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NORAD's nagging hurdles 

Money's in the pipeline for Cheyenne Mountain transition, but lawmakers' qualms seem ever-present

click to enlarge Lamborn now expects a delay in NORADs - relocation. - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • Lamborn now expects a delay in NORADs relocation.

Four key Colorado lawmakers are either unwilling or unable to speak in specifics about a "sensitive," perhaps classified, draft military analysis regarding the future of Cheyenne Mountain as operations center for the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

The draft analysis by the Department of Defense cites serious concerns for national security if Cheyenne Mountain is placed on "warm standby," as proposed.

Yet even as President Bush signed a bill last week allocating millions of dollars to help move NORAD surveillance equipment to a building at Peterson Air Force Base, lawmakers continue to voice their misgivings.

The latest is U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, Colorado Springs Republican and a recent addition to the House Armed Services Committee. Lamborn indicated this week that he now expects the NORAD move will be delayed.

"I am deeply concerned about Cheyenne Mountain and whether or not a move would be in the best interest of our national security," Lamborn said in a written statement to the Independent, which sought his opinion on Secretary of Defense documents highlighted in an Oct. 25 story (""Sensitive' documents indicate Cheyenne Mountain's better for NORAD," csindy.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A21804).

The documents state that a "successful surprise attack" would wipe out enough people at Peterson to render the mountain's equipment "unmanned and therefore unused," challenging assertions by NorthCom commanders that personnel could return rapidly to the mountain in the event of an emergency.

The documents also state that the mountain has a "higher survivability than" the building at Peterson and a move could "critically" risk NORAD's ability to inform military leaders and ultimately the president of threats from the skies in the event of a nuclear attack.

Lamborn touring

In his statement, Lamborn declined to "discuss the content of these sensitive draft documents."

However, Lamborn's statement noted that he is seeking "specific details on the impact that a potential move will have on our national security and the Colorado Springs region" from U.S. Northern Command/NORAD's commander, Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart.

Lamborn's office provided a Nov. 9 letter to the general that contains a list of sharp questions, including the current status of the transition and whether there are any reports highlighting positive and/or negative consequences of a NORAD transition.

The House version of the 2008 defense authorization bill, which is expected to be mired in contentious debate for weeks, calls for a delay of the transition until more is known about the move's costs and security implications. Because the Senate did not support that amendment, a House-Senate conference committee would have to add it to the final bill.

U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., a conference committee member who has long studied the transition, is currently comfortable with allowing the move to proceed, said his spokesman, Steve Wymer. The "assurances" of commanders, Wymer said, "provide [Allard] with confidence."

Yet Lamborn, who is expected to tour NORAD in coming weeks, said in his statement that the final House-Senate committee report "will likely include language that will not allow the Secretary of Defense to move forward on any relocation effort until 180 days after he provides a final cost-benefit analysis."

Udall talking

U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, in a teleconference with reporters last week, noted former NorthCom/NORAD commander, Adm. Timothy Keating, was frustrated about losing communication between the mountain and Peterson during a training exercise and in reaction initiated the transition.

"We know there was a particular incident during a simulation that concerned the previous NorthCom commander," Udall said. "But is that enough of a reason to make these very significant moves?"

Udall was unavailable after the call to discuss the documents obtained by the Independent.

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar's office has flatly declined to discuss the documents. The senator has not supported a delay, but instead has asked that the Secretary of Defense's Office provide a report by year's end.

Last week, the Democratic senator claimed credit for inserting $3.2 million in another bill the 2008 defense appropriations act to "help upgrade" NorthCom's data network at Cheyenne Mountain. The money will "ensure that its facilities remain redundant with those in the joint command center" at Peterson, along with funding other equipment for NorthCom.

During the teleconference, Udall said some transition funding was "fenced off" and won't be released until it is clear the move won't harm national security.

The idea, Udall said, "is to make it clear to NorthCom that we expect to make these security concerns something that they really focus upon; that they should take the concerns that have been raised very, very seriously."

deyoanna@csindy.com

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