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Letter to The Honorable Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense


Location: Washington, DC

Kerry, Casey Demand Gates Explain Missing Nuclear Weapon Parts

Sens. John Kerry and Bob Casey today called on U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to explain how 1,000 sensitive nuclear missile parts could have gone missing.

"Yesterday's revelation that the Administration has reportedly lost track of a 1,000 sensitive nuclear missile components is only the latest reminder of how this President has dangerously compromised our nuclear security," said Sen. Kerry. "While George Bush and John McCain were preoccupied with the misguided war in Iraq, they lost sight of the real danger - terrorists getting their hands on the world's most dangerous weapons. This is just another in a series of nuclear debacles that have happened on this Administration's watch. America deserves a President who will make securing nuclear materials - rather than losing them - a top priority."

"I have serious concerns over the growing pattern of negligent conduct by the Executive Branch when it comes to tracking and safeguarding our nuclear weapons and related components," said Sen. Casey. "It astonishes me that the Air Force is losing track of the most dangerous weapons in our military arsenal, especially when nuclear terrorism represents the gravest threat to our national security. I urge Secretary of Defense Gates to undertake a thorough review of the process by which our nation safeguards its nuclear stockpile."

The missing nuclear weapon components follow a series of serious errors by the Bush Administration. In 2006, the US military shipped four nuclear-missile detonators to Taiwan. It took over a year before the error was identified. In another misstep, a B-52 bomber loaded with nuclear-armed missiles was flown across the country to Louisiana.

The full text of Sens. Kerry's and Casey's letter is as follows:

June 20, 2008

The Honorable Robert Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We write to express grave concerns over continuing reports that the U.S. Air Force may be compromising our national security as a result of inadequate safeguards on its stockpiles of nuclear weapons and related components.

According to yesterday's press reports, the U.S. military cannot account for over 1,000 critical nuclear missile components and seems unable to provide an accurate inventory for the total number of such components in its nuclear arsenal. This latest alleged problem, when viewed against the backdrop of a series of related errors, raises legitimate concerns about the security of our country's nuclear weapons arsenal.

Yesterday's revelations come on the heels of your recent termination of both the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff and Air Force Secretary following an investigation by Admiral Kirkland Donald that found "[a] gradual erosion of nuclear standards and a lack of effective oversight by Air Force leadership."

Indeed, a series of incidents unmistakably conveys a lax approach to nuclear security by the Air Force. In August 2007, a B-52 bomber accidentally and unknowingly flew six nuclear weapons across the country. In March 2008, we learned that the Defense Logistics Agency accidentally transported four nuclear missile detonators to Taiwan in August 2006. Even more alarming was the fact that the U.S. military reportedly did not learn of the detonators' location until contacted by Taiwanese defense officials more than 18 months later. More recently, an internal Air Force study obtained under the Freedom of Information Act concluded that U.S. nuclear bombs are stored at several air bases in Europe that fail basic security requirements.

This disturbing pattern is simply unacceptable and raises serious questions about the Air Force's stewardship and oversight of the world's most dangerous weapons. In light of these errors, we respectfully request that you confirm what steps have been taken to reestablish positive control over nuclear and nuclear-related components, confirm that all nuclear and nuclear-related components are accounted for, and discuss any ongoing efforts to improve oversight and record-keeping of nuclear and nuclear-related components. We also ask that you comment on the adequacy of security arrangements in place in countries where U.S. nuclear weapons are based, including in Europe, and advise us of any ongoing improvements in this area.

Thank you for your consideration of this request. There is simply no single matter that is more serious than the security of our nation's nuclear weapons. We look forward to hearing from you on this critical issue.


John F. Kerry

Robert P. Casey, Jr.
Cc: Acting Air Force Secretary Michael Donley

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