A Royal Navy submariner who exposed a catalogue of alleged security failings around the Trident nuclear program is facing jail after promising to hand himself in to police on Monday.
Able Seaman William McNeilly, 25, who served from January to April this year on board the HMS Victorious, went on the run after claiming that Britain’s nuclear deterrent was a “disaster waiting to happen” in a report detailing 30 alleged safety and security breaches.
The 17-page report titled “The Secret Nuclear Threat”, which was published online, triggered an immediate investigation by the Ministry of Defence as police and Royal Navy chiefs tried to track down the submariner.
In the report, published alongside a picture of his UK passport and Royal Navy identity card, McNeilly said he wanted “to break down the false images of a perfect system that most people envisage exists”. He described Trident as a “broken system” and said the focus should be on “peacefully removing the threat” and that Britain was heading for “catastrophe” if security was not improved on the nuclear submarines.
McNeilly wrote that security lapses at the Faslane naval base on the Clyde, where he is based, exposed the UK nuclear deterrent to potential terrorist attacks that “would kill our people and destroy our land,” and meant it was only “a matter of time before we’re infiltrated by a psychopath or a terrorist”. Possible attackers have “the perfect opportunity to send nuclear warheads crashing down on the UK,” he claims.
McNeilly described bags going unchecked and said it was “harder getting into most nightclubs” than into control rooms, with broken pin code systems and guards failing to check passes. “All it takes is someone to bring a bomb on board to commit the worst terrorist attack the UK and the world has ever seen,” he wrote.
“At a Base security brief we were told that thousands of Royal Navy IDs go missing every year. A terrorist can use them, or create counterfeits with them and easily gain access down the submarine. Considering most of the guards barely look at them from a few metres (couple of feet if they’re the rare ones) away the fakes wouldn’t have to be too perfect,” the whistleblower explained. “I’ve shown a room card or nothing, at least once at every check point.”
McNeilly claimed that during his serve time the missile launch tests failed on three occasions, meaning a successful launch would likely be impossible.”“Basically they’re endangering the public and spending billions upon billions of tax payers money for a system so broken it can’t even do the tests that prove it works,” he writes.
McNeilly accused navy bosses of a “massive cover-up” regarding the collision between HMS Vanguard and a French submarine in the Atlantic Ocean in February 2009.
At the time, Ministry of Defence officials played down the incident and said the Vanguard had sustained only “scrapes”. But McNeilly said a navy chief who was on board at the time told him afterwards: “We thought, this is it – we’re all going to die.”
The more senior submariner allegedly told McNeilly that the French vessel “took a massive chunk out of the front of HMS Vanguard” and grazed the side of the boat. Bottles of high-pressured air came loose in the collision, he claimed, and the British submarine had to return slowly to Faslane to prevent them from exploding.
McNeilly also raised concerns about a number of his fellow seamen, including one whose hobbies he claimed were killing small animals and watching extreme pornography. Another submariner, whom he named only as “Pole”, had threatened to kill two fellow navy personnel and was routinely aggressive, McNeilly claimed.
He described how HMS Vanguard’s missile compartment doubled up as a gym, leading to potentially disastrous mishaps when seamen dropped weights near the boat’s missile firing system.
The whistleblower also revealed that there had allegedly been a fire in the missile compartment when the vessel was in harbour. He claimed the blaze was sparked by overheated cables setting light to stacks of toilet roll. “The chief said if it had been at sea there would’ve been about 50 dead bodies on three deck because of the amount of people struggling to find an emergency breathing system,” he claimed.
McNeilly said he raised these and other concerns through the chain of command on multiple occasions, but that “not once did someone even attempt to make a change”.
The McNeilly revelations prompted another former Royal Navy sailor to speak out about security lapses in the service. Euan Bryson, 25, a communications specialist who served on the HMS Ark Royal and HMS Illustrious, told The Guardian that McNeilly’s allegations “rang true”.
Bryson, who was also based at Faslane for two years before he left the service in 2013, said a shipmate routinely used a blue bank card to get past security into base after losing his Royal Navy identity card on a night out.
“My biggest concern is the security element. In my entire time I never once had a bag searched,” he said. “I made my thoughts clear when I served and when I handed in my resignation. The chain of command system has failed.”
Bryson said there was “manning issues” across the board meaning that relatively junior employees were often tasked to do jobs they did not have the security training or clearance to carry out.
via Euan Bryson’s blog:
I expressed my opinion due to experiences I had during my time serving in the Royal Navy, where I witnessed several security issues that bore striking similarities to that reported by William McNeilly. The most shocking of which involved a colleague routinely using a blue bank card to pass through security gates on regular occasions. I’d also like to point out that I never once, excluding the day I arrived for basic training, received any sort of bag or body search while serving. There was, without doubt, an “it’ll never happen to us” mentality throughout the force, which led to quite major lapses of security during my time in service.
Many of his claims ring true to me personally. Some from first hand experience, and others through friends during my time serving. And it bothers me that these claims aren’t being considered credible due to his short term of service when, even as a lowly AB2, I was tasked with jobs well above my rank, remit and pay grade. Again, at this stage I’m unwilling to divulge much more information as I need to know where I stand legally.
Speaking from a secret location to BBC, the submariner said:
“Nuclear weapons have served a purpose in history. They maintain peace through fear alone. That peace can no longer be maintained by nuclear weapons… anyone who reads the report or has knowledge of the system will see that.
