Top military man says he's unaware of reports critical of NORAD transition

Adm. Mike Mullen, the nation's top military officer, says he supports moving NORAD's operations from the granite depths of Cheyenne Mountain to the basement of a building on Peterson Air Force Base. But he's unaware of reports indicating problems with the relocation.

"Other than you just mentioning, no, I haven't read any GAO report or heard from the [secretary of defense]," Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday at Peterson. That comment came just after Mullen said he was briefed two years ago by Adm. Timothy Keating, the former North American Aerospace Defense and U.S. Northern commands leader who initiated the plan.

"[I] thought it was a good idea then; think it is a good idea now," Mullen said.

Yet several government agencies and officials have questioned the transition involving the round-the-clock mission in which U.S. and Canadian crews scour the skies for terrorist and nuclear threats. Crews have minutes to assess a threat and notify top officials, including the president, who in turn relies heavily on an uninterrupted flow of accurate assessments from NORAD to determine a course of action, including the possible launch of U.S. nuclear weapons.

Former U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley, after 20 years of representing the Colorado Springs area in Congress, said last year the mountain would be a safer place than Peterson. He cited fears a truck bomb could be detonated on the highway near Peterson, causing chaos. A high-level source noted that a plane could veer off-path from Colorado Springs Municipal Airport and crash into the Peterson building in seconds.

Moreover, Government Accountability Office inspectors have cited a lack of documentation to support Keating's claim that the transition would save millions annually. And the GAO found assessments of the transition's security risks were incomplete.

In a draft analysis obtained by the Independent last year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates' Program Analysis and Evaluation Office wrote that the mountain has a "higher survivability than" the Peterson building and that the transition might "critically" compromise NORAD's mission (""Sensitive' documents indicate Cheyenne Mountain's better for NORAD," News, Oct. 25).

Mullen, after admitting he was unaware of the reports, deferred to Gen. Gene Renuart, who last year replaced Keating as commander of NORAD and Northern Command. Renuart acknowledged the concerns, and added those of members of Congress to his list.

"And in each case, there were specific questions about cost, about systems integration, about redundancy," Renuart said. "And in each of those cases, we have provided answers back to those agencies that I think address them in the proper context, and those agencies appear to be supportive at this point."

The Independent has requested documentation of Northern Command's answers to the agencies and Congress. A spokesman did not address that request by deadline.

Earlier this year, Congress passed legislation granting $5 million to help move NORAD to Peterson, but with contingencies that the money would only be released pending thorough analysis.

The project has been slated to be complete sometime this spring.

Fresh from a briefing, Mullen spoke Monday to about 500 troops and civilians representing 60 agencies at Peterson. He praised the leadership at NORAD/Northern Command.

"This command is every bit as interested in what is going on globally with the terrorist threat as it is with what's going on nationally," he said, "because this is the place that sees that and then would bring solution sets to make sure that we don't have a catastrophic incident here in this country."



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