Author Topic: Air Force Swears: Our Nuke Launch Code Was Never '00000000'  (Read 511 times)

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Air Force Swears: Our Nuke Launch Code Was Never '00000000'
« on: January 20, 2014, 10:47:43 PM »
BY Dan Lamothe     

For nearly a decade, an awkward debate has raged about the U.S. military's nuclear force: Did top Air Force officials really choose "00000000" as a code that could enable the launch of a nuclear missile? Ten years later, in a document obtained by Foreign Policy, the U.S. military told Congress that it never happened. But is the Pentagon telling the truth?

Bruce Blair, a nuclear security expert and former launch officer , says no. Blair, now a scholar and author at Princeton University, first raised the idea in a piece published in 2004. He accused the Air Force of circumventing President John F. Kennedy's 1962 order to install extra security codes to safeguard against accidental or unauthorized launch by putting them in place, but making them painfully simple to the missile launch officers who manned underground bunkers. Doing so, Blair said, effectively eliminated the codes' usefulness.

The U.S. military says that's not the case. A new wave of media coverage sparked by online media outlets last year prompted the House Armed Services Committee to ask about the issue, and the military responded by insisting "00000000" was never used.

"A code consisting of eight zeroes has never been used to enable a MM ICBM, as claimed by Dr. Bruce Blair," the new document, obtained by FP, insists, while laying out the basics on how a nuclear missile can be launched.

The release of the document comes at a time when the Air Force's Minuteman nuclear missile arsenal is aging, and faces stiff financial competition if it is to be modernized. It also comes amid a string of embarrassing incidents for the "missiliers" who oversee intercontinental ballistic missiles. The mission, once considered among the military's most crucial during the Cold War, has sustained a decrease in attention from the Air Force that has "declined conspicuously," according to a 2010 report released by the Pentagon.

Those concerns were stirred again this month, after service officials disclosed that they effectively had removed 34 nuke officers from their positions after investigators discovered evidence of some of them cheating on a monthly aptitude test. Foreign Policy obtained the new document just before news of the cheating scandal emerged.

Blair, a critic for decades on the U.S. handling of nuclear weapons, wrote in 2004 that the Air Force's Strategic Air Command quietly decided set the locks to all zeroes in order to circumvent a demand from then-President John F. Kennedy in 1962.

"During the early to mid-1970s, during my stint as a Minuteman launch officer, they still had not been changed," he wrote. "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 Air Force made the decision, Blair alleged, because it was less concerned with accidental launches than with too many safeguards interfering if a launch was needed. The story made a comeback late last year, when it was featured on the website Today I Found Out. It then spread to the technology blog Gizmodo, the Huffington Post, the Daily Mail newspaper in London and other news outlets, prompting the Air Force to respond to questions about the issue from Congress.

But Blair, who has testified before Congress on nuclear policy, told Foreign Policy that while the new document describes in some detail how the Minuteman missile program works now, it leaves out key basics from before 1977. That is when a program known as Rivet Save added in additional security precautions, including new launch codes, allowing the United States to reduce the number of personnel needed for the program.

"Before this real enable code system was adopted, there was no technical safeguard and both crewmembers were thus required to stay awake throughout the alert period in the underground capsule," Blair said. "Thus the document errs and misleads when it says that the 00000000 enable code system was never used."

The military's new response to Congress also states that upon the direction of the president, two "separate and distinct processes are required to launch an ICBM." First, the missile must be enabled, or "unlocked," it says. The enabled missile must then be commanded to launch from two separate launch control centers, using a series of codes that are not stored in the control centers, the response says.

Blair said that contention is misleading, too. A single control center could fire "the entire squadron of 50 missiles" using a device called a single-vote timer, he said. If none of the other four launch control centers stopped a launch command using the timer, the missiles would be fired after the timer expires, he said.

Attempts to solicit comment from the Air Force were unsuccessful. However, Lance Lord, a retired four-star general and former nuclear launch officer, said he does not recall any codes including all zeroes ever being used. Like Blair, he recalled that both crew members in a launch control center were required to stay awake prior to Rivet Save being put in place in the late 1970s.

Blair has consistently defended his story over the years, most recently in a December exchange with the blog The War Room. He told Foreign Policy he questions the Air Force's motivation for responding now, considering the service wants to replace or rebuild its existing Minuteman arsenal and needs Congress to approve money to do so.

The U.S. military's new response to Congress fails to address Blair's long-held claim that nuclear codes in the early 1970s were different than they are today, said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Monterey Institute for International Studies. Asked to review the new military document by Foreign Policy, he said confirmation of Blair's story hinges heavily on the documents Blair says he has (but refuses to share). Lewis added that the argument over the past existence of "00000000" codes is "really just a proxy for a broader question about our reliance on nuclear weapons and the trust we place in government.

