; after the Strategic Air Command of the U.S. Air Force was dissolved in 1992, missiliers had lost much of their prestige as well.  By the date of the Consolidated Unit Inspection of the 91st Missile Wing in 2013, missiliers (and those who serve in related positions) had become accustomed to serving in a capacity which offers very little opportunity for career advancement, and which is virtually devoid of any of the status that missiliers once enjoyed.

Released Documents
Documents 1 and 2 are from a December 30, 2013 release by the United States Strategic Air Command, in response to a Freedom of information Act request originally filed by Speaking Truth To Power on May 30, 2013.

Document 1:  91st Missile Wing Consolidated Unit Inspection-Phase 0 (HQ Air Force Global Strike Command Inspector General)
The results of the March 2013 Consolidated Unit Inspection of the 91st Missile Wing were compiled into this report.  Each facet of the inspection is described with considerable detail.
view document

Document 2:  Interim Update On Readiness Of The 91st Missile Wing (USSTRATCOM Nuclear Operations, 23-27 September 2013)
This report contains a recap of the results of the March 2013 Consolidated Unit Inspection of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot AFB, the root causes of deficiencies identified in that inspection, and various remedial measures which will be aimed at correcting underlying issues and preventing future unit readiness issues.
view document



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