How Chinese Military Hackers Took Over a Nuclear-Armed B52 (2007)
By William Thomas
Sept. 22, 2007
The story sounded like a sequel to “Dr. Strangelove”. Leaked by the Pentagon’s news service, Military Affairs to quell scuttlebutt racing through the ranks-and perhaps warn the world-a U.S. Air Force B-52 strategic bomber “mistakenly” loaded with six nuclear cruise missiles took off from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota on August 30, 2007 and flew for more than three hours over at least five states, before landing at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
The mistake was so egregious, the National Command Authority comprising President George BU.S.h and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates were quickly informed. The SecDef has since been assured that nuclear weapons “were part of a routine transfer between the two bases… at no time was the public in danger.”
Both statements are false.
In fact, nuclear weapons like these are carefully crated for shipment between bases, and placed inside the bomb bays or cargo compartments of transporting aircraft. In stunning contrast, this reporter has learned from two independent and highly placed sources that the six Advanced Cruise Missiles dangling from the B-52’s fatigued and flexible wings were fully armed and ready to fire-except for a single fail/safe switch under the Command Pilot’s control.
The quickly blacked out episode has prompted an Air Force investigation. Gates, whose official defense computer was hacked last June, necessitating the shutdown of the entire SecDef network, has ordered daily briefings on the Air Force inquiry. The Minot base commander, who might turn out to be the hero in this frightening affair, was relieved of his command.
DR. STRANGELOVE VISITS BOURBON STREET
As far as anyone knows, no U.S. aircraft has ever been armed with a full wartime loadout of six nuclear weapons. “Nothing like this has ever been reported before and we have been assured for decades that it was impossible,” declared Representative Markey, co-chair of the House Task Force on Nonproliferation. [AP Sept 5/07; Seattle Times Sept 5/07]
Hans Kristensen, an expert on U.S. nuclear forces, says he knows of no other publicly acknowledged case of live nuclear weapons being flown on bombers since the late 1960s. [http://ace.mu.nu]
Director Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” was released in 1964 Each of the six ACMs carried a “dialable” 150-kiloton W80-1 warhead–for a combined total of 60-times the destructive power of the bomb that melted the city and inhabitants of Hiroshima–over the unsuspecting residents of five states. Depending on the route flown, a half-dozen armed nuclear weapons wafted for three-and-a-half hours over North Dakota and either South Dakota or Minnesota, Nebraska or Missouri, Oklahoma or Arkansas, and Louisiana.
It’s no secret that Dick Cheney and his presidential surrogate intend to bomb Iran into the Kingdom to Come. [BBC News Aug 29/07]
But New Orleans? “What does the government have against Louisiana?” asked a blogger named Lobster Martini. [www.democraticunderground.com]
The “mistake” was supposedly discovered when the B-52 landed at Barskdale, where the plane should have been secured by an armed security detail. Instead, it simply parked on the flight line, where ground crew noticed the words “nuclear armed” stenciled on the sides of the missiles. [ ]
Three officers confirmed the warheads were, in Bush’s argot, “nucular.” But the mission could have ended in a “broken arrow” nuclear calamity if the bomber had crashed, or inadvertently dropped its ordnance. Munitions, and even entire engines-such as the No. 1 turbine that fell off an American Airlines DC 10 after taking off from Chicago’s O’Hare airport in May, 1979, killing two people on the ground and all 271 people onboard-occasionally drop from underwing pylons in flight. [Chicago Tribune May 26-30/79; National Transportation Safety Board Aircraft Accident Report NSTB-AAR-79-17]
A few other examples: — A B-36 ferrying a nuclear weapon from Biggs Air Force Base, Texas to Kirtland accidentally drops a bomb in the New Mexico desert.
