123. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Brown to President Carter 1

SUBJECT

  • Weteye Bombs

On February 25, 1980, the Department of Defense announced that our inventory of 888 Weteye bombs, containing the nerve agent GB, would be retained in indefinite storage at Rocky Mountain Arsenal [Page 268](RMA), Colorado. This decision reversed an announcement by the Army in May 1978 that the bombs would be moved to Tooele Army Depot in Utah.2

The decision to retain the bombs at either location was based on the significant and apparently growing Soviet capabilities in chemical warfare and the need to retain a credible deterrent to the use of chemical weapons against U.S. forces or those of our allies. The JCS have recently reaffirmed the military need for Weteye, the most modern aerial-delivered weapon in our chemical inventory, and one which is compatible with modern delivery systems. An additional and important reason for retention is that, in the complete absence of any NATO offensive chemical capability, tactical nuclear weapons might be the only available response to a Soviet/Pact first use of chemical weapons. These are the reasons not to detoxify (destroy) the bombs in place.

The decision to retain the Weteye bombs at Rocky Mountain Arsenal was based largely on the desire to avoid any hazard that would be associated with their movement. Although the Army, in coordination with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, concluded that the bombs were safe to move, we decided that such a move was too risky to undertake, given the high public visibility and concern, because there would always be the possibility of accident or sabotage. Of course, such a possibility would be remote, but the consequences of an accident or sabotage could be extremely serious; if we decided to move them, those consequences would certainly be highly advertised. With planned improvements to the present storage site, retention at RMA represented the least risky alternative that would still allow for retention of the stockpile. (Other reasons for deciding to keep the bombs at RMA included RMA’s capability to tap and drain leaking bombs, and the significant delays caused by litigation and preparation of environmental impact statements that a move to Utah would entail.)

Under Secretary Bill Perry has assumed personal responsibility to see that the Army takes every reasonable action to insure that the continued storage at Rocky Mountain Arsenal poses no problems to the health and safety of the people of Denver. There are no known leaking bombs at Rocky Mountain Arsenal at this time; all are stored in sealed, air-tight containers. The Army has already been authorized additional civilian spaces to increase the security guard force, and is undertaking all necessary measures to improve fencing, lighting, and other aspects of security at the facility. In the longer term, the site upgrade will include the construction of a new underground storage facility that will provide maximum safety and that would prevent danger to the adja[Page 269]cent vicinity even in the event of an aircraft crash directly into the storage site. Senator Hart, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Construction, although he personally supports immediate detoxification, has pledged to work with DoD to provide the funds necessary to ensure that storage at RMA meets the highest possible standards of safety and security.

Other than urging immediate detoxification, Mrs. Schroeder has made other complaints and recommendations. She has proposed that the bombs be drained and subsequently refilled elsewhere. Unfortunately, it does not appear either timely or cost effective to pursue this suggestion. Approximately 5 to 7 years and $16 million would be required to implement this proposal.

The storage facility at RMA will be needed until modern binary weapon systems are available to replace the Weteyes in our deterrent, retaliatory stockpile. Until a facility is built for the production of these weapons, I see no prudent option but to retain the Weteyes in the safest environment possible.

Harold Brown
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 12, Chemical Weapons, 5/78–11/80. No classification marking.
  2. See “Brown, in Shift, Will Keep 900 Nerve Gas Bombs,” New York Times, May 19, 1978, p. A–12.