So, I got a little note the other day from the Bombspotters:
After we noticed our January filmed visit of Kleine Brogel airbase caused some interesting discussions, we have put some effort in a more extensive investigation. To our surprise we even were able to make a picture inside an aircraft shelter with WS3-installation. You find a new movie on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1fnDhwWm-U and a technical analysis on http://www.vredesactie.be/article.php?id=676.
Some effort? I am running out of things to say each time activists in Belgium get inside the wire at Kleine Brogel airbase in Belgium. (See: Activists Breach Security at Kleine Brogel, 4 February 2010 and Yes, It’s the Other Area, 6 February 2010).
When the Bombspotters pulled off this stunt in January, it seemed a small group of activists had succeeded in penetrating one of two sets of 11 Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS). It seemed as though they were in the middle of a cluster that happened not to have B61 nuclear gravity bombs in Ws3 shelters, though that hardly excused the woeful performance turned in by Belgian security or the lame excuses offered by the Belgian government.
It was a perfect demonstration of a scenario that I knew worried US Air Force leaders and described in a talk at the Carnegie Endowment. The security violation made a strong case for removing those weapons immediately. I mean, you can’t say keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists is your top priority, then let stuff like this happen. Whether the activists could have chipped the bomb out of the vault or not is beside the point. Either you have some pride and take seriously the task of securing the weapons or you don’t. If you don’t, get out of the business.
Now, as I worried (and thanks to the genius who pointed out the weapons were in the other set of shelters) the activists claim to have penetrated both areas, which they label Alpha and Sierra. (They entered Sierra in January; I thought Alpha had the bombs based on some photographs of the 701 MUNSS.) If there are still nuclear weapons at Kleine Brogel, the activists were near them in any reasonable sense of the word. So near, in fact, I am beginning to wonder if the bombs are still there at all.
The first few minutes of the video confirm the original path of the protesters through the Sierra area in January, which both Hans K and I deduced at the time.
At 3:15, the video shows images of three hardened aircraft shelters (They number them 2, 8 and 10) in the more heavily-fenced Alpha area, before returning to Sierra set of shelters (17, 18, 21) the activists reached in January.
At 4:45, the activists show video and a still image from inside a shelter, which sure looks like it has a WS3 to me. They claim the images are from Shelter “2” which is in Alpha and less than 100 meters from the spot where General Hobbins posed with Lt. Wyseur and Capt. Long. By any reasonable definition, the activists were “near” the vaults. Looking at the external video footage starting around 6:30, it looks like they really were inside Alpha Area.
The Bombspotters assess that the WS3 vaults are spread among both clusters of 11 Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS), Alpha and Sierra. That just doesn’t ring true to me. I am not saying I doubt them, just that I am not sure I fully understand why the USAFE would scatter the vaults. I mean, the first rule here ought to be “Don’t make it any harder for the Belgians to guard.”
The images from inside the shelter, show that it is empty — at least that it has no aircraft. Perhaps it is empty in both senses. On the other hand, perhaps the gravity bombs and aircraft are stored in separate shelters. But why was the shelter open? Hans has a nice picture of some weapons activity with a partially elevated WS3 vault. There is a support truck in the background, which looks different from the truck in the shelter. Anybody want to help with an id? The purpose of the truck might explain why the shelter had been left open.
In any event, security at Kleine Brogel is terribly, terribly lax. So lax, in fact, I am beginning to wonder if the US Air Force pulled the weapons, either as a temporary security measure or as a more permanent solution to the problem illustrated in January.
If not, this would be a good time to do so.
Update | 08 October 2010: De Standaard has a typically lame response from Ingrid Baeck, the Belgian defense spokesperson:
Defensie wil niet veel kwijt over het incident. ‘Ik heb met de commandant van de basis contact opgenomen’, zegt legerwoordvoerster Ingrid Baeck. ‘Volgens zijn eerste analyse bevat de documentaire een montage van oude beelden, niet van vorig weekend.’ Baeck verwijst daarmee naar een incident, waarbij twee spotters na enkele minuten bij de kraag werden gevat. ‘Onze laatste verkenning’, zegt Lammerant al lachend. ‘Maar de maanden daarvoor heeft niemand ons betrapt.’
‘Kleine Brogel is een zeer grote basis’, zegt Baeck. ‘Het klopt dat die op bepaalde plaatsen niet hermetisch is afgesloten. De bedoeling van de beveiliging is dat actievoerders niet tot het operationele hart van de basis kunnen doordringen. Daar zijn we altijd vrij aardig in geslaagd.’
Of de actievoerders bij de bunker zijn gekomen waar nucleaire wapens liggen, zegt Baeck niet. ‘U kent ons beleid over de opslag van kernwapens: wij bevestigen noch ontkennen.’
That more or less boils down to asserting that the footage is old, the base is big but security is fine and they didn’t penetrate the “operational heart” of the base. It is pretty clear that the footage is not from January — there was snow on the ground in January. As for whether or not this is the operational heart of the base or not, I’d like to point out, again, that Shelter 2 is less than 100 meters from where General Hobbins posed with two US soldiers on his inspection.
I fear Ms. Baeck is not a very reliable source of information. It does appear, however, from her comments that the Base Commander found out about the incursion the same way the rest of us did.