Report: Pentagon misled Congress on NORAD attack threat
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (AP) ” In a report to Congress, the Pentagon understated the vulnerability of the nation’s air and space defense command to an attack before the command moved to its new location at Colorado’s Peterson Air Force Base, a newspaper reported Monday.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command moved from its longtime cave-complex home inside Cheyenne Mountain to Peterson in May. On March 3, military leaders reported that an assessment of a building at the air base that serves as the nation’s homeland security nerve center found “several physical security problems.”
But The Gazette of Colorado Springs obtained a classified document stating that the assessment found “the existing security system at Peterson AFB … would fail if attacked by even a low level threat.”
The assessment was contained in a draft report by the Government Accountability Office as part of an ongoing GAO review of the March 3 report to Congress. That report never informed Congress whether security measures could ensure a maximum level of security at Peterson, as required.
The Peterson command center where NORAD started operating on May 28 requires a Protection Level 1, reserved for “those assets whose loss, theft, destruction, misuse or compromise would result in great harm to the strategic capability of the United States,” The Gazette reported.
A final classified GAO report to Congress is due July 3. NORAD spokesman Michael Kucharek told The Associated Press the GAO made several classified recommendations, which have been implemented by NORAD commanders.
Kucharek added that NORAD officials will submit official comments to the GAO as required.
Navy Cmdr. Gregory Hicks, a Pentagon spokesman, told the AP they look forward to seeing the report but that he couldn’t comment on any recommendations until it’s a final report.
NORAD is a binational defense agency with Canada that shares its commander with the nation’s homeland security command, Northern Command.
Peterson Air Force Base is adjacent to Colorado Springs Airport. One security expert, Christopher Hellman of the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation in Washington, said he was troubled by a failure to assess the risk posed by the civilian airport’s proximity.
“There’s going to be lots of air traffic and that’s going to make it difficult to identify whether there’s hostile aircraft until the last minute, if at all,” Hellman said after being briefed on the contents of the assessment by The Gazette. “You won’t know its intention until it’s too late.”
NORAD’s former complex was built during the Cold War inside Cheyenne Mountain. In 2006, former NORAD-NorthCom commander Adm. Timothy Keating ordered it be moved to Peterson after problems surfaced during a joint exercise with Peterson. Keating forecast a cost savings of up to $200 million a year.
Officials decided to keep an alternate command center inside the mountain.
The GAO stated that a structure at Peterson built to house the Air Force Space Command lacks “sufficient vehicle stand-off” and “a dedicated response force,” The Gazette reported.
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