“I also want to thank Daryl Kimball and the Arms Control Association for allowing me to address all of you today and for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war.”

– Joseph Biden, Jr.
January 28, 2004
June 2018
Edition Date: 
Friday, June 1, 2018
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Saudi Arabia Threatens to Seek Nuclear Weapons

June 2018
By Kingston Reif

In the wake U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to terminate the Iran nuclear deal, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told CNN that “if Iran acquires a nuclear capability, we will do everything we can to do the same.”

The comments echo a similar warning from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in March and could complicate U.S. efforts to negotiate and implement a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the kingdom.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis welcomes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman March 22 at the Pentagon. “If Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” Prince Mohammed told CBS News on March 15. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)“Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” Prince Mohammed told CBS News in a March 15 interview.

Saudi Arabia is a non-nuclear-weapon state-party to the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which prohibits the kingdom from pursuing nuclear weapons development.

Although in the past some Saudi officials and members of the royal family have hinted at matching Iran’s nuclear capability, the recent statements from the Saudi leadership have been far more explicit.

For example, asked by Reuters in January 2016 if Saudi Arabia would seek to acquire nuclear weapons if Iran does, al-Jubeir said, “I don’t think it would be reasonable to expect me to answer this question one way or another.”

Saudi Arabia has been one of the few countries to praise Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, which put significant, long-term constraints on Iran’s nuclear program.

“We believe the nuclear deal was flawed,” al-Jubeir told CNN on May 9. “We believe the deal does not deal with Iran's ballistic missile program nor does it deal with Iran's support for terrorism.”

Neither Trump nor any member of his administration has publicly condemned the Saudi threats to acquire nuclear weapons if Iran does. Some officials have even suggested the administration might look the other way if Saudi Arabia violated its NPT commitment not to acquire nuclear weapons.

When asked later that day to comment on al-Jubier’s comment, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, “Right now, I don’t know that we have a specific policy announcement on that front, but I can tell you that we are very committed to making sure that Iran does not have nuclear weapons.”

Long-standing, bipartisan U.S. policy has been to actively work against the spread of nuclear weapons to any country, friend or foe.

Saudi Arabia’s unabashed nuclear hedging comes as it continues to negotiate a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, known as a 123 agreement, with the Trump administration. (See ACT, April 2018.) A 123 agreement, named after the section of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act that requires it, sets the terms for sharing U.S. nuclear energy technology, equipment, and materials with other countries.

Saudi Arabia has ambitious plans to generate nuclear power, but currently has no nuclear power plants. The kingdom plans to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion, according to the World Nuclear Association. It has solicited bids for the first two reactors and hopes to sign contracts by the end of this year.

A key issue in the negotiations is whether the United States will insist that Saudi Arabia agree to forgo uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing as part of a 123 agreement. These activities are considered sensitive because they can be used to make fuel for nuclear power reactors and produce nuclear explosive material. To date, Saudi Arabia has resisted a ban and suggested that it seeks to make its own fuel.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said May 24 at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that the administration has told the Saudis it wants “a gold standard section 123 agreement from them, which would not permit them to enrich.”

Pompeo’s comments were the first indication that the administration is seeking such an agreement. Other administration officials had refused to say whether the United States was pushing a prohibition on fuel-making activity.

Previously, Energy Secretary Rick Perry had warned lawmakers that if the administration insists on nonproliferation standards Riyadh won’t accept, Russia and China would then win contracts to build reactors in Saudi Arabia and would demand less stringent nonproliferation and security standards than does the United States.

Bipartisan opposition to an agreement that does not block Saudi fuel-making continues to mount. “We need a gold standard, and I’m afraid this administration is already going down the road of, you know, doing something different than that,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told National Journal last month.

Even if the administration does sign a 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia soon, Congress could run out of time to consider it this year.

Once the executive branch submits a signed cooperation agreement to Congress, lawmakers have 90 days in continuous session to consider the pact, after which it automatically becomes law unless Congress adopts a joint resolution opposing it. That time period is rapidly closing due to a shortened election-year calendar.

Saudi comments complicate U.S. efforts to negotiate and implement a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the kingdom.

MOX Facility to Switch to Plutonium Pits

June 2018
By Kingston Reif

The Trump administration is ending a costly, controversial project intended to convert surplus plutonium into power reactor fuel and is proposing to re-engineer the partially constructed facility in South Carolina to provide a second source for plutonium cores for nuclear weapons.

But significant questions remain about whether Congress will back the plan, as well as about the affordability and necessity of the Trump administration’s envisioned production increase for plutonium cores, known as pits, the primary component of nuclear weapons.