[ww.nuclearfiles.org] – A fighter pilot accidentally dropped a BDU-33 dummy bomb into a house, narrowly missing a family of three. [www.f-117a.com ]
– A 500-pound bomb fell from an FA-18 plane during a routine training exercise and exploded on the edge of a U.S. base 100 miles north of Sarajevo. [ AP July 17/02]
– A National Guard F-16 fighter jet on a nighttime training mission strafed an elementary school in New Jersey with 25 rounds of depleted uranium ammunition. [AP Nov 4/04]
– Another U.S. Air Force practice bomb accidentally on the Yorkshire countryside in England. [ BBC Jan 12/04]
– Electromagnetic interference from military transmitters may have caused an F-16 jet to accidentally drop a 500 pound bomb on rural West Georgia. [Montreal Gazette May 12/89]
A crash, mid-air explosion or structural breakup-not uncommon occurrences with heavily-laden B-52s-could have ignited the high explosives used to implode the warheads. The ultimate dirty bomber’s fantasy could have seen plutonium–the deadliest substance ever conjured by humans-raining down over what would become a statewide “national sacrifice zone”, off-limits to all life-forms for more than 4 billion years.
Barksdale AFB is no stranger to nuclear accidents. On July 6, 1959, a C-124 “Flying Boxcar” crashed on takeoff, completely destroying the aircraft and the nuclear weapon it was carrying. [www.cdi.org]
[See: “Broken Arrows” ]
The Air Combat Command has ordered a command-wide stand down for September 14, 2007 to “review procedures.” Though they actually responded flawlessly to apparently authentic orders, the highly trained specialists who carried out the nuclear loadout have been temporarily “decertified” from handling nukes. Representative Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called the mishandling of arms capable of destroying cities “deeply disturbing. There is no more serious issue than the security and proper handling of nuclear weapons.”
[AP Sept 5/07]
The crewdogs who flew their assigned mission without mishap have been ordered not to mention that all pilots are required to perform a “walk around” inspection of their airplanes and calculate elaborate “weight-and-balance” graphs before attempting to aviate. Failure to notice or be informed of the much heavier nuclear casings on the missiles they were carrying would have jeopardized flight safety. According to a well-informed and extremely thorough U.S. military source I call “Hank” (with whom I have broken major stories over the past 15 years), someone “must have adjusted the bomber’s balance. It had to have been done.”
In addition to knowing what is externally attached to their airplane, the amount of paperwork, signatures, and discrete passwords involved in releasing a nuclear weapon from its storage bunker and loading it onto an airframe are more formidable than flak.
And there were six of them.
PICKUP AND DELIVERY
The coded message to upload and launch the B-52 from Minot with six live nuclear weapons carried the signature of the “football” containing the day’s nuclear launch codes that is carried close to the president at all times by a specially detailed aide. After checking and counter-checking their coded orders, as few as a dozen people in uniform were actually involved in the subsequent secret nuclear mission. According to Hank, at least three high-ranking officers were escorted into Minot AFB’s nuclear arms bunker after passing through multiple doors secured by pass codes, whose complete sequences were supplied each officer, who only knew part of each code. One hiccup, a fumbled code sequence, or “the wrong wrench” would have cancelled the loadout instantly.
Because the base had stood down for Labor Day, the timing was ideal for security. In his standing orders for August 30, 2007, 5th Bomb Wing commander Colonel Bruce Emig encouraged his troops to “Enjoy a safe Labor Day weekend.
“Warbirds, It’s hard to believe that Labor Day weekend is already here!” the colonel wrote. “Though cooler temperatures are right around the corner, the weather forecasters tell me that we should have a warm, summer-like weekend. Since Air Combat Command and Air Force Space Command have declared Friday a Family Day, many of you should be able to enjoy a nice, 4-day break as we transition from summer to fall. I wish all of you a relaxing and enjoyable time off, and urge you all once again to please keep safety in mind in all you do!” [www.libertypost.org]
Under a bomber’s nuclear umbrella in a discrete corner of the sprawling airbase, air, ground and ordnance crews did not converse with each other. Or anyone else. Everyone involved knew better than to ask questions that could abruptly end their careers by inadvertently tipping people who did not need to know.
