Students all over the globe use flashcards to memorize information. A report by Bellingcat states that U.S. soldiers who worked in America’s secret nuclear sites in Europe used flashcards to learn nuclear security secrets. Although some flashcards containing secret information were removed from the internet by the Pentagon, it did not remove all of them. Many of them are still available on the Wayback Machine.
It is not known that the U.S. holds nuclear weapons in Europe. leaked documents show the precise locations of many bases, but details of their operations are kept secret. Many of these secrets were revealed in the flashcards. One set of flashcards showed the location of modems connecting to vaults and the procedures for sending duress signals at base. It also detailed the locations of cameras and their locations. Bellingcat said that the cards also included details about password composition, usernames, and the possibility of including spaces.
Bellingcat found the flashcards after doing a Google routine search for acronyms related nuclear operations, along with the names and addresses of the bases that hold the nukes. Bellingcat stated that he simply searched for “PAS”, ‘WS3″ and ‘vault on Google and combined with the names and locations of European air bases quickly brought up free flashcard platforms like Chegg, Quizlet and Cram.
Bellingcat reported the flashcards to the Pentagon. They’ve been removed since then. The Internet Archive and Wayback Machine still have archives of these pages. At least two of 50 flashcard sets containing nuclear secrets are still available to anyone as of the writing of this article.
Motherboard reached out U.S. European Command and the Pentagon for comments.
Motherboard was told by an Airforce spokesperson that the Department of the Air Force is looking into the suitability of study flashcards sharing information. Others did not respond immediately.
Alex Wellerstein is a New Jersey Institute of Technology professor of History of Science and author of the book Restricted Data: The History of Nuclear Secrecy within the USA. “This is absurd.”
In a Twitter DM, Wellerstein stated that “every college professor in the nation would tell you [websites] such as Chegg ultimately degrade the educational experience.” “But I never thought that they would be used to degrade nuclear security by lazy servicemen.”
Wellerstein says that Chegg is a well-known cheating tool on college campuses. Students can upload flashcard sets to share with their fellow students. He stated that the classic “don’t cheat” speech of professors includes, “would you like a cheater flying your plane or performing your brain surgery?” We can now add: ‘Would you want a cheater to handle your nuclear weapons security?
The job of nuclear personnel in the Air Force is a boring, tedious and monotonous one. To ensure they are keeping up with all the technical details, they are routinely tested. Sometimes, they cheat to pass the test. After an investigation into widespread cheating among its nuclear staff , nine Air Force officers were fired in 2014. Four years later, investigators found that Air Force nuclear personnel had been using LSD while on the job.
The communities living near the bases aren’t comfortable with cheating, posting nuclear secrets online, or taking acid on the job.
“These nuclear weapons continue to pose a risk to the European population and there is not preparedness to deal the consequences of any use either in war, or by accident,” Beatrice Fihn, executive director of International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons told Motherboard via email.
Fihn stated that polls show strong support from the public in Italy, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands for…removal of these nuclear weapons.