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. Missile crew falls asleep with nuclear code device: air force
WASHINGTON, July 24 (AFP) Jul 24, 2008
Members of a US Air Force nuclear missile crew face disciplinary action for going to sleep while in possession of an invalidated nuclear launch code component, the air force disclosed Thursday.

The breach occured July 12 at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, the scene of two other recent high profile lapses involving nuclear weapons or nuclear-related components, according to the spokesman.

An investigation into the violation of procedures "concluded that no compromise of the classified material occurred," the air force said in a statement.

The nuclear launch code component is a device that enables the missile crew to issue an electronic command to launch a nuclear missile. The codes are changed on a scheduled, recurring basis.

The four member missile crew changed the codes in the underground launch control center during their watch and had gone "top side" to an above ground missile alert facility with the component containing the old codes to await transportation back to the main base, the air force said.

While awaiting transportation, they went into a crew rest area with bunks where they fell asleep, a violation of the rules, according to the air force.

"An investigation revealed the codes had remained secured in containers using locks which combos were known only to the crew during the entirety of the incident," the air force said.

"Additionally, access to the MAF (missile alert facility) was continually controlled by air force security forces and the codes had been superseded and were unusable," it said.

The breach was reported by one of the missile crew members, Paoli said.

"We would say it's a procedural issue, but when you're dealing with nukes all these different procedures are steps in the safeguarding process, and they are important," he said.

Paoli said the crew members "undoubtedly are facing administrative disciplinary action."

The air force's handling of US nuclear weapons has come under intense scrutiny because of a series of mishaps.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates took the unprecedented step last month of firing both the air force chief of staff and the service's civilian secretary for failing to get a grip on a 10-year erosion of standards in the nuclear forces.

Last year, nuclear-armed cruise missiles were inadvertently loaded onto a B-52 bomber at Minot and flown to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

In March, the air force discovered it had mistakenly shipped nose cone assemblies with fuses to trigger nuclear weapons to Taiwan in 2006.

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