Within hours, an airplane with a wingspan longer than the Wright Brothers’ first flight was safely loaded with avgas, sandwiches, and six nuclear weapons. Uploaded to the bomber using an accordion cradle on each missile trolley, each Advanced Cruise Missile was fueled once it was secured to a hard point under the aircraft’s wings.
Because the ACMs were not inside a bomb bay, where they could be armed in flight, each underslung missile had to be fully armed before takeoff. “Wing walker” is not a B-52 job description. The plates connecting the firing circuits of each warhead to the cockpit were then activated, and the safeties were pulled from each clearly marked “nuclear weapon”-rendering it “live”. For the Explosive Ordnance Disposal detail who performed the loadout, there could be no doubt they were activating six nuclear weapons.
Alarms on the flight line should have sounded as soon as they sniffed hot ions leaking from the pulled pile rods in six slowly fissioning warheads. But the alarms remain silenced. That order, Hank insisted, could only have come under the properly coded signature of the National Command Authority-Commander-in-Chief G.W. Bush or Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates.
The ensuing takeoff was an event branded on the central nervous system of every creature in auditory range as eight jet engines at maximum takeoff thrust levitated six missiles, up to 46,000 gallons of fuel, and an airplane the length of a 150-foot ship into a blue yonder that had just become much wilder. Everyone within miles knew that a B-52 had come into Minot and taken off again. But only God and the devil knew where it was going. [www.boeing.com]
And they weren’t saying.
In the silence left by this momentous departure, if there were questions, nobody voiced them. Perhaps there were a few quietly delivered high-fives instead. Despite the high stress that runs counter to every human instinct, everyone involved had carried out their assigned duties with complete attention to the details required to launch a half-dozen live nuclear weapons “safely”. The professionally conducted operation was carried off in complete secrecy, without a hitch, only after the loadout and launch order had been digitally confirmed as coming from the NCA. There was only one problem regarding the originators of those orders, Hank emailed me:
“IT WAS NOT US.”
FAULTY (COMPUTER) TOWERS
Let us quickly review. My earlier exclusive on my former website, willthomas.net, disclosed how in October 2006, North Korea’s leaders asked China to take out Japan’s shiny new recon satellite before it could be tasked by American officers to monitor Pyongyang’s first atomic test. Blowing up someone’s satellite is an act of war. But overriding its “Made In China” microchips with a remote command from the ground could never be proven. Even if no solar flares were recorded at the time. This first Chinese demo got the Pentagon’s attention. After all, their stated goal of “Full Spectrum Dominance” over Earth’s land, seas, airspace and electromagnetic spectrum depends on America’s successful weaponization of space. But as the Joint Chiefs are only now discovering, many of the supposedly secure chips in America’s civilian infrastructure-as well as all military communications, surveillance and weapons systems-have been “Wal-Marted” by U.S. corporations to low-bid Chinese suppliers-who rigged them for failure or takeover by “command override” in the event of war.
[See: “Faulty Microchips Threaten U.S. Attack On Iran” ]
SEE DICK RUN
The second demonstration of China’s newfound capabilities to manipulate microchips came in late February 2007, when Dick Cheney’s 757, flying home from Australia where the Vice President had not been well received by the locals, was forced to divert to Singapore. In a story intriguingly tagged, “U.S. Denies Cheney Forced To Land,” Agence France-Presse reported that the White House admitted the Vice-President’s “specially secured” Boeing 757 had “suffered electrical problems” before landing in Singapore. But Cheney spinner Lea Anne McBride insisted, “This was the preplanned, scheduled refueling stop. We were not diverted. The vice president did not get off the plane during his refueling stop.” [AFP Feb 26/07]
Wrong again. According to U.S. military personnel present on the tarmac at Paya Lebar Air Base-who according to Hank said were “trying to yak with the locals: ‘Can you get us this part? Do you have a Radio Shack?’”-a small Chinese delegation met with Cheney outside his electronically-challenged aircraft. Wandering in and out of the brief conversation, Hank’s sources described the brief encounter, which occurred shortly after 1400 hours Singapore time.
