Air Force officers have slapped a "classified" label on reports sought by the Deseret News about the malfunction or sabotage of an MX missile and are refusing to release the information.
The Air Force turned down the paper's Freedom of Information Act request for reports of an incident discovered June 15, involving an MX missile in its silo north of Cheyenne, Wyo.The refusal letter says Air Force accident reports are normally available, but cites "national defense" as the reason that reports on this incident are not.
It also says two investigations were conducted, the second for the purposes of preserving "evidence" - which seems to imply that the Air Force may suspect that sabotage or negligence was involved.
On Sept. 6, the Deseret News filed a request for copies of reports on the incident, which happened at the 90th Strategic Missile Wing, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.
According to an Air Force spokesman who talked with the Deseret News earlier, an electrical connection was found disconnected while the missile was in its silo. Two stages of the missile - which were manufactured in Utah - were shipped back to the state to be examined.
Lt. Gen. Richard A. Burpee, commander of the Strategic Air Command's 15th Air Force, appointed an investigative team.
Meanwhile, anti-MX activists in Wyoming said they think the Air Force is covering up the story. They believe the public was in great danger.
One Cheyenne-area resident said she heard a civilian specialist saythe silo's environment was so dangerous that he refused to go there, and that he was consequently fired.
On Sept. 6, the Deseret News filed a request for information about the incident, citing the Freedom of Information Act.
Col. E.M. Hartung-Schuster, chief of staff at Norton Air Force Base, Calif., responded with a letter dated Oct. 7, refusing to release any information.
"The circumstances surrounding the incident have been investigated in accordance with normal Air Force procedures," he wrote. "Two separate investigations were conducted.
"The first is the safety investigation, which will be used exclusively for mishap prevention purposes. The second, known as the accident investigation, is to preserve the evidence for all other purposes.
"We can assure you there was no indication or risk of missile launch."
MX activists were not concerned about the missile launching accidentally. They were worried about the chance of an explosion in the silo, or leakage of extremely dangerous liquid fuel used for maneuvering the warhead.
Normally, factual sections of safety reports prepared by the Air Force can be released under the Freedom of Information Act, Hartung-Schuster wrote.
"In this instance, both investigations are classified in accordance with Air Force security guidelines. Consequently, the records requested are exempt from disclosure because they are properly and currently classified in the interest of national defense."
The Deseret News is appealing the refusal.