Suppose you were in charge of figuring out whether the folks responsible for maintaining and (if necessary) launching nuclear missiles (a) knew how to do their jobs and (b) were ready to do so. You’d want to test them, regularly, to see if they were up to snuff — and not just the person with the key to the missile, but everyone else right down to the ones who sweep the floors and cook the meals. The whole team has to function well for the system to work.
Or, you know, not.
We learned before that the crew in Minot ND almost failed their testing a year ago, but now we see just how bad the problem was:
Airmen responsible for missile operations at Minot Air Force Base would have failed their portion of a major inspection in March 2013 but managed a “marginal” rating because their poor marks were blended with the better performance of support staff — like cooks and facilities managers — and they got a boost from the base’s highly rated training program.
Let’s set aside for a moment the admittedly non-trivial issue of the capabilities of the nuclear missile crew at Minot AFB and the implications for national security (yeah, that’s a big thing to set aside, but work with me here). Lots of folks are already talking about that. Here’s the question that’s eating at me: who designs an evaluation system like this?
Imagine the conversation when the evaluation team gets together to grade the performance:
Evaluator A: Unbelievable. The test asked the missile target folks to “launch” at Russia, specifically aiming at Moscow, and they “hit” Moscow. (shakes head sadly) Boy, did they hit it.
Evaluator B: (confused) That’s good, right?
Evaluator A: They hit Moscow, Texas.
Evaluator B: Oops. But hey, do you remember the test meal the cooks made for us last night? Wow!
Evaluator C: Yeah, I’ve never had food that good.
Evaluator D: OK, let’s total it up . . . carry the 3 . . . divide by the square root of 17 . . . They passed. Barely, ’cause that whole targetting Texas thing is a pretty big screwup, but that meal last night made up for it.
Makes you wonder what was on the menu that night. How good does the food have to be to make up for accidentally test-nuking Texas?
But the part of the story that really made me angry was this: “The analysis also said Minot senior leaders failed to foster a “culture of accountability.”"
When your idea of evaluation includes a process whereby highly capable cooks and janitors can raise the rating for incompetent missile officers, it certainly bolsters the conclusion that there is a culture of non-accountability when it comes to the readiness of our nuclear arsenal. But where, oh where could the USAF have learned that?
Do the names Brennan, Alexander, and Clapper mean anything? How about Cheney, Libby, Addington, and their friends Bradbury, Bybee, and Yoo? Do the names Reagan, McFarlane, Weinberger, Casey, North, Poindexter, and Abrams ring any bells?
Despite documented failures, lies, and crimes, accountability is lacking. No doubt these are the kind of people who designed the testing protocols in use at Minot. They were interested in making things appear to be accountable, not actually holding people accountable.
Maybe Burns can do a followup on his story about Minot AFB that looks into the folks in DC who invented a testing program that could have allowed this debacle in the first place. That, and he could find out about that menu.
h/t to afglobalstrike for the photo taken by SSgt Jonathan Snyder of Airman 1st Class Baylee Hernandez, one of the missile alert facility chefs at Minot AFB. I have no idea whether she was part of the crew tested last March, but props to her and her compatriots for doing their jobs very very well, unlike many others on her base and back at the Pentagon. (Photo used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)