Disembarking Air Force One, Cheney said something like, “Gosh, we got this kind of interesting problem…”
“No, you don’t understand sir,” a Chinese official interrupted. “This is how we brought you here. And this is why.”
Cheney’s visitors itemized the separately wired galley stoves, reading lights, in-flight video, and power outlets onboard the Vice President’s aircraft that had all conked out in flight. They knew this, they said, because the electronic signals that had disabled the microchips controlling these various devices had been directed by their government. In an impressive feat, the Chinese military had located and selectively targeted a stealthy aircraft painted with radar-absorbent materials flying at nearly 500 knots at 35,000 feet without a public itinerary.
According to Hank’s boots-on-the-tarmac sources, the mostly one-way conversation in Singapore concerned “Gulf of Tonkin possibilities.”
“They reached out and touched someone,” Hank related. “They had a message they wanted to get across: ‘You’ve got ships out there in the Gulf. If this thing cooks off, all bets are off because some of the things that are put out there, we are really now wanting people to talk about.’”
The Chinese were referring to their control of most of the microchips on this planet.
A very thoughtful Dick Cheney departed two hours later.
OPENING THE GATES
The next Chinese digital demo came last June. In what came to be called “the most successful cyber attack ever mounted on the U.S. defence department,” Chinese military hacked into a Pentagon computer network serving the defense secretary’s personal office. Like their American counterparts, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) regularly probes U.S. military networks. But American officials said these latest cyber attack caused grave concern when China demonstrated it “could disrupt U.S. defenses systems at critical times.”
“The PLA has demonstrated the ability to conduct attacks that disable our system… and the ability in a conflict situation to re-enter and disrupt on a very large scale,” revealed a former official, adding that the PLA has also penetrated the networks of U.S. arms corporations and war-launching think-tanks. [Financial Times Sept 3/07]
A Chinese official named Jiang repeated his government’s denial that it had penetrated other government and military computer networks. But British and German newspapers cited intelligence and other officials saying that government and military networks in Germany, the United States and Britain had been broken into by Chinese army hackers this summer. According to the Associated Press: “China’s military has openly discussed using cyber attacks as a means of harrying or defeating a more powerful conventional military. In a 1999 paper on unconventional strategies titled ‘Unlimited Warfare’ two top Chinese military figures wrote that a hacker could have more power than a nuclear bomb.”
In a report this year, security software maker Symantec Corp. listed China as having the second most malicious computer activity in the world-after the United States. [AP Sept 6/07]
Speaking as a soldier, Hank commented, “The June hack showed an enormous hole in our ability to protect and communicate our information.
LOST IN SPACE
The next hack came almost immediately, when Russian computers controlling the International Space Station’s orientation and supplies of oxygen and water inexplicably failed while the station’s three crewmembers were hosting seven visiting shuttle astronauts.
Among the station’s network of six Russian computers, only two remained functioning. A system-wide re-boot usually resolved smaller hitches, But this time, the system was unable to re-boot.
“A failure of this type has not occurred before,” the BBC reported. [BBC June 14/07]
“This is serious,” stated James Oberg, a retired rocket scientist turned author and consultant. “These computers run their life support, so if they can’t be restored, the space station could become uninhabitable.” Oberg added, “Statistically, this is not random. There is some new environmental factor that must identified and isolated, and neither step is trivial.” [TechNewsWorld June 14/07]
Russian flight controllers and onboard engineers traced the problem to “odd readings” in electrical power cables feeding the Russian computers through a corroded junction box labeled BOK 3. [Space.com July 16/07]
The gremlins returned to the Russian machines on February 5, when another ISS computer system crashed in the Zvezda Service Module that routes data between orientation sensors and four positioning gyroscopes. The space station’s solar power stopped supplying power, and communications were cut with Earth.
