How Not to Handle Nuclear Security

I would like to share with you an article by Zia Mian, an Abolition 2000 founding member.

Link to article on Foreign Policy In FocusHow Not to Handle Nuclear Security
Zia Mian | December 14, 2007
Editor: Emily Schwartz Greco 

Foreign Policy In Focus 

The United States recently admitted that since the attacks of September 11, 2001, it has been helping Pakistan secure its nuclear weapons and the materials used to make them. Pakistan has welcomed this assistance. A former Pakistani general who was involved in the nuclear weapons complex has said that “We want to learn from the West’s best practices.”

But the U.S. track record for securing its own nuclear weapons, nuclear materials and weapons information isn’t encouraging, to say the least. If the United States can’t secure its own nuclear complex, why expect Pakistan to do it any better?

On November 11, The Washington Post reported that the United States sent “tens of millions of dollars worth of equipment such as intrusion detectors and ID systems to safeguard Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.” A week later, The New York Times, which had been sitting on the story for three years, revealed that the program was in fact much larger, “Over the past six years, the Bush administration has spent almost $100 million on a highly classified program to help Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, secure his country’s nuclear weapons.” The assistance ranged from “helicopters to night-vision goggles to nuclear detection equipment.”

The U.S. military claims to be confident about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. A Pentagon press spokesman said, “At this point, we have no concerns. We believe that they are under the appropriate control.” The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff declared “I don’t see any indication right now that security of those weapons is in jeopardy.”

Zero Locks

A concern about nuclear weapons security in Pakistan is that Islamists in the military may seize control of the weapons and try to use them. Pakistan claims to have followed the U.S. example and installed coded combination-lock switches, known as Permissive Action Links, on its weapons.

Since the 1960s most U.S. nuclear weapons are supposed to have been protected against unauthorized use by coded combination-lock switches that could only be activated by someone who knew that proper sequence of characters. These switches were introduced in 1962 by Robert McNamara when he was Secretary of Defense to ensure control over the use of U.S. nuclear weapons.

According to Bruce Blair, a former missile launch control officer, Strategic Air Command, which was responsible for the nuclear-armed missiles and bombers, installed the switches but set the combinations of all the locks to a string of zeros. The codes for launching U.S. nuclear missiles apparently stayed set at OOOOOOOO until the late 1970s. The reason? Strategic Air Command did not want there to be any problems or delays in launching the nuclear missiles because of the need to put in a more complex set of numbers.

Robert McNamara apparently did not know that the locks he had ordered to be installed on nuclear weapons were largely worthless, and that the military with direct control of the weapons were evading official instructions for securing nuclear missiles. McNamara only learned of this from Bruce Blair in January 2004. McNamara was outraged. But, as Blair observed, this is but “one of a long litany of items pointing to the ignorance of presidents and defense secretaries and other nuclear security officials about the true state of nuclear affairs.”

Wayward Nukes

Problems with securing nuclear weapons are not a matter of Cold War history. In August this year, six U.S. nuclear-armed cruise missiles were inadvertently loaded onto a bomber at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and flown across the country to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. The cruise missiles remained fitted to the bomber for 24 hours before it took off and for hours after it landed without anyone realizing that it was carrying nuclear warheads. It was “an unprecedented string of procedural failures,” according to General Richard Newton, the assistant deputy chief of staff for operations for the U.S. Air Force.

As nuclear analyst Hans Kristensen has pointed out, the incident showed “the apparent break-down of nuclear command and control for the custody of the nuclear weapons.” Put simply, the ground crews did not know, or bother to check, that they were loading nuclear weapons on a plane; the bomber’s pilot and crew did not know or bother to check that they were carrying nuclear weapons; the respective base commanders did not know nuclear weapons were leaving or arriving; and, the national authorities responsible for nuclear weapons did not know where these nuclear weapons were or that they were being moved across the country. The weapons were to all intents and purposes lost for about 36 hours.

Gates, Guards, and Guns

A key concern about nuclear security in Pakistan is the risk of radical Islamist militants making a bid for its nuclear weapons or its stock of the materials with which to make nuclear weapons. There is a growing armed insurgency in the areas bordering Afghanistan that has been spreading across Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province and into its major cities.

The United States, which has much less of a threat to worry about, has had plenty of problems trying to makes sure terrorists could not get their hands on the materials with which to make nuclear weapons. The U.S. Department of energy currently spends $1.3 billion a year on securing its facilities that contain significant amounts of nuclear weapons-useable materials through the use of fences, guards, cameras, intrusion sensors, and so on. But many of these facilities are not required or able to protect against a 19-strong group of attackers such as were involved in the 9/11 aircraft hijackings.

