The U.S. Air Force has upgraded the classification of information pertaining to nuclear weapons inspections performed by the Inspector General, reducing or eliminating public references to the outcome of such inspections.
Until recently, the IG weapons inspections could be described in unclassified reports. Now they will be classified at least at the Confidential level.
An Air Force nuclear surety inspection (NSI) “assesses a unit’s ability to accomplish its assigned nuclear weapons mission and produce reliable nuclear weapons in a safe and secure environment in compliance with applicable directives. Additionally, an NSI inspects a unit’s capability to safely and reliably receive, store, secure, assemble, transport, maintain, load, mate, lock/unlock, test, render safe and employ nuclear weapons.”
The inspections typically result in a “grade” indicating the level of compliance. Whether pass or fail, those grades, too, will now be classified.
The changes were made following the latest revision of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Instruction (CJCSI) 3263.05C, Nuclear Weapons Technical Inspections, issued on March 10, 2017. Though unclassified, the Instruction is “Limited” in distribution and is not publicly available.
Even those nuclear weapons inspections that produce a finding of full compliance cannot be disclosed, and from now on they also cannot be acknowledged in military decorations or unit awards.
“These changes are control measures put in place to prevent revealing potential vulnerabilities to adversary forces,” wrote Staff Sgt. Alexx Pons of Air Force Public Affairs. See “Nuclear inspection grade restricted in evaluation, decoration and award comments,” June 14, 2017.
The results of nuclear weapons inspections have been published for decades, noted Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, without any reported adverse effect on national security. So an alternate explanation for the new classification policy seems wanted. “The change sure looks handy for preventing the public from knowing embarrassing information about when Air Force units fail nuclear inspections,” he said.