Though power and comms were restored three hours later, New Scientist reports, “The cause of the computer crash remains a mystery. NASA has so far not identified the cause of the crash.” [New Scientist Feb 5/02]
But Hank was on it. “They had limited oxygen, a limited time frame,” he observed. The astronauts onboard the space station didn’t know if the next computer malfunction “would open an airlock.” But like an airliner in flight, the station should have smoothly shifted over to backup systems.
“The word ‘redundancy’ never got into the story,” Hank pointed out. Instead, all three backup circuit boards wired into three isolated circuits, “had to blow out in the same way at the exact same time. The fault that occurred in the first board, the second board, and the third board all had to be the same damn thing at the same damn time.”
“Impossible,” he declared. Especially, since each of the simultaneously faulty microchips had been “stress tested to hell and back. Except for internal stressors.”
Except for “Made In China” microchip mischief.
While it is not yet confirmed that the February 5 microchip malfunction was related to the June 14 space station hack, according to Hank’s sources, on that earlier date the Chinese pulled the equivalent of Cheney’s Singapore diversion–in space. “Nobody got busted for it,” he adds. “You always hear about the company at fault.”
Not this time.
AS WE SEE
While White House fundamentalists remained mesmerized by the firepower ostensibly under their command, Beijing kept trying to send a very different message. Their next installment came in early September 2007, when U.S. Air Force officers passed through multiple levels of security and entered the inner computer sanctum of America’s Air and Space Command deep under Cheyenne Mountain. This digital repository stores regularly updates archives needed to execute “clean reinstalls” in case air force computer systems crash or are otherwise compromised.
Entering the quietly humming room, the air force officers were shocked to see monitors aglow with light. The displays were supposed to be off. As they watched in shock and awe, randomly typed letters scrolled across a screen. The words were gibberish. But the message was heart-stoppingly clear: “We Can Play With Your Toys!”
The sender “left breadcrumbs,” Hank related. The deliberately attached ISP (Internet Service Provider) pointed to China.
This was bad enough. But what really freaked out the officers was the realization that none of these “stand alone” machines was online. None of them contained a modem!
The only way to access these machines, Hank revealed, is to “use the sneaker net to walk up to it and tap on the keyboard. And yet they were interacting, and they were doing it in real time. They fussed with our stuff. These guys were able to go into what was a stand alone system and take control of it.”
How did the PLA hack supposedly secure air force computers lacking network modems? Just like as select power companies can now pipe the Internet to home computers through electrical power lines, the Chinese were able to play on SAC’s supposedly secure computers through the AC power cables connecting them to the national power… “grid”.
But how did they break supposedly “unbreakable” military encryption?
And how were they able to transmit signals to override specific chips buried under a mountain of granite halfway around the globe? According to Hank, the International Space Station was not in line-of-sight with China when it’s onboard computers and back-up systems simultaneously went down.
When it comes to dialing up a bomber to drop nuclear weapons on another country, “It’s kind of like hiring a hit man,” Hank explained. You meet him in the parking lot with the assignment, a weapon, and cash. Later, you confirm that you haven’t changed your mind. Then the mission proceeds, and either the target or the hit man is taken out.
In the case of the mission out of Minot, the First Phase began with an initiation order authorizing weapons release to arm a B-52 specially flown in for this operation. Proper codes and paperwork provided the Pilot in Command with an initial heading to fly, and initial waypoints or nav points to punch into the plane’s GPS. No destination was provided. The pilots were just supposed to get in and drive.
Once the B-52 was airborne, it flew into an electronic black hole. No electromagnetic emissions came from the bomber. There were no radio calls to home base asking, “Are you guys sure you really want to do this?” Even more startling, no coded IFF squawks identified the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fucker) as friendly to prowling post-9/11 fighters. And no transponder beeps identified the airplane and its mission.
