124. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Brown to President Carter1


  • Weteye Nerve Agent Bombs

This memorandum updates my 1 May memorandum to you2 and summarizes recent discussions on the Weteye issue. These discussions have followed our notification to interested Committees of the Congress of the DoD decision to retain the Weteye nerve agent bombs at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal (RMA) in Denver, Colorado, rather than to move them to another location.

As you remember, the DoD decision was based on strong reaffirmation by the Services and the Joint Staff of the military need for the [Page 270] bombs and the perceived small, but finite, risk to the public associated with the movement considering the high media attention that would be given to air movement and the possibility of a terrorist attack on an airplane as it was loaded at Stapleton Airport or as it took off. Retention at Rocky Mountain Arsenal is intended for a period of approximately four to six years, depending on the construction plan for the new binary facility. To ensure secure and safe storage of Weteye at RMA, we will invest approximately $7 million to bring the storage sites up to the level of protection afforded nuclear weapons.

After the Congressional notification of the decision to retain the agent at RMA, Under Secretary Bill Perry discussed the issue with Congresswoman Schroeder, Senator Hart, Governor Matheson and others. With the exception of Congresswoman Schroeder, there has been to my knowledge no request for reexamination of alternative actions. Congresswoman Schroeder asked for discussion of the following four alternatives, which in one variant or another we had previously considered:

(1) Arrange to fly the Weteye bombs covertly from Stapleton Airport (to avoid alerting potential terrorists) to Dugway Army Depot, Utah and then transport them by ground to Tooele Army Depot, Utah.

(2) Transport the Weteye bombs from RMA to Buckley Airfield (an Air National Guard airfield near Denver) by truck; then in the more controlled environment associated with a military airfield, take off and fly to Dugway with ground transport to Tooele.

(3) Move Weteye by ground transport from RMA to Pueblo Army Depot, Colorado for permanent storage.

(4) Empty the Weteye bombs at RMA, detoxify the agent, retain bomb cases and reload and store at Tooele.

Let me briefly summarize my position on these four alternatives:

Alternative (1). In my opinion, the likelihood of covert movement of 14 aircraft loads of very conspicuous cargo from an area as populous as that surrounding RMA is very slight. Further, trying to convert into a covert action what has heretofore been an open, widely-debated issue is unlikely to succeed and more likely to simply exacerbate public opinion.

Alternative (2). This requires truck transport through populous areas, and appears to be even more susceptible to sabotage than the air transport from RMA.

Alternative (3). This requires road transport, again through populated areas, but over a considerably longer road distance than alternative (2). This appears to involve greater risk of sabotage, and when the move is complete, permanent storage will be at a place less acceptable than Tooele.

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Alternative (4). This requires extensive investment, both in detoxification equipment not now at RMA, and in nerve agent loading equipment not now at Tooele. It would take almost as long to detoxify and rebuild the old bombs as it would to build new binary bombs to replace them.

In summary, let me emphasize that DoD is sensitive to the difficult military, environmental and political issues involved in retention of Weteye at RMA. Having spent considerable time and effort again reviewing the subject, I still believe that the most responsible position is to retain Weteye at RMA until the binary facility is in operation or conditions are more favorable for movement. There is no decision we can take without drawing significant opposition from some source. Changing our decision will please some, anger others, and make us susceptible to a charge of vacillation. Our best course of action is to stick with the decision we have made, which is most defensible from an objective viewpoint (because it minimizes the risk) and is no worse than other alternatives from a political viewpoint.

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. Actually dated April 30; see Document 123.