Professionalism/William McNeilly and Trident

The Secret Nuclear ThreatEdit

Trident Nuclear ProgramEdit

Trident nuclear-powered HMS Victorious submarine
Trident II D-5 ballistic missile underwater launch

The Trident nuclear program is the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent, covering the development and acquisition of nuclear weapons in the UK, and their methods of operation. The program was officially announced in July 1980, and patrols began in December 1994.[1] Trident consists of four Vanguard-class nuclear-powered submarines, armed with Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles, which can deliver thermonuclear warheads from MIRVs. The program is based at Her Majesty's Naval Base Clyde (Faslane), with at least one submarine on patrol at any time, providing constant at-sea capability.[2] Trident replaced Polaris, the UK's first submarine-based nuclear weapon system, and it is the UK's only nuclear weapon system since the WE.177 free-fall tactical bombs were decommissioned in 1998.[3] According to the Ministry of Defence, Trident's purpose is to "deter the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life, which cannot be done by other means."[4]

William McNeillyEdit

William McNeilly is a former Royal Navy Able Seaman, who served as an Engineering Technician Submariner for the Trident Strategic Weapons System.[5] He was stationed onboard the HMS Victorious, one of the four Trident submarines, where he raised concerns about security and safety through the chain of command. After no attempts at change were made,[6] McNeilly blew the whistle by publishing “The Secret Nuclear Threat”, an 18-page online report alleging many “serious security and safety breaches” of the Trident program and Faslane.[7] He then went into hiding, but shortly broke cover with a long Facebook statement, through which he claimed to have been on the run for days, moving between countries and using multiple aliases. His post stated that he lacked “the resources to remain undetected”, and was prepared to turn himself in. McNeilly turned himself into the Royal Navy Police.[8]

"The Secret Nuclear Threat": McNeilly's ClaimsEdit

McNeilly’s report claims numerous deficiencies and faults of the Trident submarines and Clyde Naval Base. A large focus of the report was the many security lapses of the program. McNeilly explains that security guards at checkpoints to controlled areas of the base often barely look at security passes or fail to check them at all. Equipment is rarely searched, despite hundreds of contractors accessing the boats. He describes a complete lack of concern for Top Secret information, with sensitive folders and laptops often laying around where anyone can look at them. There is no enforcement of the ban on personal electronics with cameras.

Safety faults on the submarines comprise another large portion of McNeilly’s report. McNeilly explains that missile safety alarms are often muted or ignored out of negligence or apathy. Fires on the submarines are frequent, and McNeilly enumerates many of the fire hazards rampant on board. The crew often only loosely follows or ignores proper procedures for scenarios and equipment use. In addition, many of the safety bans on items such as e-cigarettes are completely unenforced.

McNeilly claims that a lot of the equipment on-board the submarines is faulty or in bad condition. He details issues that have arisen with many components, including the main hydraulic plant, distillers, fore-planes, generators, and speaker systems. Final tests are done at the end of each patrol to determine whether the weapons system could have performed a successful launch during the patrol. McNeilly claims that a missile compensation test failed all three of the times for which he was present. A Battle Readiness Test had to be canceled due to the main hydraulic plant containing mostly seawater instead of hydraulic oil.

McNeilly claims that there was a “massive cover-up” of an incident in which the HMS Vanguard collided with a French nuclear submarine. Those present were allegedly threatened with prison sentences if they told anybody about the collision.