This is not the normal procedure for transporting weapons, or flying a B-52 through heavily-trafficked air corridors over the Continental United States. Every aircraft flying at high altitudes over CONUS, (or through Controlled Airspace around airports at lower attitudes) must transmit their identity on an assigned transponder frequency.
Commercial planes squawk in their own dialect. “When you’re talking a government vehicle, like a C-130 [military transport], that’s another level up,” Hank noted. “It’s a different kind of squawk. ATC knows how to treat that kind of traffic differently. A B-52 is another level up. Controllers don’t see that every day. A C-5 [flying down from Colorado to dust a hurricane, for example]-they really don’t see that every day.”
The transponder code of the B-52 out of Minot would have prioritized it to civilian Air Traffic Control, and they would have cleared a corridor for its exclusive track-much like a presidential motorcade.
If this Bad Boy had been transferring six advanced nuclear cruise missiles to Barksdale, as official spin insisted, its transponder would have squawked: “Hey, guess what? We’ve got nukes onboard! Make sure no one runs into us. And if this signal stops scramble recovery people wearing proper attire.”
Or code to that effect.
But this did not happen.
“The Situation Room in the White House was not stood up, but they still have people there,” Hank continued. “One of their jobs is to track nuclear weapons. Somebody in that head shed should have seen a transponder code matched up with nuclear weapons loaded onto that aircraft. That should have been something that went up on the board. They would have known that a B-52 was getting a full loadout, and that all procedures had been followed. And someone else would have said, ‘Mmm, six nukes. We’ll keep an eye on it.”
And given an order for radar operators to push a button to highlight that particular blip.
Instead, the blacked-out BUFF flew on.
High in the stratosphere, where the nitrous oxide exhaust from eight fuel-hungry turbines attacked this planet’s shredding ozone layer, boosting global warming another notch toward a catastrophic methane meltdown, wings never designed to carry heavy ordnance flexed up and down like a bird in flight. The crew must have considered the long roster of crashed Stratofortress with ?broken arrows? onboard. Not for a second could they forget that the six live nuclear weapons strapped to their wings were as close to detonation as a gremlin’s wet dream.
Or the fail-safe switch under the Plane Commander’s gloves.
An hour or two out of Minot, a bell chimed in the cockpit and a secure printer spat out a coded paper message. Even if they betrayed no emotion, the pilots must have felt a chill. Because the mission’s next critical Fail-Safe had been passed. “We’ve thought about it, and the mission is still a go,” the message essentially read. If these new orders had not been received, or had been issued incorrectly, the plane would have immediately turned back to the nearest base capable of handling its special needs.
But their orders were in order. Positively authenticated by both pilots as coming from the NCA, the new message received onboard the bomber issued the radio frequencies, call signs and rendezvous coordinates for “hitting” one of three aerial refueling planes constantly orbiting over the Gulf of Mexico. Their new “Go Code” also identified their target region. After topping off their tanks, they were to take up a heading for another Gulf, half a world away.
BLIND MAN’S BUFF
Wouldn’t the base commander, or the other officers involved in sending live nuclear weapons toward Iran have second thoughts about a strike that could trigger an even bigger political-military chain reaction?
Not necessarily, Hank explained. Military leaders usually favor intimidation in place of bloodshed.
If the Iranians could be dissuaded from acquiring a nuclear deterrent of their own, or decide to stop supplying their Shiite brothers next door with sophisticated shaped-charge rockets capable of penetrating the depleted uranium hides of M-1 Abrams tanks-terrific! Everyone involved in the mission must have hoped that in this high-stakes brinksmanship, when Iranian sensors picked up the radioactive signature of an inbound American nuclear bomber strike, the mullahs in Teheran would burn their Korans and turn to Jesus.
On the other hand, how do you say “pissed off” in Persian? The mullahs might panic and start pushing buttons of their own. Especially when the Israeli Air Force was notified of the strike, and launched “supporting” fighter-bombers of their own.
