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U.S. News

Report faults U.S. move of Cheyenne command center

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military began moving its Cold War command center from deep inside Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, without fully analyzing potential security threats posed by the relocation, a report said on Thursday.

A visitor to the Cheyenne Mountain Operations center walks into the facility past a 3 foot thick, 25 ton blast door in Colorado Springs, Colorado, August 25, 2004. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan arm of Congress, said in the report that a legally mandated Defense Department report to lawmakers failed to include key threats involved in the move and understated other security issues. The threats in question were contained in a classified version of the GAO report.

The military announced in 2007 that the command center responsible for detecting attacks against North America would be moved 12 miles to Peterson Air Force Base from the famous mountain installation built beneath 2,000 feet (600 meters) of granite to withstand a nuclear war.

Military officials said the relocation, which began earlier this year, would better consolidate defense operations and allow commanders to respond more swiftly to crises or attacks. While the move is still under way, GAO said operations began at the new combined command center on May 29.

The center is jointly operated by North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, and U.S. Northern Command, which share responsibility for the defense of North America.

“It’s important for the public to know that we in the military are good stewards of taxpayer dollars and that our decisions, ultimately, make this nation safer,” U.S. Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, commander for both NORAD and Northcom, said in a statement.

“The operational advantages of this effort are numerous and unmistakable,” he said.

The Pentagon initially told the GAO in comments dated June 3 that it did not concur with a report recommendation calling for a full-spectrum reevaluation of security vulnerabilities associated with the relocation.

But the Defense Department reversed itself less than a month later and said the security review was being undertaken, according to GAO.

The Pentagon neither rejected nor accepted a second GAO recommendation calling on Renuart to certify that he is fully aware of the risks associated with the move, the GAO said.

The GAO report prompted Democrats in Congress to ask Defense Secretary Robert Gates to review the decision to relocate the NORAD command center and retain redundant systems at Cheyenne Mountain until the review is complete.

“We remain concerned that Northern Command’s mission to secure our nation’s homeland has been weakened by this decision,” Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, and Democratic Rep. Mark Udall of Colorado, said in a joint statement.

“Decisions to relocate critical command and control functions need to be carefully considered, using the best information available to ensure that our nation’s defense is as strong as it can be,” the lawmakers said.

Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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