Jeffrey LewisSecurity Lapse at Volkel

A few disarmament posters by Robert Wout, better known as Opland.

Many of my colleagues are attending the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (My friend @MilesPomper is tweeting up a storm for #NSS2014.) It is normal for the assembled heads of government to bring “housegifts” — tangible accomplishments to improve nuclear security that will paint their countries in a positive light.

The opposite incentive is present too, as demonstrated by the Dutch group “Disarm.” (Can you figure out what they want?) Four activists broke into Volkel Airbase, posting pictures of shelters (original in Dutch) where US nuclear weapons are believed to be stored (see right). This is very similar to a series of intrusions several years ago at Kleine Brogel Airbase by a Belgian peace group. (1|2|3)

The incursions would seem to demonstrate the 2008 finding by the Air Force Blue Ribbon Review of Nuclear Weapons Policies and Procedures that “most sites [in Europe where US nuclear weapons are stored] require significant additional resources to meet DoD security requirements.”

At the time, the Dutch rejected the finding, even though they were singled out for criticism. (“[O]ther locations have the challenge of working with unionized security personnel.”)  Despite the claims that everything was fine, the United States made additional security investments and did the usual PR thing.  Here is a boss picture of US and Dutch troops entering a hangar as part of a security exercise.  Take that, hippies.

So where the hell were these guys when the hippies showed up?  Obviously, things are not all fine and dandy at Volkel.

Whether or not you support the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe, isn’t it time to consolidate the remaining weapons at two US airbases where they can be properly secured?  I continue to be amazed that the repeated security breaches don’t generate public pressure for the removal of the weapons — well, other than in the United States Air Force which keeps sending up trial balloons about taking the money to make the F-35 nuclear capable on spending it on their precious bomber.


There is an interesting question about where the protestors actually went.  The only image shows Shelter 532.  There are a couple of maps floating around (1|2).  They mark certain bunkers as having a WS3 vault, although I don’t know why they think they know that, and the maps are blurry enough that its hard to make out the bunker numbers.  But I think shelter 532 is  here: 51.661713, 5.712177

Try putting that into Google Earth, however, and you’ll be disappointed. The maps have certain areas blanked out, marked “Intern Gebruik Defensie” (“Internal Use Defense”). The providers of satellites images, too, engage in interesting redactions.  Google (Maps and Earth) blur the entire airbase.  Bing and Nokia reduce the resolution and black out the areas that correspond to the areas that are blanked out on the map and marked Internal Use Defense

Yandex maps, though, shows the NATO airbase in full resolution.  Here is a sampling of how different sites present satellite images — Google Maps, Bing and Yandex:

In addition to the black spot drawing a terrorist’s interest to protecting a sensitive part of Volkel, Bing and Here reduce the resolution of the base.  Here is a shot of the end of that blurring:

Other people have complained about the censorship in these images–especially the Dutch who, thanks to the use of TerraImaging satellite, seem to get all sorts of things blurred like the Royal residence.  I would simply point out that blurring or blacking out certain areas is absurd.  It doesn’t protect against Dutch euro-hippies (see below), let alone terrorists.  It does, however, protect against the public scrutiny necessary to force Dutch and other allied officials to meet their obligations to protect the weapons.  Secrecy often results in worse security.


One of the fascinating things is this shot of the runway, blurred or not, showing an orange plane!

This is the Dutch F16 demonstration team, which alternates between Volkel and Leeuwarden Airbase every two years.

Here are two more shots of the orange F-16

The second photo is interesting because, as Hans K has noted, you may be able to see the WS3 vault in the floor behind the aircraft.

Last note — the Dutch shelters are shaped funny.  Most aircraft shelters, like the ones at Kleine Brogel are semi-circular.  The Dutch ones are peaked. A triumph of Dutch design I suppose.



  1. Cthippo (History)

    I used to hang out on a site called Virtual Globetrotting and one of the things we did was to look for these censored areas and then find uncensored imagery to see what they were “hiding”. As you said, those sort of thing does nothing but draw attention.

    Looking at the blurred image, and knowing what an F-16 looks like, it seems like it should be possible (For someone much smarter than I) top come up with a blue removal algorithm. Of course, in the time it took them to do that they could also just order their own satellite image, too.

    There’s a lesson here… If you want to hide something don’t cause it to be visually distinctive!

  2. Susi (History)

    Thanks for picking this issue up. I’m a bit concerned that you think the Dutch public doesn’t want these weapons out- not only does the public want them gone (Dutch Red Cross poll last summer showed 87% support for withdrawal), the Dutch Parliament does as well. Three resolutions in the last four years all pointing to getting these weapons out of the Netherlands, and sending them back to America. However, the government keeps saying that it would be impossible unless NATO as a whole agrees to it. We all know that’s false (because NATO was only informed later with the withdrawals from Greece), but the Dutch policy of not confirming or denying the presence of the weapons shuts down the debate.

    So, the public wants them out, the Parliament wants them out, the government tells us we can’t even talk about it.

    What would be your advice, Jeffrey?

  3. Aaron Stein (History)

    The area where I believe nuclear weapons are stored at Incirlik air base isn’t censored. One can clearly see the double-fencing and the shelters /Users/aaronstein1/Documents/IncirlikAirbaseBunkers.jpg

    • Cthippo (History)

      Most national governments have not demanded censorship of anything, and even some of those that have haven’t gotten it. I believe one of the reasons that some sites in the Netherlands are censored is that one of the satellite downlinks is there which gave the Dutch government some leverage over Google. The places that are censored are almost exclusively in Europe, mostly the Netherlands, Italy and France, plus a handful in Spain and Portugal.

      More info at

      Intertestingly, after 9-11 there were a few sites in the US that were censored on GE. The White House and the VPs quarters at the naval observatory, were the most notable, but also places like power plants and the like. Most of these have reverted to their regular non-censored state, but some still show up in VGT.

  4. Andreas Persbo (History)

    Learned last week from a Danish colleague that the satellite images of this particular site isn’t just pixelated by certain providers, but even altered. He very convincingly highlighted the folly of the censorship.

    By the way, I hope that someone’s going to revise the ROE for our assault rifle wielding friends. It’s not necessary, really, to point guns in the faces of hippies. You can probably get away with weapons slung by the side without compromising security. More pleasant that way.

    Not that the ROE seems to be the problem here. The Euro hippies appear to have invented a stealth cloak, able to bend light around their bodies. Must be, as security doesn’t appear able to find them. It’s either that, or they’re having Albert Hoffman’s ghost supplying the base PX with sodas.