In any case, it was out of the hands of the base commander and his immediate superiors. Since any one of these key staff officers could conceivably be kidnapped or impersonated during a nuclear strike, none had the authority to issue a recall order. Even if someone in the chain of command issued an RTB (Return To Base), SAC bomber crews en route to the final IP coordinates to commence their attack are trained to ignore all such entreaties.
In fact, a frantic “Come home for lunch,” or “Call your wife” command would confirm for the crew that something really was amiss, and they were at war.
In this way, a series of rote military assumptions can make an ash out of you and me.
WHAT, ME WORRY?
Meanwhile, the man under whose digitally coded authority this strike was being carried out, remained completely unaware that six nuclear cruise missiles with his name on them were headed toward Iran.
Phase Three would have issued coded authorization to take out their assigned targets. One target confirmed by two highly placed, independent sources was a nuclear power plant hard against the mountains of Iran. “But the bomber would still have five missiles left. And it would not leave the area empty,” Hank insisted. “If they go loaded for bear, they’re not going to leave with a rabbit.”
After all, he added, a pre-BDA [Bomb Damage Assessment] would have been done before launching the bomber “to determine how many it would take. And they needed six?”
Despite all the Hollywood hype, cruise missiles are notoriously inaccurate. Just ask the folks ducking strays in Kuwait or Iran. Still, a cruise missile striking within 30 miles would have taken out that Iranian power plant. But if the nuclear-tipped ACM had detonated over its pile?
“Bad. Bad. Very bad,” as Hank would say. Because the resulting electromagnetic pulses from such a synergistic chain reaction would have–among other things–fried every unhardened Chinese microchip aboard every American ship, plane and vehicle in the Persian Gulf.
“You don’t have to sink the CAG, just turn it off,” Hank said, referring to the formidable–yet completely microchip dependent–Carrier Air Group steaming off the coast of Iran. “Once they realized that these ships were just bobbing around out there,” the bad guys would have “launched 10,000 rowboats” from surrounding shorelines to go play pirates.
Was this why several Chinese Aegis destroyers were steaming in from the east about 250 nautical miles from the Straits of Hormuz? Was this why two or three Chinese submarines had been deployed to the area of the transiting destroyers the week before?
Or were the two Chinese anti-aircraft destroyers part of an elaborate fail-safe in case the demonstration glitched and the bomber could not be recalled? Even if their anti-aircraft missiles could not reach the distant plane (easily tracked through its rigged Chinese chips), specific signals sent from the ship could have turned the plane around. Or its fuel off.
What were the Chinese thinking?
Ever since Katrina, and the subsequent standing wave put up off the south coast of Africa by HAARP to deflect hurricanes from the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, Beijing has felt under siege as earthquakes and wild, shipping-interrupting storms continue to be conducted “all the way to China” by the powerful Gakona, Alaskan transmitter. [See “Where Have All The Hurricanes Gone”-upcoming on willthomasonline.net]
Three times, the Chinese have attempted to override HAARP. And failed. Elaborate demonstrations of their electronic warfare capabilities–including fizzing circuits in space, and a face-to-face with the U.S. Vice-President in Singapore–had not persuaded American leaders to A: Refrain from hoisting a false flag over a Persian Gulf of Tonkin, and B: Turn HAARP off.
Surely, Beijing must have reasoned, ordering a United State Air Force strategic bomber loaded out with six armed nuclear weapons to fly over the United States and then on towards Iran would conclusively demonstrate who was now in charge.
“This op would not have ‘Made In China’ stamped all over it,” Hank pointed out. “Instead, American bombs, American bombers and American systems were used.” No matter how the mission had proceeded, if Washington had been forced to tell the world, “It wasn’t us. We lost control of our bomber carrying six atomic warheads”–how would that have looked to a global audience already angry over America’s misuse of its military might?
Whatever Beijing’s intentions, Hank was not the only person in the U.S. military to have his head rearranged by this latest Chinese demonstration. “They might have wanted to go all the way. Or they might have wanted to put pieces in play and see how far they could go,” he surmised. “Maybe the Chinese started, and stopped it.”
