THE BLOG
06/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Cell Phone Video Games -- A New Threat to Nuclear Security

Forget Iran. Forget North Korea. We may turn out to be our own worst nuclear enemy.

Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) Memo #1: Do not let security dudes play video games on their cell phones while guarding nuclear weapons.

Last August, airmen of the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, in North Dakota managed to load six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on to a B-52 and fly them to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana where they sat unattended for hours.

Since then, the Air Force changed commanders at Minot and vowed it would tighten security.

DRTA Memo #2: Let's look at limiting cell phone use by guards to only those times when the base is not being attacked.

Then late last week, Michael Hoffman of The Air Force Times reported that Minot Air Force Base just flunked its latest security test.

Hoffman reported that the Times had obtained a copy of a Defense Threat Reduction Agency report on the test. The DTRA report said "security broke down on multiple levels during simulated attacks across the base, including nuclear weapons storage areas ...Inspectors watched as a security forces airman played video games on his cell phone while standing guard at a "restricted area perimeter ..."

On second thought, maybe those nuclear-tipped cruise missiles were safer unattended on the runway in Louisiana.

DRTA Memo #3 : Question -- if we know it is just a simulated attack, would it be OK if security forces watching over nuclear weapons just sent and/or received the odd text message? Discuss and formulate policy.

The new boss at Minot, Col. Joe Westa, promised the May nuclear surety inspection was going to be "the most scrutinized inspection in the history of time." That made sense given the Air Force's decision, after the mistaken sortie with the nuclear-tipped missiles, to devote one bomber squadron of B-52s solely to the nuclear mission at Minot Air Force Base.

But now Col. Westa must contend with a DTRA report card that shows the following vulnerabilities at the base: security staff who left a maintenance facility vulnerable during the exercise; security forces who didn't properly check a vehicle during the exercise; security forces who didn't properly "clear" a building before entering, allowing "the enemy" to "kill" them; and, of course, the little problem with the cell phone video games. (I wonder if it was one of those "violent" games?)

DRTA Memo #4 -- Do not let the "bad guys" -- even under simulated conditions -- kill security dudes. This could compromise nuclear weapons security. Not to mention having a significant and lasting effect on cell phone reception.

In case you're wondering, the Defense Threat Reduction agency is a "combat support" arm of the Department of Defense. It was created in 1998 and has about 2,000 employees working at 14 locations around the world.

On its website, it describes its mission as safeguarding "America and its allies from Weapons of Mass Destruction (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high explosives) by providing capabilities to reduce, eliminate, and counter the threat, and mitigate its effects."

The DTRA website also says: "Our agency's vision is to make the world safer by reducing the threat of weapons of mass destruction."

And that brings me to a key point. If we are trying to make the world safer, if we are trying to reduce the threat of WMD, doesn't it make sense to think about how we get rid of the weapons themselves? Isn't that common sense threat reduction? It would save a lot of money, too.

Think about it. No nuclear weapons means no nuclear weapons to guard. And it's impossible to send nuclear-tipped Cruise missiles to Louisiana by mistake if you don't have any in the first place.

DTRA Memo #5 -- Consider phased, verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons as a cost-effective and foolproof way of ensuring security dudes get enough time playing video games on their cell phones. US leadership toward reducing the threat in this way could lead to breakthroughs in international co-operation essential to real progress on non-proliferation.

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation is an educational charity that wants to encourage new US nuclear weapons policy. The Foundation is gathering one million signatures in a public education campaign, US Leadership for a Nuclear Weapons-Free World -- An Appeal to the Next President of the United States. The text of the Appeal sets out seven prudent steps -- such as de-alerting nuclear weapons -- that really would make the world safer. The names will be delivered to the White House on Inauguration Day January 20, 2009.

People can read the US Leadership Appeal and sign on at www.wagingpeace.org.