The failure to secure weapons materials at U.S. facilities has been exposed by exercises in which simulated attackers carried away material sufficient to make a weapon. Reports show that the security at the sites fails more than 50% of the time. The Project on Government Oversight, an independent watch dog group, has revealed for instance that during a mock attack on Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, a U.S. Special Forces team “was able to steal enough weapons-grade uranium for numerous nuclear weapons.” In a subsequent security test at the same site, the “mock terrorists gained control of sensitive nuclear materials which, if detonated, would have endangered significant parts of New Mexico, Colorado and downwind areas.”

Nuclear Know-How

A particular worry about Pakistan is that scientists and engineers within its nuclear program may share weapons information with other countries or Islamist groups. The story of A.Q. Khan is all too familiar, as is that of several senior former Pakistani nuclear scientists who were found to have met with the Al-Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan.

In the United States, there is a long and troubling history of nuclear weapons information going missing from the nuclear weapons laboratories, and ending up in unexpected places. The first and most famous atomic spy was Klaus Fuchs, who passed on the secrets of the U.S. nuclear weapons project to the Soviet Union during World War II. Fuchs claimed he did it for ideological reasons.

More recently, the Project on Government Oversight has compiled a list of reports on the loss of classified information from the U.S. nuclear complex. They found 17 incidents in 2004 alone in which classified information from Los Alamos was sent using unclassified networks. This led the Department of Energy, which manages the U.S. nuclear weapons program, to shut down all operations involving removable hard drives, laptops, CDs and DVDs, flash drives and such like, across the entire complex.

In one dramatic case, missing computer disks containing nuclear weapons information were lost and mysteriously found several weeks later behind a copy machine. In another case, classified information about nuclear weapons designs was found during a raid on a drug den. In January 2007, there was an incident in which a highly classified email message about nuclear weapons was sent unsecured by a senior Pentagon nuclear adviser and then forwarded by others. It has been described as “the most serious breach of U.S. national security.”

Nuclear People

History suggests that the most enduring problem for the security of nuclear weapons, materials and information, is the people who work in and manage the nuclear weapons complex. The United States has a nuclear weapons personnel reliability program which screens people who are allowed to work with nuclear weapons. Pakistan says it has adopted a similar program.

An independent study of the U.S. nuclear personnel reliability program found that between 1975 and 1990, the United States disqualified annually between 3% and 5% of the military personnel it had previously cleared for working with nuclear weapons. These people were removed on the grounds of drug or alcohol problems, conviction for a serious crime, negligence, unreliability or aberrant behavior, poor attitude, and behavior suggesting problems with law and authority.

Problems like this continue. In October 2006, a Los Alamos lab worker with the “highest possible security clearance” was arrested in a cocaine drug bust. One year later, the commander of a U.S. nuclear submarine was removed from his duties after it was discovered that the ship’s crew failed to do daily safety checks on its nuclear reactor for a month and then falsified the daily records to cover up the lapse.

False Security

After 60 years of living with the bomb, the United States has failed to get its own nuclear house in order. It continues to suffer serious problems with securing its own nuclear weapons, nuclear materials and weapons related information. Showing no sign of having learned from its own mistakes, the United States may only end up encouraging a false sense of security and confidence about nuclear weapons security in Pakistan.

The only sure way to secure nuclear weapons and materials is not to have them. The only way to be sure that nuclear weapons scientists do not pass information is to forbid scientists from working on such weapons. Anything short of that is taking a risk and being willing to pay the price for living in a nuclear-armed world.

Zia Mian, a Foreign Policy In Focus ( columnist, directs the Project on Peace and Security in South Asia at the Program on Science and Global Security, at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs.


December 20, 2007 at 2:56 pm 2 comments

What They Said in 2007

This year celebrities, religious leaders, politicians and states people have joined the call to abolish nuclear weapons.  Watch this 90 second video summarizing what these people said in 2007.

(To go directly to the YouTube page, click here)

December 18, 2007 at 3:01 pm 1 comment

Concerns with safety at American nuclear weapon labs

The US’ three nuclear weapons laboratories have had almost 60 serious accidents or near misses in the past seven years, according to a report released last month by the Government Accountability Office.  The following article details the shocking findings of this report.


