About Those Missing Missiles: "A Series Of Apparent Errors"

Mary Walsh is a producer for CBS News based at the Pentagon.
As he stepped in front of the Pentagon press corps this afternoon, a downcast Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne looked like he'd just come from a bad session with the school principal -- a meeting with Defense Secretary Defense Robert Gates to explain how those nukes got loose at Minot Air Force Base.

Now Wynne was in the briefing room to take another dose of punishment -- stand in front of the cameras and admit publicly that his airmen loaded six missiles onto a B-52 and flew them thousands of miles to another base -- without noticing they were nuclear. It was unthinkable -- nuclear munitions removed from a secure bunker without anyone knowing about it.

This afternoon, Wynne himself was about to do the unthinkable -- going on the record to confirm top-secret information. Were those tears in his eyes?

"Normally it is our policy to neither confirm nor deny as to whether there were nuclear weapons involved," he began. "In this particular instance I'm going to make an exception."

Wynne said there had been "a series of apparent errors," a breakdown in munitions handling procedures, unacceptable mistakes and "clear deviation from our exacting standards."

Three Air Force officers were being relieved of command, criminal investigations launched and a blue ribbon panel was to take on nuclear warhead security as only a blue ribbon panel can.

But Secretary Wynne could not guarantee the result. "We are making all appropriate changes to ensure that this has minimal chance of ever happening again, he said, "but we would really like to ensure it never happens again."