A January 31 photo shows the controversial mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication plant under construction in South Carolina. (Photo courtesy of High Flyer © 2018)Energy Secretary Rick Perry submitted a certification to Congress in May that will allow the semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to formally end construction of the mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility at the Energy Department’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina in favor of a cheaper alternative.

Further, the NNSA and Defense Department announced that the half-built facility will be repurposed for pit production, a move likely designed in part to soften the blow to South Carolina from ending the MOX fuel project.

“We are extremely disappointed to hear the Department of Energy plans to abandon the MOX program,” the majority of South Carolina’s congressional delegation said in a May 10 statement. “[T]he MOX program—which is one of the most important nonproliferation programs in the history of the world—is being abandoned without any clear path forward.”

The statement was signed by the state’s two Republican senators, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, and five of its seven members of the House of Representatives. Although the lawmakers expressed support for the opportunity to host the production of plutonium pits at Savannah River, they warned that the department “will encounter a skeptical Congress and American public on any proposal” for a new mission at the site.

The MOX fuel plant, designed to turn 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium from the U.S. nuclear weapons program into power reactor fuel, was plagued by major cost increases and schedule delays. The Energy Department has sought to end the program since 2014 in favor of a cheaper alternative, known as “dilute and dispose.” That process would down-blend the plutonium with an inert material for direct disposal at the deep underground Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

Congress, led by South Carolina’s congressional delegation, blocked the department’s effort to transition to the alternate approach. But the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Donald Trump last November, included a provision allowing the energy secretary to stop construction if there is a cheaper alternative to dispose of the plutonium at “less than approximately half of the estimated remaining [life-cycle] cost” of the MOX fuel program. (See ACT, May 2018.)

According to a report prepared by the NNSA’s independent cost office, certified by Perry, and submitted to Congress on May 10, the dilute-and-dispose process would cost at most $19.9 billion, 40 percent of $49.4 billion cost of continuing the MOX fuel program. The agency is preparing a second, more comprehensive cost analysis planned for release in June or July.

Perry’s certification coincided with the release of a joint statement from NNSA and Defense Department officials announcing that the MOX fuel facility would join Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico in the production of at least 80 pits per year by 2030.

“This two-prong approach—with at least 50 pits per year produced at Savannah River and at least 30 pits per year at Los Alamos—is the best way to manage the cost, schedule, and risk of such a vital undertaking,” the statement said.

The plan, which would involve a smaller production role for Los Alamos than previously expected, lacked such key specifics as the estimated cost to repurpose the MOX fuel facility and produce the pits there.

Safety problems at Los Alamos forced the lab to stop production of plutonium pits from 2013 to 2016. (See ACT, July/August 2017.) Concerns about the safety of plutonium operations at Savannah River also have been documented in recent internal government reports, according to reporting last month by the Center for Public Integrity.

The Trump administration’s report on its Nuclear Posture Review, unveiled Feb. 2, calls for laying the groundwork to provide “capabilities needed to quickly produce new or additional weapons” beyond the 3,800 warheads currently in the active U.S. nuclear stockpile. (See ACT, March 2018.)

One measure of the scale of the plan for building “new or additional weapons” is given in the report’s commitment to “[p]rovide the enduring capability and capacity to produce plutonium pits at a rate of no fewer than 80 pits per year by 2030.” No basis is offered for this minimum capacity target.

In a May 10 statement, four of the five members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, including Democratic Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, criticized the proposal to split the plutonium-production mission between Los Alamos and Savannah River.

“Instead of wasting billions of dollars exploring the construction of a new facility that will likely never be completed somewhere else, the Department of Energy should immediately move forward with the new, modular plutonium facilities at Los Alamos—as originally endorsed by both Congress and the Nuclear Weapons Council,” they said in their statement.

Other critics of the new plan argue that there is no need to expand plutonium pit production and that the NNSA can use pits from dismantled weapons if more are needed to sustain
the arsenal.

“There is no explanation why the Department of Defense requires at least 80 pits per year, and no justification to the American taxpayer why the enormous expense of expanded production is necessary,” Jay Coghlan, the director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said in a May 10 press release.

Ending construction of a mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication plant followsyears of controversy and cost overruns.

UN Unveils Broad Disarmament Agenda

June 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

UN Secretary-General António Guterres last month presented a broad new UN strategy for disarmament, stressing a renewed urgency as “our world is going backwards” toward a new nuclear arms race.