McNeilly also states that the Strategic Weapons System department is very short on man-power, to the extent that “people are getting pushed through at an alarming rate.” He worries that, with the number of people pushed through, “it's just a matter of time before we're infiltrated by a psychopath or a terrorist.” He recounts instances of crewmates showing worrying behavior that calls their psychological stability into question.[5]

Outcome and Participant ResponsesEdit

Arrested & Taken into CustodyEdit

After posting on Facebook that he lacked the necessary resources to remain on the run and that he planned to turn himself over to authorities, McNeilly was apprehended at the Edinburgh Airport on the night of June 18, 2015. Following his arrest, he was detained in a military establishment in Scotland. Confident that the released report would lead to his arrest, McNeilly states, “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”.[8] However, whether from fear of increased media coverage or public pushback, the final verdict that was settled on was dishonorable discharge later that month. With this result, McNeilly’s career in the military was ended. In response, McNeilly is confused that “All of the charges against me were dropped; there’s nothing that I can be charged with now. Most people know that I acted in the interest of national security. However, I was still given a dishonorable discharge from the Royal Navy.”[9]

Response from GovernmentEdit

In general, the response from the Royal Navy aimed to downplay the concerns brought to light by McNeilly’s online report while assuring the public that the Trident was completely safe. As put by one Royal Navy spokesperson in an interview, “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.” They also tend to claim that his views were subjective and wrong, as well as emphasizing that the Navy would never operate “submarines do not go to to sea unless they are completely safe to do so.”[10] However, other members of the government found this potential safety issue to be concerning. Brendan O’Hara, the Scottish National Party MP for Argyll and Bute, worries about the impact these security issues could have on the area he governs. In an interview, he said that his position “As an SNP MP implacably opposed to Trident but also as the local MP, I am extremely worried by these allegations, even if only half of what the report claims is true. The issue of safety is absolutely paramount, especially when the base is so close to a major centre of population.”[11]

Response from GovernmentEdit

A variety of different activist groups pushed back against the dishonorable discharge of William McNeilly from the Royal Navy for his whistleblower report. One such group, Wise Up Action, believes that posting the report was the only way to make sure the public was aware of the imminent nuclear risk. They believe that the Trident is not the answer, stating, “Peace can no longer be maintained by [the fear of] nuclear weapons… It’s time to end this...fear, and create a new world order through peace and unity.”[12] In addition, certain former members of the Royal Navy spoke out in defense of McNeilly’s decision and the concerns he brought to light. Euan Bryson, former British Navy communications and information technology specialist, offered his support for McNeilly’s belief in the Navy’s relaxed security by retelling a story of his mate using a blue bank card to get into the base after losing his ID. In Bryson’s experience, security and safety were very not up to par. “I made my thoughts clear when I served, including when I handed in my resignation notice. The chain of command system has failed. If McNeilly felt ignored what other option did he have?”[11]

Beyond the Trident ProgramEdit

HMNB Clyde BackgroundEdit

Her Majesty's Naval Base Clyde

Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde is located on the Gare Loch in Scotland. It is commonly referred to as Faslane. Clyde is the naval base headquarters home to the Royal Navy’s nuclear deterrent submarines armed with Trident missiles. It is one of three operating naval bases in the United Kingdom.[13]

HMNB Clyde HistoryEdit

Faslane was built and used as a base during World War II. In the 1960s, the British Government acquired the Polaris Missile System from the United States and used it on four British submarines: the HMS Resolution, HMS Repulse, HMS Renown, and HMS Revenge.[14] Faslane was chosen as a permanent base for these submarines during the Cold War due to its prime geographical location.

Safety and Security Accidents at HMDB ClydeEdit

Exercise Evening Star is a test of all emergency response routines to a possible nuclear weapon accident at Faslane. In 2011 this test failed; not all responses were adequately demonstrated. In 2013, there were 99 radiation accidents with 6 nuclear weapons on site. There was said to be no harm or risk to the public, however, this was not proven true. The Ministry of Defense maintained the position that the number of recent accidents was entirely misleading as they included “very minor issues such as the failure to fill out the correct form.” [13]

Trident OppositionEdit

The Scottish National Party, Scottish Socialist Party, and Scottish Green Party all oppose the use of nuclear weapons.[15] In 2014, the Scottish National Party lost a vote to become independent from the United Kingdom.[16] The independent Scottish Nation would be a nuclear-free zone. If liberated, the citizens would have demanded the removal of the Trident nuclear missiles within the period of the next election.[17] The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament created a petition to pardon McNeilly when he was unjustly removed from service without honors. The result of this petition is unknown.[18]