GAO concerned with safety at nuclear weapon labs

  • Story Highlights
  • Report blames “a relatively lax attitude toward safety procedures”
  • Some of the accidents have caused “serious harm to workers,” the report says
  • These include worker exposure to radiation and inhalation of toxic vapors
  • The GAO reviewed reports from Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia

From Eric Fiegel and Kathy Benz

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The nation’s three nuclear weapons laboratories have had almost 60 serious accidents or near misses in the past seven years, according to a report released Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office.

It blames “a relatively lax attitude toward safety procedures” which has created “an environment where workers can become complacent about following safety requirements, and managers about enforcing them, raising the potential for accidents.”

The GAO reviewed almost 100 reports from Los Alamos in New Mexico, Lawrence Livermore in California and Sandia which has campuses in both California and New Mexico. All are nuclear weapons laboratories that handle extremely dangerous materials like plutonium.

These three facilities are overseen by the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The report cited “weaknesses in identifying safety problems and taking appropriate corrective actions,” and a lack of oversight by the NNSA for many of the problems.

“The NNSA weapons laboratories, which conduct important but potentially dangerous research, have experienced persistent safety problems despite years of effort to make the laboratories safer,” the GAO report concluded.

Some of the accidents have caused “serious harm to workers or damage to facilities,” the report said.

These included worker exposure to radiation, inhalation of toxic vapors and electrical shocks. While the accidents resulted in no deaths, they did contribute to the temporary shutdown of facilities at Los Alamos in 2004 and Lawrence Livermore in 2005.

One accident of concern took place at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico in 2000, when seven workers were exposed to “significant doses of radiation” when a piece of equipment failed.

Four of the seven required immediate medical help, according to the report. Poor worker communication and training contributed to the accident, which took place because the laboratory did not take corrective action after other similar accidents, the report said.

That mishap “ranked among the top 10 worst radiological intake accidents in 41 years of data gathering by the DOE (Department of Energy) and its predecessor agencies,” according to the report.

Also at Los Alamos in 2002, liquid chlorine dioxide unexpectedly formed and exploded during an experiment, sending debris into the air with enough force to knock out piece of wall and ceiling.

Two researchers working on the experiment escaped death or serious injury when one of them noticed temperatures rising in the equipment, and both fled the room. The accident was caused by not implementing existing safety requirements, the report said.

In another incident, a package containing radioactive material was shipped from one part of Los Alamos to another, but no warnings were visible on the package.

A worker opened it, exposing himself and ultimately others — both at work and at home — because the contamination was not discovered for 11 days. Additionally, some non-radioactive parts the worker touched and contaminated were shipped to Pennsylvania.

The GAO noted that NNSA has taken some steps to improve the safety situation at the laboratories, but “ineffective implementation” of safety guidelines has continued to contribute to accidents.

“Given the persistent nature of safety problems at the laboratories, it appears that either the identification of the underlying causes or the corrective actions taken have been inadequate,” the report said.

The GAO made several recommendations for improvement, including an annual report to Congress “on progress toward making the weapons laboratories safer, including the status and effectiveness of safety improvement initiatives, using outcome-based performance measures.”

The NNSA said it “generally agrees” with the GAO’s findings, but believes its safety record has been “favorably impressive” and its oversight of safety procedures “excellent.”

One of the congressmen who requested the report said he expects conditions at the labs will improve.

“Now that the National Nuclear Security Administration realizes the persistent safety problems associated with our national weapons laboratories, it is my hope that these problems will be corrected in a timely manner, and that employees at the laboratories will have a safer environment to work in,” said Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Kentucky.

December 17, 2007 at 3:59 pm 6 comments

Canada edges toward deadly nuclear embrace

I hope you find the following article on canada’ shifting policy on nuclear disarmament interesting.

– Anthony Salloum
  Program Director
  Rideau Institute on International Affairs

Canada edges toward deadly nuclear embrace

The Toronto Star
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Page: AA08
Section: Opinion
Byline: Anthony Salloum
Source: Special to The Star

The growing uncertainty over the status of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is another reminder that these weapons continue to threaten the world, and suggests why Canada should be pushing for the elimination of all nuclear weapons, worldwide. There has never been a more important time for Canada’s voice to be heard in support of nuclear disarmament, but if recent votes at the United Nations last month are any indication, Canada is slowly shifting toward embracing nuclear weapons. Traditionally, Canada has been a champion of nuclear disarmament. But last month, our position was put to the test on a key UN vote to diminish the risk of nuclear war, and Canada sat silent.Our ambassador, on instructions from Ottawa, abstained on an important UN resolution “calling on Nuclear Weapons States to lower the operating status of nuclear weapons.” This was the first time such a motion had made it to a vote.The intent of the motion, championed by retired Canadian senator Douglas Roche and his organization, the Middle Powers Initiative, was to lengthen the time required for a nuclear launch, reducing the risk of an accidental or premature launch.But the Harper government doesn’t see it that way. In explaining Canada’s silent abstention, our ambassador said that while “reducing operational readiness remained important … at the same time, deterrence remained an important element of international security and a fundamental part of the deterrence policy of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).”In other words, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has decided that NATO’s nuclear deterrence policy reigns supreme.