The world is constantly evolving. We face a new threat now. Every great nation on this planet has been infiltrated by terrorists; even the systems have come extremely close to causing a catastrophe themselves, on numerous covered up occasions.
You don’t have to be Alexander the Great to see the lack of strategy in keeping these systems, that are tremendously destructive and extremely open to attack, on our homeland. ”
Ministry of Defence officials have launched an investigation into his claims but also sought to downplay their significance.
In an official statement, a Navy spokesperson said:
“The document contains a number of subjective and unsubstantiated person views, made by a very junior sailor, with which the naval service completely disagrees.
Whilst it is right that the contents of this document are considered in detail, we can be clear that in itself it does not pose any security risk to our personnel or operations.
The Royal Navy takes security and nuclear safety extremely seriously. The naval service operates its submarine fleet under the most stringent safety regime and submarines do not go to sea unless they are completely safe to do so.
The Navy is concerned for the whereabouts and well-being of Able Seaman McNeilly and is working closely with civilian police to locate him.”
McNeilly, who is understood to have been overseas when the dossier was published, was due to return to the UK on Monday afternoon and hand himself in to the police.
In a statement published on his Facebook page, the 25-year-old said he had moved between countries and changed location every day since going on the run, but that he now “lacks the resources to remain undetected”. McNeilly said he stood by his leaks, and had anticipated that Royal Navy chiefs would go on the offensive rather than tackling the safety and security issues he raised.
“I’ve tried my best over the past year, and I’ve finally achieved what I set out to do. I set out to gather as much information as possible, as fast as possible, inform you and the government before getting caught, then hand myself into the police. There’s nothing I can do from prison; whatever happens now is up to you and the government. I had to earn fast track promotion and skip a dental operation just to get a patrol as soon as I did. If you want remove the threat, don’t waste time. Security at the site must heightened immediately whether you make the transition to nuclear disarmament or not. Responding by downplaying a report because there’s lack of seniority, acting like your security system is impenetrable and your aged system is still in excellent condition for sailing, is not an adequate response. Anyone who can use simple logic will not believe that. If someone is willing to alert the public they wouldn’t be spending about 10 years working there to be a senior rate; anyone who knows anything about cars can work out that a boat launched in 1992 isn’t going to be in a good condition. You may say there have been refits but in the words of a senior rate within the last year “everything is fucked.” The people are not stupid; logic will prevail.
I will be handing myself into the police today. The hotel and flight I booked for the 20th was just a decoy, for anyone thinking about making a move. I have moved between countries, changed location almost every day, stuck to mainly communicating through the deep web and used multiple aliases when I could, but I lack the resources to remain undetected. Any good investigator or hacker, will know where I am right now. Amongst other things my bank transactions will give you my location. I have had a few suspicious run-ins along the way such as: someone spending 3 hours trying to into my room without knocking (lock the door with the key in it = best security ever), someone trying to get me down an alley and someone coming over and touching my laptop in public, to see what I was doing.
This hasn’t been an easy path to walk down, but there are brave and intelligent people working for the Trident Programme. They just need to realize that they are serving a broken system and not the people. If you continue to defend it sooner or later more truth will come out or a catastrophe will happen, either way you’ll be fucked.
After working my ass off, putting my life on the line and sacrificing pretty much all I had to warn you and government. I’ll be awarded with free meals and free accommodation, in prison … There is a small chance of a pardon or a shortened sentence. Unlike some whistle-blowers out there who release information without consideration, put lives at risk and reduce security: I only included essential information, I tried the chain of command route, sources were referred to by rank instead of name, there was information I never released that would’ve helped the report but it would’ve caused a security risk… My motives are clearly to protect the people and land. Whatever happens, don’t worry about me; I’ll be alright. There’s bigger things to be concerned about right now than me. Focus should be maintained on peacefully removing the threat.
Thanks a lot for your support, I will see you again one day.”
Brendan O’Hara, the new SNP MP for Argyll and Bute, which includes the Faslane base, said that he would be writing to the defence secretary Michael Fallon to call for an immediate inquiry in McNeilly’s claims.
The SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson said the report read as “a nightmare catalogue of serious safety breaches aboard and alongside these nuclear-armed submarines” and called for the Ministry of Defence to make public the results of its investigation. “Failure to follow standard safety procedures is unacceptable in any workplace but on a Vanguard submarine on patrol it could result in extreme tragedy not just for those on board but indeed for the entire planet,” he added.
Able Seaman William McNeilly was detained at Edinburgh Airport at 10pm on Monday, according to Sky Sources.
A statement from the Royal Navy said: “We can confirm that AB McNeilly was apprehended last night and is now in the custody of the Royal Navy Police at a military establishment in Scotland where he is being afforded the duty of care that we give to all of our people.
“The Royal Navy disagrees with McNeilly’s subjective and unsubstantiated personal views but we take the operation of our submarines and the safety of our personnel extremely seriously and so continue to fully investigate the circumstances of this issue.”
McNeilly’s brother, Aaron, told friends on Facebook on Tuesday morning that he was feeling “happy” and said “my brother is safe and well”. He later added that his brother was in Scotland and said he had handed himself in.
McNeilly now faces the prospect of military disciplinary action by the Royal Navy police and a criminal prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, which can carry a lengthy prison sentence.