Pentagon’s secret issue with U.S. nuclear inspections

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The Pentagon has made secret the safety and security of its nuclear weapons operations which have a record of periodic inspection failures and reports of low morale.

Although they will no longer be made public, overall results of routine inspections at nuclear weapons bases, such as a “pass-fail” grade, were previously available.

According to an exclusive report by the Associated Press, the new policy was implemented to prevent adversaries from gaining too much knowledge about U.S. nuclear weapons vulnerabilities.

Navy Capt. Greg Hicks, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the new protocol is necessary.

“We are comfortable with the secrecy,” Hicks said Monday, contending that it helps ensure that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, the U.S. will maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear stockpile.”

Critics have a different perspective.

“The whole thing smells bad,” said Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert with the Federation of American Scientists. “They’re acting like they have something to hide, and it’s not national security secrets.”

“I think the new policy fails to distinguish between protecting valid secrets and shielding incompetence,” he said. “Clearly, nuclear weapons technology secrets should be protected. But negligence or misconduct in handling nuclear weapons should not be insulated from public accountability.”

The AP reported that “The decision to conceal results from inspections of how nuclear weapons are operated, maintained and guarded follows a secret recommendation generated by in-depth Pentagon reviews of problems with the weapons, workers and facilities making up the nation’s nuclear force.”

In March, the Pentagon began phasing in the new policy, affecting the Navy, which operates the ballistic missile submarine segment of the nuclear force, and the Air Force, which operates land-based nuclear missiles and nuclear bombers.

The Pentagon revised the protocol by rewriting an “instruction” issued by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s office. The revision is not available to the public.

Hicks said the instruction is not classified but is authorized for “limited” distribution, which guards it from release.

Asked why policy was changed, Hicks cited the 2014 Pentagon review that recommended that the Air Force “adopt the Navy’s policy” on classification of nuclear inspection results. “The elevated security classification” limits the amount of “potentially vulnerable information to adversary forces,” Hicks said.

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