The backdrop for his agenda, Guterres noted, is an increasingly bleak disarmament environment, including a lack of strategic dialogue among the nuclear-weapon states, the return of chemical weapons use, and the rise of conflicts that are deadly for civilians.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres presents a new UN strategy for disarmament in a speech at the University of Geneva May 24. (Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)Reflecting that, Guterres’ 87-page agenda is far more wide-ranging than the five-point nuclear disarmament proposal advanced in 2008 by his immediate predecessor, Ban Ki-Moon. “Disarmament concerns every country, and all weapons, from hand grenades to hydrogen bombs,” Guterres said in his speech May 24 at the University of Geneva.

Guterres’ comprehensive approach will please many constituencies, but its breadth may make it difficult to focus and make progress on individual issues. But he said that the elimination of nuclear weapons “remains our priority,” and he appealed specifically to the United States and Russia to “resolve their dispute” over the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which is due to expire in three years; and to “take new steps toward reducing nuclear stockpiles.”

The UN chief, who took office in January 2017, expressed concern that existing U.S.-Russian arms control agreements are “threatened as never before” and that there currently are no talks between the two powers on further reducing nuclear arsenals.

Izumi Nakamitsu, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, consulted with civil society organizations to prepare the new agenda. It puts forward recommendations for actions to promote the disarmament of weapons of mass destruction, restrictions on conventional weapons, and monitoring and restriction of emerging weaponized technology.

On nuclear weapons, Guterres embraced a robust set of initiatives, including encouraging states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), to negotiate a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), establish a zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, pursue nuclear risk reduction measures, and develop nuclear disarmament verification standards and techniques.

Guterres also recommended that all states affirm the norm against the use of nuclear weapons and that nuclear-weapon states should stand behind U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s assertion that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

None of these suggestions are new, and many have languished, some for decades, in international forums such as the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review meetings and the Conference on Disarmament. But nuclear disarmament verification has seen recent progress, including the creation of the 2014 International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification, and the 2018 UN Group of Governmental Experts on the same subject.

Ban’s proposal made many of same recommendations, including the entry into force of the CTBT and the negotiation of an FMCT, although it had a stronger emphasis on beginning negotiations leading toward disarmament. Guterres supported these negotiations, although he suggested first generating dialogue and building confidence in formal and informal settings. In response to a question, Guterres called the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons enormously important and said that it could instigate further action on disarmament.

Guterres stressed the need for accountability for the use of chemical and biological weapons. He pledged to work with UN Security Council members to create a mechanism to identify responsible actors for chemical weapons use and to work with the UN General Assembly to create a standing capacity to investigate allegations of biological weapons use.

On May 18, the International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons released a statement supporting the call for a special meeting of the Chemical Weapons Convention conference of states-parties to explore options to restore accountability for chemical weapons use. The UN Security Council has failed to adopt a resolution creating a new chemical weapons accountability body after the previous one expired in November 2017 due to repeated Russian vetoes, most recently on April 10 (See ACT, May 2018.)

Turning to conventional weapons, Guterres expressed the need to protect civilians in conflict, including by raising awareness of the impact of explosive devices in populated areas and sharing best practices among states. Citing a lack of coordination among UN agencies working to prevent the spread of small arms and light weapons, Guterres announced that he would establish a “dedicated facility” to support governmental action to control these weapons.

Looking ahead, Guterres urged all states to consider the implications of new weapons technologies and their compatibility with international law. Addressing an audience mainly of students, he emphasized the crucial
role of young people in addressing future weapons technology and promoting disarmament.

“I hope you will use your power and your connections to advocate for a peaceful world free from nuclear weapons, in which weapons are controlled and regulated and resources are directed towards opportunity and prosperity for all.”

Secretary-General Guterres warns that “our world is going backwards” toward a new nuclear arms race.

Firearm Export Rule Change Draws Criticism

June 2018
By Jeff Abramson

With proposed rule changes affecting U.S. firearms exports, the Trump administration is drawing criticism from domestic gun control advocates and taking a further step to promote weapons sales, a hallmark of this presidency.

The proposed changes, announced May 14 and published in the Federal Register on May 24, are open for public comment for 45 days. If implemented, licensing for the export of nonautomatic and semiautomatic firearms and their ammunition will move to the Commerce Department from the State Department, which administers the U.S. Munitions List.

Semiautomatic rifles are displayed for sale in a Las Vegas gun shop on October 4, 2017. The Trump administration has proposed new rules that critics say will ease licensing for exports of nonautomatic and semiautomatic firearms. (Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)Critics say the change will loosen U.S. control over such exports to the benefit of U.S. gun manufacturers. “Small arms and light weapons are among the most lethal weapons that we and other countries export because these are the weapons that are most likely to be used to commit atrocities and suppress human rights, either by individuals, nonstate groups, or governmental security and paramilitary forces,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said on May 15.

