The Deseret News has attempted to discover the truth about the Wyoming MX missile malfunction for six months, ever since rumors of the incident trickled out.
But throughout the investigation, the Air Force has replied with evasion and denials.The Deseret News learned about the incident in August 1988. Lt. Col. Don Christianson, public service chief at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, where the missile fell in its silo, said an electrical connection was discovered disconnected during an inspection in mid-June.
That seemed to imply that the incident was not much to worry about - only that a cord came loose.
But the Air Force launched a large-scale investigation, classified the reports and announced it was preserving evidence "for other purposes."
The missile was disassembled and the parts were shipped back to their depots or assembly points, the Air Force said. This caused the Deseret News to wonder if there were a structural or design defect.
On Sept. 6, the paper filed a Freedom of Information Act request for information on the incident, which was discovered in June at the base north of Cheyenne.
The letter was addressed to Vincent P. Murone, chief, reports branch, Directorate of Aerospace Safety, Norton Air Force Base. "The reason for my interest is that two stages were built in Utah, and both were shipped back here," said the letter.
On Oct. 7, Col. E.M. Hartung-Schuster, chief of staff, Air Force Inspection and Safety Center, replied, denying the request. "We can assure you there was no indication or risk of missile launch," he wrote.
Hartung-Schuster said any appeal of the denial should be sent to the secretary of the Air Force at the Pentagon, Washington. The appeal was mailed there on Dec. 5, 1988.
The paper said in the appeal that its questions could be answered "without the need to release any information that could help a potential adversary."
Although the appeal had been addressed as the Air Force requested, the next letter that arrived said the wrong address was inadvertently given to the paper, and that the appeal was being forwarded to the right address.
The letter came from Barbara A. Carmichael, the Air Force's manager of Freedom of Information Act requests. "We regret you were given our address in error," it said.
Curiously, this Dec. 8, 1988, letter was correctly addressed to Joseph Bauman at the Deseret News. But it began, "Dear Mr. Whipple," and said the "correct appeal address" was through Norton AFB.
Finally, on Jan. 11, yet another letter arrived about addresses.
This one was written by Vincent P. Murone, chief of the Reports Branch, Directorate of Aerospace Safety, Norton AFB. Murone is the person to whom the original Sept. 6, 1987, request was addressed.
Norton AFB is where the Pentagon had sent the appeal. And Norton was sending it back to Washington.
"Your appeal has been forwarded to the Litigation Division, Office of the Judge Advocate General, for evaluation," it said. "Future correspondence concerning the appeal should be addressed to," an address in Washington, D.C.