Trident Renewal and Next Generation SubmarinesEdit

The Vanguard-Class submarines have a life expectancy through the early 2020s. The Trident missiles were said to take the British Navy through the early 2040s.[15] In December 2006, the Ministry of Defense released a white paper titled “The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent”, which outlined their support to maintain the current nuclear program with a new class of submarines.[15] On December 4, 2006, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom decided to renew the Trident program believing that even though the Cold War had ended the United Kingdom needed to maintain its global nuclear position.[14] On March 14, 2007, the Labour Government won the vote in the House of Commons in support of the plans for a new submarine class. In 2015, the United Kingdom released polls to acquire data on public opinion of the British Navy nuclear position and plans for a new submarine class.[16] A majority of United Kingdom citizens believed that the submarines outfitted with Trident nuclear weapons should be upgraded and replaced, while a majority of Scottish citizens believed that they should be decommissioned.[15] On July 18, 2016, the House of Commons voted that the United Kingdom should proceed with the construction of the next generation of submarines, the Dreadnought-class.

The MessageEdit

McNeilly Calling for ChangeEdit

In McNeilly’s dossier, he presented many threats he believed would put the British Navy and world at risk. Each was reported in extreme detail, presenting the event, response, and consequences. McNeilly’s aim was to paint an accurate picture of what he experienced and break down the false images of the British Navy. The carelessness of personnel in charge and nonfunctional submarine technology is setting the British Navy up for failure. McNeilly believed that nuclear weapons have served their purpose in history, they have brought order to the world, however, order is no longer what the world needs. The dossier encouraged the British Navy to recognize how their personnel and nuclear weapons are no longer serving their purpose. He urged the British navy to focus on the real threat at hand, the threat of terrorism.[16] If procedural changes to increase safety and security are not made the British Navy will become a target for attack.[19]

Ethical ConsiderationsEdit

This case brings to question, when is it an individual's responsibility to take a matter such as McNeilly’s, defy their workplace chain of command, and do so for the sake of a higher purpose.[20] McNeilly gave up his career and his freedom, he chose to risk everything to inform the Government and the people of the threat to global safety and security that he observed. Most agree that professionals, or armed forces officials, must sometimes make such judgments based on experience and expertise that equip them to do so responsibly. Fewer agree that someone in McNeilly’s position, with his lacking experience and expertise, is in a position to make such strong judgments. In this case, McNeilly’s judgments not only had the potential to impact the British Navy but the British political climate as well. Scotland used this as an opportunity to once again make its voice heard and threaten secession. The British nuclear program faltered as many questioned its role and necessity in future international policy. This case demonstrates how the actions of one whistleblower can develop beyond their control and affect international policy and relations.[19]



  5. a b
  8. a b
  11. a b
  13. a b HMNB Clyde. (2020). In Wikipedia.
  14. a b Trident: MPs to vote on nuclear weapons system this month—BBC News. (n.d.). Retrieved May 5, 2020, from
  15. a b c d Trident (UK nuclear programme). (2020). In Wikipedia.
  16. a b c SNP, the. (2019, April 10). Trident – what you need to know. Scottish National Party.
  17. Would Scotland’s nationalists disarm Trident? (n.d.). OpenDemocracy. Retrieved May 5, 2020, from
  18. Sign the Petition. (n.d.). Change.Org. Retrieved May 5, 2020, from
  19. a b WikiLeaks—Trident whistleblower: Nuclear “disaster waiting to happen.” (n.d.). Retrieved May 5, 2020, from
  20. Withnall, A. (2015, May 17). Royal Navy Investigates Trident whistle-blower William McNeilly who claims nuclear program is a 'disaster waiting to happen'. Retrieved May 5, 2020, from