Either way, the unauthorized Minot mission has bluntly shown the White House and the Pentagon: “If you start something, we can stop it. You no longer know how much control you have over your own weapons systems because we can play with them at will. No matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing, if you’re using our chips you are vulnerable. And you can’t know if our Trojan chips are in your systems unless you tear apart every circuit in every surveillance, communications, weapons system, pipelines, telecom and power grid in your entire military and civilian inventory and look. And then dismantle every network they are connected to.”
“And one more thing,” Beijing inferred, “If you take offense and pop off a missile, remember, we might make it do a loop-de-loop and come right back down on its originating silo.”
Hank and others in America’s command hierarchy remain alarmed and puzzled-which makes them even more uneasy. Would China’s leadership have precipitated a cloud of radioactive fallout downwind over their own population? Emphatically, yes. The country’s generals have long counted an expendable population and land mass as key factors in “winning” a nuclear war.
Best case scenario, this recent flight of fancy was a warning for Washington to chill the bomb Iran rhetoric, and dial down HAARP.
“Maybe the Chinese got it right and they were just messin’ with us,” Hank mused. “Or they got it wrong, and something very bad almost happened. But why only one plane? Why stop there? It’s a limited use of a system that is now exposed.”
But what can we do about it?
And what a message it sent!
[See “Cyber War”]
Phase Three of the mission would have sent coded target grid coordinates and time(s) of weapon(s) release, as well as updates on weather over the area, enemy defense status and friendly escorts. Those orders never came.
Instead, Phase Four was initiated. When the cockpit teleprinter spat out paper tape again, it read, in so many words: “Forget the whole thing. Abort the mission. Turn back.” The only people capable of issuing a nuclear strike recall order would be the President, the Secretary of Defense, a specific designate of the SecDef authorized by special code. Or a Chinese military hacker.
As Hank notes, “The plane had to be diverted to a base that could handle nuclear weapons.” That would be Barksdale. But…
“Live hot nukes would have tripped alarms on the tarmac when it touched down. Either they were nonfunctional on both ends [Minot and Barksdale], which is scary beyond belief considering what we’re talking about.” Or the Joint Chiefs or the NCA could have ordered the radiation sensors silenced to keep the mission-and the hijacked mission-under wraps. Or the Chinese could have turned them off. If the system is digital, Beijing probably controls it.
Bottom line: if the incoming bomber had crashed approach, no one responding would have known they were dealing with a quiver-full of “broken arrows”.
Thought the missiles were never launched, they still remain in play. As Hank worried, “Six nukes are now forward deployed to the air force base that handles Middle East ops.”
A former counter-terrorism expert with the CIA and the State Department shares his concern. Larry Johnson does not buy the official story that six nuclear weapons were “mistakenly” flown over the USA-not after a retired B-52 pilot reminded him. “The only time you put such weapons on a plane is when they are on alert, or if the crew has been tasked to move the weapons to a specific site.” Besides running nuclear war exercises like the Global Guardian drill it ran on the morning of 9/11, Barksdale AFB deploys “heavies” to the Middle East.
Like Hank, Johnson wants to know, “Why would we want to preposition nuclear weapons at a base conducting Middle East operations?” His pilot pal believes that an insider leaker tried to send up a bright red flag. Johnson asks, “Did someone at Barksdale try to indirectly warn the American people that the Bush Administration is staging nukes for Iran?” [www.antiwar.com]
But Hank points out another problem. Cruise missiles-which are essentially autonomous, unpiloted drones-have special needs. Since six cruise missiles showing up at Barksdale were an oddity, can they be adequately stored and maintained there? The Gulf Coast is “a very different environment” than Nebraska, Hank emphasizes. How long is Barksdale going to hold onto them? In the hurricane season?
“Are we going to see some of them floating out on the tide?” Hank wants to know. Americans need a big confirm that these weapons have been sent back north to a better home.