Soldiers accidentally reveal where nuclear weapons are stored by using publicly visible flashcard apps
US soldiers relied on flashcard apps to study and remember the details of the nuclear weapon systems for at least eight years without realizing that the highly confidential information was also available online for anyone to look it up
Soldiers stationed on European bases harboring nuclear weapons unwittingly revealed some sensitive security details via the flash apps, with top secret information appearing publicly in online searches.
The details include classified information, including where nuclear weapons are stored on bases and the secret code and duress words believed to be known only to members of the military.
US soldiers stationed at military bases in Europe, armed with nuclear weapons, have unwittingly shared secret protocols and basic data, including this photo of soldiers posting on a Dutch base with what appeared to be a nuclear warhead
One flash card would indicate in detail whether certain vaults are ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ and contain nuclear weapons
The locations of security cameras and duress signal words that soldiers can use when compromised were also included in the online training, which is publicly available
But the information appears to be contained in online study tools used by soldiers who need the information for use in their work.
The flashcards were used in studying and learning apps known as Chegg, Quizlet and Cram according to Bellingcat who have conducted a lengthy investigation.
The study tools were very detailed and included information on basic security and the specific location of nuclear devices in Europe.
The flashcards were used to help soldiers remember which specific vaults in a base contained nuclear weapons and which ones remained empty.
While it seemingly contains a number of acronyms, each set of flash cards can be further googled to reveal even more detailed information.
Two bombs are placed next to each other. The top photo shows what could be a live warhead, while the bottom is an inactive ‘dummy’ bomb as indicated by red writing
A B61 atomic bomb depicted as part of a training equipment package
While the presence of US nuclear weapons in Europe has been detailed in the past through several leaked documents, photos and statements of retired officials and their specific locations are still officially classified, and governments neither confirm nor deny their presence.
But Bellingcat was able to find flashcards posted by soldiers at all six bases in Europe that reportedly contained nuclear weapons.
The position of cameras, which safes contain weapons, which safes remain empty, and the types of equipment used were just some of the secret details that were made public.
These flashcard apps seem to reveal a lot of information. By simply searching Google and looking up the names of specific bases in Europe that are believed to contain nuclear weapons, the information was available for free.
US soldiers are depicted in a photo posted by someone associated with the 703rd Munitions Support Squadron on Facebook at Volkel Air Base, home of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The group may have posted with a nuclear warhead
Visual clues in the photo suggested to viewers that the photo was taken in the Netherlands
A set of 70 flashcards entitled ‘Study!’ Chegg seemed to notice the exact hideouts the weapons contained.
Details not available elsewhere, including passwords, security procedures and even the locations of security cameras and information about the duress signals soldiers should say when they were compromised, were also revealed.
Secrecy about the deployment of US nuclear weapons in Europe does not exist to protect weapons from terrorists, but only to protect politicians and military leaders from answering tough questions about whether NATO’s nuclear weapons-sharing arrangements are still make sense. This is another warning that these weapons are not safe, ”Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asian Non-Proliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies told Bellingcat.
Some flashcards appear to have been online and publicly visible for eight years, some as late as April 2021.
A simple search on Google Earth was then able to find out the exact location of the hangar
The details of a photo can be easily compared to other available maps
A photo that came up during searches showed American soldiers posing for a photo taken at Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands.
The photo was uploaded to Facebook in 2013, but it looks like the photo shows a nuclear warhead.
By comparing the photo with the data from the flashcards, the site was able to verify the existence of some of the nuclear vaults, further confirming the flashcards that revealed previously unreleased military secrets.
When the Dutch Ministry of Defense was approached for comment, it said the nuclear device depicted was inert, adding that the photo “should not have been taken, let alone published.”
A flashcard shows which shelters on the Volkel base contain nuclear weapons
Several flashcards targeting the authenticator details of a Restricted Area Badge (RAB)
Experts say the findings constituted serious breaches of security protocols and raised new questions about the deployment of US nuclear weapons in Europe.
“There are so many fingerprints that reveal where the nuclear weapons are that there is no military or security purpose in trying to keep it a secret. Security is achieved through effective security, not secrecy. Admittedly, there may be specific operational and security details that must be kept secret, but the presence of nuclear weapons is not, ” said Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists.
“The real purpose of secrecy is to avoid controversial public debate in countries where nuclear weapons are not popular.”
A US Air Force spokesperson said they knew flashcard apps were being used by soldiers and they are now investigating the appropriateness of information published on the platforms.
The spokesperson would not discuss past or current security protocols.
After being contacted by the investigative journalism website specializing in fact-checking and open-source intelligence, Bellingcat sent out a non-exhaustive list of 50 flashcards it found over the past month when it approached the U.S. military for comment.
All cited examples now seem to have been removed.