Moral Low Ground


Report: Launch Codes for US Nukes Was 00000000 for 20 Years

Door to Minuteman II launch center (Photo: Patrick Rohe)

Door to Minuteman II launch center (Photo: Patrick Rohe)

A Columbia University computer science professor has uncovered a paper written by a former US Air Force missile officer revealing the shockingly simple secret launch codes for American nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

ars technica reports Professor Steven M. Bellovin discovered a 2004 paper by Dr. Bruce G. Blair, a former Air Force officer who manned Minuteman ICBM silos, in which he states the permissive action links (PALs), or missile launch codes, were 00000000– for all Minutemen, for 20 years.

The PALs were implemented by President John F. Kennedy in 1962. The following year, the Cyprus crisis, which brought ostensible NATO allies Greece and Turkey to the brink of war, underscored the need for greater nuclear security to ensure only the American president could authorize a launch.

According to Karl Smallwood:

“There was a particular concern that the nuclear missiles the United States had stationed in other countries, some of which with somewhat unstable leadership, could potentially be seized by those governments and launched. With the PAL system, this became much less of a problem.”

US leaders were also concerned about ‘loose cannons’ amongst the ranks of their own commanders who might take it upon themselves to launch a third world war. Said Gen. Horace M. Wade about Gen. Thomas Power, commander-in-chief of Strategic Air Command (SAC) during the Cuban Missile Crisis:

“I used to worry about General Power. I used to worry that General Power was not stable. I used to worry about the fact that he had control over so many weapons and weapon systems and could, under certain conditions, launch the force. Back in the days before we had real positive control [i.e. PALs, locks], SAC had the power to do a lot of things, and it was in his hands, and he knew it.”

Smallwood added that the 00000000 secret code wasn’t that secret. According to Dr. Blair, the former missile officer:

“Our launch checklist in fact instructed us, the firing crew, to double-check the locking panel in our underground launch bunker to ensure that no digits other than zero had been inadvertently dialed into the panel.”

The “00000000” code was apparently in use until the 1980s.

With recent revelations like the existence of ‘Furtherance,’ a top-secret US plan for an all-out nuclear strike against the Soviet Union and China in the event of the president’s death or disappearance– even if those nations had nothing to do with the event, and with close calls and potentially cataclysmic misunderstandings like the 1983 US Able Archer exercise, the fact that America’s atomic arsenal was protected by such pitiful passwords is all the more alarming.

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