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NORAD: From mountain to volcano? 

Sources say a risky situation is only growing more so

As Sen. Wayne Allard this week declared support for Cheyenne Mountain's transition to "warm standby," sources familiar with the surveillance bunker allege U.S. Northern Command is rushing the job, breaking contracting rules and risking homeland security.

"They broke the law with the way they are contracting this," said one source. "And nobody cares?"

NorthCom has been adamant that bringing North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, capabilities to the basement of a building on Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs will enhance national security.

Yet sources knowledgeable about the mountain have reached out to several members of Congress, including Allard and Sen. Ken Salazar in Colorado, asserting that NorthCom commanders are glossing over important details to buy time as the transfer continues.

Ultimately, the air, missile and space abilities at issue inform the president of impending terrorist and nuclear attacks. Accurate information also prevents the United States from accidentally starting a nuclear World War III.

Allard, in an interview Tuesday with the Independent, came out strongly in favor of the transition, using "ill-advised" to describe a House amendment in the 2008 defense authorization that would delay the plan until more is known about costs and security implications.

He said he's spoken with military officials locally and at the Pentagon. He's convinced the plan will improve the nation's response to imminent threats and "cut down the bureaucracy" created by NorthCom and NORAD's overlapping, sky-scouring missions. He adds it should improve new, but unproven, missile-defense technology.

"I'm convinced that it is for the better security of the country and improves and modernizes the operations we have to have in Colorado Springs," Allard said. "If we don't modernize operations in Colorado Springs, they'll move their facility someplace else."

His office, Allard said, has heard from anonymous sources critical of the transition.

"I think they're more concerned about their jobs," Allard said. "But the last time I met with [Air Force Space Command] Gen. [Kevin] Chilton, he indicated he was going to move more jobs in there."

'Faster, quicker, cheaper'

Several high-ranking military and other sources familiar with the mountain say the transition is being pushed with little regard for rules or NORAD's mission. Lockheed Martin of Colorado Springs, awarded a no-competition $32.5 million contract in 2006 to "modernize" NORAD command and control, is performing sensitive certification tests that by law should be conducted by Air Force test experts, one source said.

"In the faster, quicker, cheaper mode of operations, NorthCom is just bypassing [Air Force] test squadrons because they are too stringent and require too much documentation, and, if it doesn't work, they will tell the world," the source said. "NorthCom has set up the fox, Lockheed Martin, to test the henhouse door and certify it works."

The flow of information between the mountain and Peterson's Building 2, more than 15 miles away, is not secure, a source said. Another source added that the recent move of the space-defense operations center, a critical space-tracking computer system, from the mountain to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California has created other problems.

"The move to Vandenberg has compromised the mission as it has cut off the flow of information to fully, comprehensively, assess incoming threats," the source said. "Equipment has been damaged in the move; a presidential directive required a system backup, and the only existing training unit has been dismantled for parts in a misguided attempt to repair the equipment located at Vandenberg. The last fully functioning system is in the mountain requiring sensitive information to be pipelined to California."

Air Force Space Command in July acknowledged the damage, but characterized it as minor and quickly repaired.

NorthCom officials, given a list of questions Monday for this story, said they would be unable to respond by deadline. They promised to respond as soon as possible.

A downgrading of NORAD?

Another source reiterated concerns the Independent has covered before that Peterson's Building 2 is vulnerable to being hit by terrorists or spies forcing a plane off its path to the city airport (see "Bad Move," May 3, 2007).

"In my opinion, putting such an important command and control node in the open like Building 2 is dangerous," the source said. "This is my primary concern over all else. It simply is not a safe, secure place. If the bad guys can take out the Pentagon, they can take out anyplace except for the mountain."

Although NorthCom has spoken of a rapid return to the mountain during an emergency, an attack on Building 2, which could be exacerbated by an attack on a backup facility at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, makes that promise seem foolhardy, the source added.

Beyond such fears, there are practical issues, such as Building 2 having roughly one-third the mountain's space.

"The space is cramped and not designed for the number of people that are necessary to work," a source said.

NorthCom, the source added, was "caught with its pants down" on July 4, 2006, when North Korea tested a type of missile believed capable of hitting the West Coast. Crews inside the mountain, conversely, were prepared, the source added.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has acknowledged that an important, secret study by the Defense Secretary's Program Analysis and Evaluation office isn't complete.

"In actuality, the work is just getting underway and we can't make any conclusions or recommendations based on the initial analysis at this point," a Pentagon spokeswoman stated in an e-mail.

She was unable to say if Defense Secretary Robert Gates supports the plan that surfaced around the time Donald Rumsfeld left office.

Last year, former NorthCom/NORAD commander Adm. Timothy Keating expressed frustration about having to travel between the mountain and Peterson and losing communication. He touted millions of dollars in cost savings, but NorthCom stopped using the talking point in May when a Government Accountability Office report found no documentation for the claim and concluded the plan was risky because of the unknowns.

There is a sense among some observers that the transition is motivated, at least in part, by Canadian opposition the United States' highly controversial missile defense. Plans to locate resources in Eastern Europe have in recent weeks led Russians to put bombers in the skies, resulting in confrontations with U.S. jets that NorthCom/NORAD commander Gen. Gene Renuart told Reuters earlier this month were of "increased concern."

Though Canada and the United States last year renewed the bi-national NORAD Agreement, Philippe Lagasse, a Canadian defense expert who visited Colorado Springs about a year ago, said missile defense, along with the post-9/11 creation of NorthCom as a homeland security command with a broad mission everything from hurricanes to control of NORAD have led to the view that NORAD and the mountain are antiquated.

"The general sense is that NORAD is really being eclipsed by these other new command arrangements, along with the fact that Canada didn't join missile defense," Lagasse said. "It's just another reason for what seems to be a downgrading of NORAD."

The Senate's version of the 2008 defense authorization did not include a call for NORAD delay, meaning the issue will have to be sorted out in a House-Senate conference committee that includes Allard.

deyoanna@csindy.com

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