Mike Miller, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said on May 22 that the change is justified because the weapons involved are “widely available, generally in retail outlets.” He noted that the categories of firearms moved to Commerce “will remain subject to export licensing requirements” and asserted that “these changes do not decontrol export of firearms and ammunition.”

In 2017 the administration notified Congress of more than $660 million of proposed firearms sales regulated under the munitions list, according to the Security Assistance Monitor. Some of those sales involved fully automatic weapons that will remain on the Munitions List, making it difficult to estimate the retail value of items moving to licensing at Commerce. Nonetheless, many industry groups welcomed the changes.

President Donald Trump has frequently touted the economic benefits of arms sales. In April, the administration issued a conventional arms transfer policy that emphasized the economic value of the defense industry broadly and promised the executive branch would “advocate strongly” on behalf of U.S. companies. (See ACT, May 2018.)

Miller said that “he wouldn’t necessarily pin [the proposed regulation changes] directly” to the new conventional arms transfer policy, but others including Democratic lawmakers have pointed to gun manufacturers and their supporters as the driving force behind the proposed rules. “I encourage the American people and relevant stakeholders to weigh in with the administration and speak out against the forces really driving this policy change—the gun lobby,” said Cardin.

Local news media in Connecticut and Florida reported that Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Reps. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) also criticized the president for aligning with gun manufacturers. A number of gun control advocates also oppose the proposed change, including Robin Lloyd, director of government affairs at Giffords, the gun safety group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her husband, retired U.S. Navy Captain Mark Kelly.

“It’s clear the administration will do anything to appease the gun lobby, even if it means putting profits over the safety of people around the world,” Lloyd said.

Efforts to revise the U.S. Munitions List have been ongoing for decades, but early in the Obama administration, the Export Control Reform Initiative was launched, based on a review that found the United States was “trying to control too much.” Seeking to “strengthen the United States’ ability to counter threats such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” the administration made changes to 18 of the 21 categories of major weapons and technology controlled under the munitions list, moving many items to the Commerce Control List, with an idea of building higher fences around fewer items.

Changes to the first three categories, which cover close-assault weapons and combat shotguns, guns and armaments, and their ammunition and ordnance, were considered by the Obama administration, but never published. The Obama-era delay can be attributed in part to the frequent national attention drawn to firearms by mass shootings in the United States and a presidency more inclined to support gun control efforts. On May 15, Cardin called the decision to move forward with changes “politically tone deaf as our nation reckons with a gun violence epidemic.”

In September 2017, Cardin, joined by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressing concerns about the possible transfer to Commerce control, pointing to congressional action in 2002 that required firearms sales valued at $1 million or more be notified to Congress, a much lower dollar threshold than for other weapons. Items moved over to Commerce control would no longer be subject to such notification.

With the rule release, Cardin and others reiterated their concern regarding loss of congressional oversight and broader worries about how firearms fuel conflict.

Critics say proposed shift to Commerce Department licensing will ease regulation on exports of nonautomatic and semiautomatic firearms.

China Develops, Deploys New Missiles

China is advancing its missile capabilities, with the official deployment of an intermediate-range ballistic missile and the reported development of a nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missile. Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian told reporters on April 26 that China had deployed its first intermediate-range ballistic missile, the DF-26. The missile has a range of 4,000 kilometers and was first unveiled in September 2015. (See ACT, June 2016.) The U.S. Defense Department said that China had deployed the missile in a 2017 report on Chinese military developments. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

Military vehicles carrying China’s DF-26 ballistic missiles are displayed at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on September 3, 2015 during a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of victory over Japan and the end of World War II. (Photo: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)China tested the air-launched ballistic missile, designated as CH-AS-X-13 by the United States, five times between 2016 and January 2018, according to an April report in The Diplomat. The U.S. intelligence community assesses that the missile will be ready for deployment by 2025, according to a source who spoke to The Diplomat. No other country has deployed this missile type, although others have developed it. In March, Russian President Vladimir Putin introduced the Kinzhal missile, which some analysts have characterized as an air-launched hypersonic cruise missile.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

China Develops, Deploys New Missiles

Trump Weighs Creating a ‘Space Force’

President Donald Trump said he is weighing the creation of a sixth branch of the military, a space force, “because we’re getting very big in space, both militarily and for other reasons.” Trump made the comment May 1, while speaking to the U.S. Military Academy’s Black Knights football team at the White House. Trump previously floated the idea in March, when he told troops at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station near San Diego that “my new national strategy for space recognizes that space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air, and sea.” Currently, the Air Force’s Space Command is responsible for elements of military activities related to space and cyberspace.