At the urging of anti-nuclear organizations such as the Canadian Pugwash Group, last spring then-foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay reported to Parliament that he had raised concerns about NATO’s reliance upon nuclear weapons at a meeting of the alliance.

Then the government shifted tactics, and a few weeks later then-defence minister Gordon O’Connor told Parliament: “We are a member of NATO and we stand by NATO’s policies. NATO, at this stage, has no policy of disarming from nuclear weapons.”

Not surprisingly, the old policy supporting “the complete elimination of nuclear weapons” was changed on the foreign affairs department website to say that Canada’s policy is “consistent with our membership in NATO.”

But the reason for this shift may have less to do with NATO itself than with acquiescence to the United States’ interests in keeping the door open to a renewal of nuclear weapons testing.

Equally worrisome this year was Canada’s reticence to put its name behind a motion to prevent nuclear weapons testing. Last year, Canada co-sponsored a resolution calling for a Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

In October, Canada failed to co-sponsor the resolution that stressed “the vital importance and urgency of signature and ratification, without delay and without conditions, to achieve the earliest entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.”

Thankfully, the resolution passed, 166 in favour to only one opposed (United States) with four abstentions (Colombia, India, Mauritius, Syria).

Ultimately, Canada voted in favour, but could Canada’s decision not to co- sponsor the resolution, as it had done in the past, be related to the U.S. plan to develop new nuclear weapons?

This is a troublesome shift in Canada’s policy on nuclear disarmament. One can trace its beginnings to 2005 when the Liberals, trying to curry favour in Washington, started getting cold feet on nuclear disarmament.

In her book Holding the Bully’s Coat, Linda McQuaig notes positively that, by 2005, Canadian leadership over several years had led to 13 other countries breaking ranks with their NATO allies and voting with Canada in support of a resolution aimed at ending the deadlock that is paralyzing the UN’s Conference on Disarmament.

Consistent with its leadership, Canada announced its intention to support another important nuclear disarmament resolution at the UN First Committee, the body responsible for disarmament. Canada’s support of the creative and inspired initiative was intended to try to break the impasse on disarmament talks by proposing new, ad hoc committees that would bypass the deadlock.

But with hours to go, Canada pulled the plug on supporting the UN resolution, and as a result other countries followed suit. The reason: Paul Martin’s government succumbed to intense pressure from the White House. McQuaig notes, “tragically, the moment had been lost.”

While Martin’s failing may have been an aberration, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives may be making a more permanent policy shift.

Parliamentarians and Canadians need to raise the alarm about this shift. It is inconceivable that, at a time of renewed threats from nuclear weapons, Canada would be shifting away from an active role in advancing nuclear disarmament.

It is up to those who feel strongly that such a move is disastrous for global security to hold all parliamentarians accountable for allowing this to take place. It’s not too late to stop this shift in its tracks.

© 2007 Torstar Corporation

December 11, 2007 at 7:01 pm 1 comment

Seize the Moment for a Nuclear Free World


The welcome news that US intelligence agencies have disavowed earlier reports that Iran was hell-bent on making nuclear weapons has given the world a breather.  Rational people can now fortify the case against the Bush Administration’s plans to unilaterally and pre-emptively attack Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities.  It would be sheer folly to start yet another unauthorized war.  Nevertheless, technology used to produce “peaceful” nuclear energy, an “inalienable right” guaranteed by the Non-Proliferation Treaty to its members, also gives countries the technology they need to manufacture nuclear bombs, as we’ve seen with North Korea, Pakistan, India, Israel, as well as other nations who started down that path but gave it up like South Africa, Argentina, and Libya

During this blessed respite from war against a potential nuclear state, let’s not squander our opportunity for greater security. All nations should be brought to the table to negotiate a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons. Let us follow the lead of Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Sam Nunn, and William Perry, former cold warriors, who called this year for such a commitment, understanding that the longer we delay, the more dangerous it will be as othercountries emulate our nuclear prowess.  The US must honor its own agreement under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), put a halt to the development of new nuclear weapons, and take up Putin’s offer of several years ago to cut our mutual nuclear arsenals of about 10,000 weapons to 1,000. Once the US and Russia get down to reasonable numbers approaching the arsenals of the other nuclear weapons states – China, UK, France and Israel, who have stockpiles in the hundreds, and India, Pakistan, and North Korea who have less than one hundred bombs in their arsenals – then we can take up China’s offer to negotiate a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons and call all the nuclear weapons states to the table.

