8 years ago
Three ballistic missile crew members in North Dakota fell asleep while holding classified launch code devices this month, triggering an investigation by military and National Security Agency experts, the Air Force said Thursday.
The probe found that the missile launch codes were outdated and remained secure at all times. But the July 12 incident comes on the heels of a series of missteps by the Air Force that had already put the service under intense scrutiny …
Ford and other Air Force officials said the Minot-based crew had code devices that were no longer usable, since new codes had been installed in the missiles.
The three crew members, who are in the 91st Missile Wing, were in the missile alert facility about 70 miles from Minot. That facility includes crew rest areas and sits above the underground control center where the keys can be turned to launch ballistic missiles.
Officials said the three officers were behind locked doors and had with them the old code components, which are large classified devices that allow the crew to communicate with the missiles. Launch codes are part of the component, and the devices were described as large, metal boxes.
Ford said they were waiting to get back to base “and they fell asleep.”
It is not clear how long they were asleep.
There are periodic, regularly scheduled code changes, and there was a crew of four on duty. One of the crew members was not in the room with the other three at the time they fell asleep, the Air Force said.
The investigation concluded that the codes had remained secured in their containers, which have combination locks that can be opened only by the crew. The containers remained with the crew at all times, and the facility is guarded by armed security forces.
The Captain’s Journal knows a Marine who stayed awake for three days and nights in Fallujah in the summer of 2007. Message to the Air Force: suck it up. As for the outdated codes, many more words.
How does this happen? Of course the codes are revised periodically. Where is the independent verification? Where are the signoffs and QA signatures? Where is the oversight? Where is the proper training? What happened to the procedural guidance? What programmatic controls failed, and why?
The Air Force needs a good review of this incident, including but not limited to a Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) and a Management Oversight and Risk Tree analysis (MORT). This cannot happen again.