I-Team: The Road Warriors, Part 2 - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Chief Investigative Reporter

I-Team: The Road Warriors, Part 2

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No matter how you cut it, moving nuclear weapons anywhere carries inherent risks. No matter how you cut it, moving nuclear weapons anywhere carries inherent risks.
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Decades ago, the sprawling complex tucked into the foothills northeast of the Nellis runways was known as the Lake Mead Base. These days, it's called Area 2.

It's one of the three largest weapons storage sites in the nation -- its bunkers packed with bombs and explosives used to train the world's best fighter pilots. But there's something else here too.

Secured behind the triple-wired fences and serious warnings signs, in hardened tunnels that cut deep into the earth, is one of the largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons in existence.

As a matter of policy, the government won't confirm or deny, but it's believed there are more than 200, and perhaps as many as 1,000 of the most terrible weapons ever built, all within 10 miles of Downtown Las Vegas.

When the atomic testing program was at its peak, the bombs that obliterated chunks of the test site were stored until needed at Area 2. More recently, the devices have been reconfigured to be used in non-nuclear testing at Area 52, the Tonopah Test Range, or are transported to other places where they are dismantled altogether.

Check out the Office of Secure Transportation

"We've got treaties where we are reducing the number of nuclear weapons that are out there. So the weapons that are out there, we have got to get them to the facilities that do the dismantlement," said Darwin Morgan with the National Nuclear Security Administration. "That's Pantex, so we've got to move the weapons there."

And that's the job of the Office of Secure Transportation, or OST, a vital but low-profile unit that operates with the precision and firepower of a commando squad and the stealth of a CIA agent. By necessity it is an elite group more than 1,200 strong.

"These are some of the best trained, smartest, physically fit and capable men and women the U.S. has," said OST Director Colonel Craig Tucker

Col. Tucker commanded Marine units in Iraq and brings the same intensity to the OST.

No matter how you cut it, moving nuclear weapons anywhere carries inherent risks, so his agents anticipate and prepare for the worst. That means constant training, much of it weapons training. Each OST agent is an expert marksman, and each convoy carries an arsenal, though they decline to talk specifics.

An assortment of specially modified vehicles accompanies every shipment. Millions of Americans have probably seen them on the road and thought nothing of it, since there are no special signs or placards on the trucks to indicate what's inside.

If the I-Team hadn't been looking for vehicles fitting their description, we might not have given the convoy a second glance. What we didn't know at the time is that the trucks can defend themselves.

"It's an armed tractor and then the trailer is a secure trailer that is capable of basically defending itself in case of attack," said OST Operations Manager Mike Flynn.

The Transformers movie comes to mind.         

OST's big rigs are not quite that sophisticated, but they undergo radical transformations before they are put into service. For one thing, they have redundant communications systems that will let central command know every time they move so much as a foot.

The I-Team was told that in the event all the agents were somehow taken out, anyone who tried to steal a nuke from an OST truck would be dead. Period.

"The vehicles are prepared to assist in the defense of the shipment," said Flynn.

Earlier this year, OST set up shop at Area 12 of the Nevada Test Site, taking advantage of the good roads and infrastructure to do some serious, real-world training. Characteristically, no announcement was made, but the experience went so well the office is now considering a permanent presence on the test site.

As part of the training, a team of designated bad guys devises ever changing schemes to use in attacking the convoys. Sophisticated sensors record how many hits each truck takes during exercises.

Other than a brief peek into the program, the efforts to protect the world are something the public never sees.

"Their capabilities and their professionalism and their intellect speaks for itself. They don't need to come out and advertise it," said Col. Tucker.

OST does not, as a rule, alert local agencies when it is coming thru with a special cargo. But in recent years, it has developed an outreach program to state and local law enforcement because it knows if something happens out there on the road, it would need the help of the local guys.

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