Colorado's two senators certainly are curious about plans to turn Cheyenne Mountain from the North American Aerospace Defense Command's nerve center into a training site on "warm standby."
But neither Wayne Allard nor Ken Salazar appears inclined to delay the transition involving the high-security command center that scours the skies round-the-clock for terrorists and nuclear threats. NORAD's primary base of operations is headed to the basement of a building on Peterson Air Force Base that other lawmakers and official sources warn is comparatively vulnerable to terrorist attack.
In a brief statement e-mailed Tuesday to the Independent, Allard said he has received "repeated assurances" from military commanders that the mountain will "not in fact be closed." As such, he does "not necessarily believe legislative action is necessary at this time."
That's in contrast to what a majority of the U.S. House believes. Led by Rep. Solomon Ortiz, the Texas Democrat who chairs the Readiness Subcommittee, the House wants to delay NORAD's move out of Cheyenne Mountain, according to language in its version of the 2008 defense authorization.
Ortiz and others, including Rep. Mark Udall, Colorado's only member of the House Armed Services Committee, cite concerns for national security and costs.
The Senate, which is currently debating the defense authorization, has failed to mirror the language. Thus any difference in the two bills would have to be ironed out in a House-Senate conference committee.
Allard sits on that committee; thus his every utterance about the mountain is closely scrutinized.
High-level officials familiar with the mountain have raised fears of plans to move air and missile capabilities to Peterson. They warn that a truck bomb could be detonated outside Peterson, or that a jet could veer off course en route to the city's airport, potentially blinding the nation at the precise moment when assessment and response to threats would be most valued.
Salazar wants to ensure that questions about the operational benefits and costs of "relocation" of NORAD to Peterson are answered. In the defense authorization, he's asked for a report by year's end from Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Salazar spokesman Cody Wertz, in an all-too-familiar refrain, cited a Government Accountability Office report that in May was unable to find documentation for the $150 million to $200 million in "cost savings" touted by Adm. Timothy Keating, U.S. Northern Command/NORAD's former commander and transformation visionary.
The GAO also concluded that NorthCom/NORAD was moving ahead without analysis of the operational effects of the move and with an incomplete classified security assessment by contractor Sandia National Laboratories.
A draft of the Sandia study is now complete, Michael Kucharek of NorthCom headquarters at Peterson said Tuesday. Kucharek declined to characterize the study because it is classified, but said recommendations are being reviewed with Air Force Space Command, which oversees the mountain.
"We are in the early stages of this effort," Kucharek said via e-mail, adding that NorthCom's new commander, Gen. Gene Renuart, has "already directed several improvements to our physical security posture."
Neither the House provision nor Salazar's addresses the related move of certain missile and space operations to Colorado Springs' Schriever and California's Vandenberg Air Force bases, respectively.
That raises another issue, according to sources familiar with the mountain. They have told the Independent that the transition is tearing apart the mountain's nerve center and could slow detection of and response to threats to North America.