Military activities are constrained by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which bans the stationing of weapons of mass destruction in outer space, prohibits military activities on celestial bodies, and details legally binding rules governing the peaceful exploration and use of space. The UN General Assembly has passed a resolution annually urging all states to refrain from actions contrary to the peaceful use of outer space and calling for negotiation in the Conference on Disarmament on a multilateral agreement to prevent an arms race in outer space.—TERRY ATLAS

Trump Weighs Creating a ‘Space Force’

Ex-Spy Survives Nerve Agent Poisoning

Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal was diYulia Skripal, who was poisoned along with her father, Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal, speaks to news media representatives in London on May 23. (Photo: Dylan Martinez/AFP/Getty Images)scharged from a UK hospital, two months after being poisoned with a nerve agent on March 4. His daughter Yulia, also poisoned, was discharged in early April and moved to a secure location. Although Russia has denied responsibility, UK officials have blamed Moscow for the use of a toxin known as Novichok against the Skripals. At a May 18 news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin disputed UK allegations, saying that “if, as our British colleagues have insisted, a military-grade poison had been used, the man would have died right away.” Noting his hospital discharge, Putin wished Skripal “good health.”—TERRY ATLAS


Ex-Spy Survives Nerve Agent Poisoning

Pakistan Advances Sea Leg of Triad

Pakistan’s conducted its second test of the Babur-3 nuclear-capable, sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) in late March, more than a year after its first test, in January 2017. The continuing Pakistani development of the sea-based nuclear deterrent is a response to India’s triad of land-, sea-, and air-launched nuclear weapons. A Pakistani military statement, without citing India by name, states that the Babur-3 will provide a “credible second-strike capability, augmenting existing deterrence” especially in light of “provocative nuclear strategies and posture being pursued in the neighborhood through induction of nuclear submarines and ship-borne nuclear missiles.”

As with the 2017 test, the Babur-3 was reported by the Pakistani military to have an estimated range of 450 kilometers and to have “successfully” hit its target with “precise accuracy.” (See ACT, March 2017.) Slight differences include the military reporting that the missile launched from a “dynamic” underwater platform, rather than a “mobile” one, and video released by the military seems to confirm the missile ejecting horizontally, which could eventually lead to deployment through submarine torpedo tubes rather than a vertical launch system. The Babur-3 SLCM is widely expected to be carried on Pakistan’s diesel-powered Agosta 90B submarine.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Pakistan Advances Sea Leg of Triad

Putin Says New ICBM Set for 2020

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia’s new, heavy, long-range missile, capable of carrying up to 15 independently targetable nuclear warheads, will be operational in 2020, the Russian state news agency Tass reported May 18. The RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has been under development since the 2000s to replace the R-36M2 Voevoda ICBM operational since 1988, Tass said. The missile system is one of the weapons Russia is advancing to reduce the impact of U.S. missile defenses on Russia’s nuclear deterrent. Putin told the same meeting of military and defense sector officials that Russia will deploy the Avangard hypersonic-glider warhead beginning in 2019, according to Russia’s RT news service. RT described the Avangard as able to carry a nuclear warhead through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds, making it virtually impossible to intercept.—TERRY ATLAS

Putin Says New ICBM Set for 2020

Missile Security Airmen Used LSD

U.S. Air Force personnel bought, distributed, and used the hallucinogen LSD and other mind-altering illegal drugs as part of a ring that operated undetected for months on a highly secure missile base in Wyoming, according to Air Force records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by The Associated Press.

A member of the U.S. Air Force 90th Security Forces Squadron patrols the fence in the weapons storage area at F.E Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., on January 26. The Associated Press reported on a drug ring that operated on the base in 2016. (Photo: Breanna Carter/U.S. Air Force)In a news report May 24, AP said their actions were uncovered only after a “slipup on social media by one airman” enabled investigators to crack the drug ring at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in March 2016. Fourteen airmen were disciplined. Six of them were convicted in courts-martial of LSD use, distribution, or both.

The drug use, which reportedly occurred during off-duty hours, was by service members from the 90th Missile Wing, which operates one-third of the 400 Minuteman III missiles on alert in underground silos scattered across the northern Great Plains. “There are multiple checks to ensure airmen who report for duty are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs and are able to execute the mission safely, securely and effectively,” an Air Force spokesman, Lt. Col. Uriah L. Orland, told the news service.

Most of the airmen cited were members of two related security units at F.E. Warren: the 790th Missile Security Forces Squadron and the 90th Security Forces Squadron. Together, they are responsible for the security and defense of the nuclear weapons there, as well as the missile complex.—TERRY ATLAS

Missile Security Airmen Used LSD


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