Today’s award goes to the US armed forces in Europe, particularly those personnel involved with the security, storage and handling of nuclear weapons. Bellingcat reports:
For US soldiers tasked with the custody of nuclear weapons in Europe, the stakes are high. Security protocols are lengthy, detailed and need to be known by heart. To simplify this process, some service members have been using publicly visible flashcard learning apps — inadvertently revealing a multitude of sensitive security protocols about US nuclear weapons and the bases at which they are stored.
. . .
… the flashcards studied by soldiers tasked with guarding these devices reveal not just the bases, but even identify the exact shelters with “hot” vaults that likely contain nuclear weapons.
They also detail intricate security details and protocols such as the positions of cameras, the frequency of patrols around the vaults, secret duress words that signal when a guard is being threatened and the unique identifiers that a restricted area badge needs to have.
. . .
Each flashcard set can contain new definitions and acronyms. Searching for these leads on to yet more new flashcard sets.
At first glance, many appear uninteresting. Virtually all the sets share the same generic textbook knowledge that soldiers learn to pass career development courses. These include definitions of terms, acronyms, forms to turn in, laws, procedures and radio protocols.
But in many cases, servicemen or women have added their own need-to-knows and highly specific security details.
For example, an individual at one base noted down over a 100 things to know related to their specific function. These included the location of modems that connect vaults to the monitoring facility, the procedures for duress signals for each area on base, the sight pictures of cameras aimed at the vault as well as the components and workings of their console. Details around the composition of passwords, usernames and whether they can include spaces were also detailed in the cards.
There’s more at the link.
I’m sure the USAF and other bodies will be scrambling to redact all the flashcards concerned . . . but it’s far too late to fix the problem. With that sort of information so freely available, it’s as if Russia or China or Iran (or any other enemy, like a sophisticated terrorist group) had been allowed to send their spies to walk around US bases freely and without restriction, to learn anything they wished about our nuclear weapons’ location, security and access protocols. We’ve handed over the information on a silver platter to our enemies.
I’m mind-boggled that anyone would be so catastrophically, unbelievably stupid as to think that using such open, third-party software was even vaguely in order for such sensitive material. In my day in uniform (not US uniform, of course), if I’d breached security to such an extent, I’m not sure I’d have lived long enough to face trial. We were fighting a “hot” war at the time, and I suspect the immediate reaction from infuriated superior officers might have been to summarily execute the guilty parties. After all, their deaths could easily have been disguised as combat casualties, and they would no longer be capable of betraying national secrets of that magnitude. (There are a couple of cases that I’ve always wondered about, in that regard. As Voltaire famously put it, perhaps they died “to encourage the others” to do their jobs better.)
One can only hope that those responsible for these breaches of security are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Meanwhile, the US military may as well start building new storage facilities, and developing entirely new security protocols, not just for nuclear weapons, but for any and every other sensitive installation, device or function. Given that similar protocols will apply across many areas, our enemies must surely have the existing ones firmly in their crosshairs by now. In the event of war, I won’t be surprised to see them, and the weapons, equipment and people they contain, wiped out before widespread hostilities began.