Nuclear Bombs Mistakenly Flown Over U.S.

A B-52 bomber was mistakenly armed with six nuclear warheads and flown for more than three hours across several states last week, prompting an Air Force investigation and the firing of one commander, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.

The mistake was so serious that President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were quickly informed and Gates has asked for daily briefings on the Air Force inquiry, said Defense Department press secretary Geoff Morrell.

He said Gates was assured that "the munitions were part of a routine transfer between the two bases and at all times they were in the custody and control of Air Force personnel and at no time was the public in danger."

Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called the mishandling of the weapons "deeply disturbing" and said the committee would press the military for details. Rep. Edward J. Markey, a senior member of the Homeland Security Committee, said it was "absolutely inexcusable."

"Nothing like this has ever been reported before and we have been assured for decades that it was impossible," said Markey, D-Mass., co-chair of the House task force on nonproliferation.

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