Nukewatch Quarterly Summer 2015
A submariner in the British Navy, Able Seaman William McNeilly, 25, has embarrassed the Royal Navy by publishing a 19-page statement ridiculing lax security habits at Britain’s giant Faslane submarine base and onboard the giant subs. The base that maintains nuclear-armed Trident submarines is on the Firth of Clyde located in Scotland about 25 miles west of Glasgow.
McNeilly’s allegations include details of 30 safety breaches—he alleges that it’s “harder to get into most nightclubs” than getting unchecked bags on to a ballistic missile submarine with nuclear warheads—involving broken security code systems, failure to follow standard security requirement, and guards routinely failing to check ID badges. McNeilly claims he was repeatedly waved passed guard posts flashing nothing but a motel door key card.
McNeilly claimed in his report, “In a Base security brief, we were told that thousands of Royal Navy IDs go missing every year.” The lapses regularly opened the UK’s nuclear weapons program to attacks by enemy infiltrators.
The seaman claims he spent a year preparing his report, went Absent Without Leave in order to release it publicly, which he did May 17 via WikiLeaks, and told the Guardian that he was willing to risk imprisonment in order to bring his warning to the British people.
“All it takes is someone to bring a bomb onboard to commit the worst terrorist attack the UK and the world has every [sic] seen,” he wrote on WikiLeaks.
McNeilly turned himself in to police May 20 and is reportedly being held by the Navy in Scotland.
Among McNeilly’s revelations is his recounting of the underwater collision on the night of Feb. 3, 2009 between two submarines carrying nuclear nuclear-armed missiles. Somewhere in the Atlantic, the French sub Le Triomphant struck the British sub Vanguard, while both were presumably carrying 16 ballistic missiles with multiple warheads.
The British and French governments minimized the collision in a jointly prepared, narrowly worded statement that mentioned only inconsequential “scrapes” to the Vanguard and damage to the sonar dome on the French sub.
However, McNeilly, who served on the Trident sub Victorious, reports that he was told by a Navy chief who was on the Vanguard that, “We thought, ‘This is it. We’re all going to die.” The chief told McNeilly that Le Triomphant “took a massive chunk out of the front of HMS Vanguard.”
In his report, which he titled “The Secret Nuclear Threat,” McNeilly wrote, “I brought things of all shapes through and none of it was checked. Before sailing I brought my own stuff onboard in a huge grip bag; it wasn’t checked. There were 31 BSQ’s [sailors with Basic Submarine Qualification] and ship’s staff and civilians—over 180 people bringing huge unchecked bags onboard.”
Calling the nuclear submarine program “a disaster waiting to happen,” McNeilly wrote that he hoped for a pardon from the Prime Minister “for alerting the people and the government to a major threat.”
—Mint Press, May 20; Guardian, May 18, 2015; New York Times, Feb. 17; Daily Telegraph, Feb. 16, 2009 —JL