A Matter of Perspective

One of the lingering questions that we have had over the firing of USAF’s leadership exactly two months ago today is how Defense Secretary Robert Gates could claim that then-Secretary Michael Wynne and retired Gen. Michael Moseley, then Chief of Staff, applied increased attention to the issue of nuclear weapons stewardship “only after two internationally sensitive incidents.” After all, this comment, made by Gates during a press briefing on June 5, seemingly dismissed the significant actions taken by the service leadership after it learned of the mistaken transfer of cruise missile nuclear warheads from Minot AFB, N.D., to Barksdale AFB, La., in August 2007. This incident came to light months before the errant shipment of Minuteman III ICBM components to Taiwan. Although the Taiwan shipment actually occurred in August 2006, it did not come to the attention of the Air Force or Pentagon leadership until March 2008 and, by then, many of USAF’s corrective actions resulting from the Minot-to-Barksdale case were already underway. Therefore, we have assumed that Gates considered the Minot incident as the first cause for his alarm. But Gates’ spokesman Geoff Morrell tells the Daily Report that this is not the case. “The first incident was the Taiwan incident. It was followed by the Minot incident. It wasn’t until after the Minot incident, the second incident chronologically, that the Air Force began to take corrective measures,” he explained. But doesn’t the fact that the Air Force leadership didn’t know about the mistaken Taiwan shipment until March 2008 matter? Not so, according to Morrell. “That doesn’t absolve you of responsibility,” he said. Indeed as stewards of these weapons, “chief among” USAF’s obligations is to know “what is going on” with them, he said. (For more read Increased Attention)