Civil society has already produced a Model Nuclear Weapons Convention introduced into the UN General Assembly by Costa Rica as a discussion document.  It lays out all the steps for dismantlement, verification, guarding, and monitoring the disassembled arsenals to insure that we will all be secure from break-out.  We must also take up Russia and China’s proposal, offered every year for the past four years in the UN, to ban all weapons in space.

That is a pre-condition for Russia and China’s agreement to abolish nuclear weapons as they do not want to be dominated from space by the US.  And we’ll also have to include a Missile Ban Treaty and forego provocative US actions of planting missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic, rattling our sabers at Russia, or in the Asian-Pacific region, starting an arms race with China.

Finally, we must supersede the NPT’s guarantee to so-called “peaceful” nuclear technology, upon which Iran is now lawfully relying, by establishing an International Sustainable Energy Agency as we phase out nuclear power. To think we can control the nuclear fuel cycle, saying Brazil and Japan can enrich nuclear fuel, but not Iran, would create a new system of nuclear apartheid, doomed to fail.  Ending the nuclear age would take off the table any plans to go to war against countries with nuclear facilities with which we disagree.

It’s totally naive to think that anything less than the total elimination of nuclear weapons, and their evil twins – nuclear reactors – would actually work.  Let us not condemn our planet to a state of perpetual war – with unimaginable catastrophes.Giving peace a chance by negotiating an end to the nuclear age is the only practical way out of our terrifying dilemma. Let us seize the opportunity of this brief pause on the path to war and move with hope into a nuclear-free 21st Century.

Alice Slater is the New York Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and Convener of the Abolition 2000 Sustainable Energy Working Group

December 11, 2007 at 5:37 pm 1 comment

In Memoriam…Janet Bloomfield, 1953 – 2007

In Memoriam…

Janet Bloomfield

Janet Bloomfield, 1953 – 2007 

In 2005, Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat asked, “Are we going to base our world on a culture of peace or on a culture of violence?” in his message to the 7th Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. 

That message was carried by the Atomic Mirror, for which Janet acted as UK Director until her untimely death on April 2, 2007.

Janet Bloomfield knew the answer to that question and dedicated herself to working with likeminded global citizens who were equally committed to ridding the world of nuclear weapons. 

Janet’s accomplishments are numerous…they include: 

  • Activism in the anti-nuclear movement since 1981.
  • Chairing the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (1993 to 1996) and producing the highly influential “Blueprint for a Nuclear Weapon Free World.”
  • Convenor of the Abolition 2000 Working Group, beloved founding mother of Abolition 2000, and a member of the Global Council of Abolition 2000 the global network to eliminate nuclear weapons.
  • Consultant and Vice-President (1994 -1997) to the Geneva based International Peace Bureau, a Nobel Peace Prize winning network of non-aligned peace organizations in 44 countries, which nominated Joseph Rotblat for the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Organizing and leading the Atomic Mirror Pilgrimage 1996 around nuclear and sacred sites of England, Scotland and Wales, which was filmed and made into a documentary called “Sacred Fire”.
  • Senior consultant on UK Security Policy to the Oxford Research Group.

She leaves behind husband Richard Bloomfield, two children – Lucy and Robin – and countless friends and admirers across the globe.

On April 30th, thousands will begin to convene in Vienna for the 2007 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty prep com meetings.  Janet’s absence will be sorely felt. The anti-nuclear movement lost a valued member on April 2. Janet’s family and friends will stop to mourn, to remember, and to celebrate her legacy. That legacy has and will continue to inspire countless citizens to pick up where Janet left off.

Janet Bloomfield, Sit Jospeph Rotblat, Pamela MeidellFor those of us who also know the answer to Joseph Rotblat’s question, we know what Janet would want us to do…. persevere in our common efforts to make the culture of peace a reality for the sake of our children and their children. 

Rest in peace Janet, your mission is in good hands.

April 5, 2007 at 3:01 pm 30 comments

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