U.S. troops tasked with guarding nuclear weapons deployed in Europe exposed their exact locations and top-secret security protocols by creating flashcards on popular education apps, an investigation published Friday said.
To familiarize themselves with things like which shelters in various locations had "hot" vaults with live nuclear bombs, with security patrol schedules, and with identification badge details, the soldiers created digital flashcard sets on apps like Chegg Prep, Quizlet and Cram, the investigative group Bellingcat found.
"By simply searching online for terms publicly known to be associated with nuclear weapons, Bellingcat was able to discover cards used by military personnel serving at all six European military bases reported to store nuclear devices," wrote Foeke Postma, the author of the Bellingcat article.
They found a flashcard made on Cram entitled "Incirlik Job Knowledge," which showed how many WS3 vaults, the military term for weapons storage and security systems, were at Turkey's Incirlik Air Base (IAB).
"How many WS3 vaults are there on IAB," said the question side of one virtual flashcard.
"25," it read on the answer side.
A set of 70 flashcards on Chegg titled "Study!" was also found. It noted the exact shelters containing nuclear weapons at Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands.
It revealed that there are 11 WS3 vaults at Volkel.
Another card from the same set indicated that five of the eleven vaults were "hot" with nuclear bombs while the other 6 were "cold," and specified which vaults.
A set of 80 cards on the Cram flashcard site detailed hot and cold vaults at Aviano Air Base in Italy and revealed how a soldier should respond in activating them based on the different levels of alarms they receive.
Other cards exposed secrets at bases in Turkey, Belgium and Germany. Some detailed the location of security cameras while others gave the secret "duress words" that a soldier, perhaps seized by attackers, would say over a phone to indicate he had been taken prisoner.
The flashcards Bellingcat discovered were publicly available as far back as 2013, and some were being used as recently as April 2021.
Bellingcat said those it had viewed appeared to have been removed after it contacted NATO and the U.S. military for comment before it published its article.