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Udall says Cheyenne Mountain move should be linked to 'national security interests'

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The list of politicians expressing qualms about military plans to downsize Cheyenne Mountain has grown by one more.

In a statement to the Independent, U.S. Rep. Mark Udall says various operations should remain inside the mountain until more is known about cost and security implications of moving them elsewhere.

"If we are to move these missions out of Cheyenne Mountain, we must ensure that it is in our national security interests to do so, and I'm not yet convinced of that," states Udall, an Eldorado Springs Democrat.

The plan to move operations from the legendary bunker inside the hollowed granite mountain was announced last year by Adm. Timothy Keating, former commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD.

Specifically, the command seeks to move the mountain's air warning and missile correlation to the basement of an office building at Peterson Air Force Base. Missile warning and space control are slated to go to Schriever and California's Vandenberg Air Force bases, respectively.

NorthCom responds

After Udall's statement, NorthCom issued its own response to the Independent via spokesman Michael Kucharek. The command states it is closely working with lawmakers, particularly those on the House Armed Services Committee, including Udall.

In the statement, the command backs away from Keating's prior remarks that the move would save millions of dollars; it now states the move actually would cost taxpayers $42 million.

During the move, according to NorthCom's statement, the mountain would serve as an "Alternate Command Center with critical watch and warning systems remaining in Cheyenne Mountain and more than 60 people from our commands continuing to work in the facility."

Currently, some 200 U.S. and Canadian military professionals conduct round-the-clock operations at the mountain.

The statement adds that the command seeks to provide a center at Peterson where mountain operations can be conducted along with those already at the base, such as maritime and cyber.

Larger questions persist about whether the transition risks national security.

In May, Congress' investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, concluded the transition to be risky, in part because of security unknowns.

Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, who chairs the Armed Services Committee's readiness subcommittee, has raised concern about the move, among others. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., has been asking questions.

Joel Hefley, former 10-term representative for the 5th Congressional District that includes Colorado Springs, was frustrated in attempts to learn about the realignment before leaving office early this year. Hefley has raised concern that a truck bomb near Peterson could disrupt critical national-security operations.

Sources familiar with the mountain also have told the Independent the move is driven by inner-military turf wars. The move, those same sources have said, would hinder the nation's ability to respond quickly and appropriately during a terrorist, nuclear or other attack.

The U.S. House already has taken action to delay the move of NORAD operations to Peterson, stripping relocation funds from the 2008 defense authorization while demanding answers about risks and costs. It's unclear whether the Senate will follow suit.

Move not flawless

The House measure did not address space operations moving to Vandenberg, a process that's already underway.

A 2003 strategic-vision study found that the mountain's space-control center is critical to NORAD's most vital mission correctly identifying and responding to potential and actual missile and air threats in a process that ultimately involves the White House.

Masao Doi, a spokesman for Space Command, issued a statement that says the warning and assessment mission which sources have said must be complete within "minutes" of a potential threat "will not be affected nor impacted by" the Vandenberg part of the move.

Yet the move hasn't gone flawlessly, Space Command concedes. Its space defense operations center, a critical computer system, incurred minor damage during a move, then was quickly repaired. Space Command has stated that its transition to Vandenberg is separate from NorthCom's desire to move to Peterson.

In his statement, Udall also chastised NorthCom for not sharing with Congress the report that led to its decision to move the missions from the mountain.

More study is ongoing. NorthCom says Sandia Labs continues to analyze security risks that will be incorporated during transition.

Udall also notes that NorthCom is preparing a "series of vignettes" detailing how the mountain would function under various scenarios. Those are due to the House committee within a week.

Kucharek says NorthCom would not release the vignettes because they are "classified."

deyoanna@csindy.com

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