"Bruce is correct about the major historical narrative at stake - the United States Air Force, particularly Strategic Air Command, generally resisted the introduction of technical safeguards out of concerns that such measures might make it more difficult to use the weapons in the event of a conflict," Lewis said. "Like many other practices of the period... the Air Force's emphasis on readiness at the expense of safety at that time seems, admittedly with the benefit of hindsight, unwise in the extreme."

http://complex.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2014/01/20/exclusive_air_force_insists_it_never_used_painfully_simple_nuke_code

Offline EC

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Re: Air Force Swears: Our Nuke Launch Code Was Never '00000000'
« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2014, 03:22:40 AM »
You know - I really don't want the codes getting out there. Way too tempting.

We did a PenEx on a silo back in the late 80's and it was frighteningly easy to get in and take control of the entire complex. Hopefully they've uprated security by now!

I am wondering though if Mr. Blair is remembering correctly. The one we penetrated had the usual console. Twin physical keys to unlock the board, then you had to enter the launch codes which were stored in a safe between the two stations. Maybe the launch codes were not 8 zeros, but I'll bet the safe code was.
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Re: Air Force Swears: Our Nuke Launch Code Was Never '00000000'
« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2014, 03:49:45 AM »
You know - I really don't want the codes getting out there. Way too tempting.

We did a PenEx on a silo back in the late 80's and it was frighteningly easy to get in and take control of the entire complex. Hopefully they've uprated security by now!

I am wondering though if Mr. Blair is remembering correctly. The one we penetrated had the usual console. Twin physical keys to unlock the board, then you had to enter the launch codes which were stored in a safe between the two stations. Maybe the launch codes were not 8 zeros, but I'll bet the safe code was.

Bruce Blair is an expert on both the Soviet and United States Nuclear Missiles. He has written several books on the topic.From 1970 to 1974, Blair served in the U.S. Air Force, serving as a Minuteman ICBM launch control officer and support officer for the Strategic Air Command’s Airborne Command Post.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2014, 03:51:57 AM by SPQR »

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Re: Air Force Swears: Our Nuke Launch Code Was Never '00000000'
« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2014, 04:05:02 AM »
Bruce Blair is an expert on both the Soviet and United States Nuclear Missiles. He has written several books on the topic.From 1970 to 1974, Blair served in the U.S. Air Force, serving as a Minuteman ICBM launch control officer and support officer for the Strategic Air Command’s Airborne Command Post.

Why only 4 years? Usual none draft hitch at the time was between 5 and 10, and an LCO is never a raw recruit or a draftee.

Quote
Bruce G. Blair is a nuclear security expert and a research scholar at the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public Information and International Affairs. Joining the program in May 2013, he focuses on technical and policy steps on the path toward the verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons, specifically on deep bilateral nuclear arms reductions, multilateral arms negotiations and de-alerting of nuclear arsenals. He is co-founder of Global Zero, an international non-partisan group of 300 world leaders dedicated to achieving the elimination of nuclear weapons

Hmm - a former missile tech and LCO who is now vehemently anti nuke. I wonder if there might be an agenda hidden in the scare tactics ....  :whistle:
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Re: Air Force Swears: Our Nuke Launch Code Was Never '00000000'
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2014, 04:07:12 AM »
Why only 4 years? Usual none draft hitch at the time was between 5 and 10, and an LCO is never a raw recruit or a draftee.

Hmm - a former missile tech and LCO who is now vehemently anti nuke. I wonder if there might be an agenda hidden in the scare tactics ....  :whistle:

I think that he is more qualified than the both of us about the subject.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2014, 04:07:51 AM by SPQR »

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Re: Air Force Swears: Our Nuke Launch Code Was Never '00000000'
« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2014, 04:12:34 AM »
I think that the thought of having the power to kill 20 million people and irradiating a portion of a country has a slight adverse change on you even though I belong to many organizations that support our missileers.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2014, 04:13:36 AM by SPQR »

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Re: Air Force Swears: Our Nuke Launch Code Was Never '00000000'
« Reply #6 on: January 21, 2014, 04:15:20 AM »
I think that the thought of having the power to kill 20 million people and irradiating a portion of a country has a slight adverse change on you even though I belong to many organizations that support our missileers.

Rather saying I am a life time member of missileer groups. Speaking to them, at meetings they have the same attitude.

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Re: Air Force Swears: Our Nuke Launch Code Was Never '00000000'
« Reply #7 on: January 21, 2014, 04:21:27 AM »
He probably is. Still fun to discuss though  :laugh:

I had most of the tendency to trust people beaten out of me by the mid 80's. Pointing out that he may have a certain conflict of interest is a valid concern. He co-founded a group that wants to reduce the global nuclear arsenal to zero. While that does in no way diminish his expertise, which I am not qualified to judge, it does warrant looking at in terms of motivation.

I have three questions.

1/ Why now? 1974 is a long time ago, so why raise it now?
2/ What is the payout? It is a rare person that goes public as a public service.
3/ He says he has documentary proof. He doesn't have a scanner? You can pick them up from Staples for well under $100 and host the images for free.
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Re: Air Force Swears: Our Nuke Launch Code Was Never '00000000'
« Reply #8 on: January 21, 2014, 04:23:57 AM »
He probably is. Still fun to discuss though  :laugh:

I had most of the tendency to trust people beaten out of me by the mid 80's. Pointing out that he may have a certain conflict of interest is a valid concern. He co-founded a group that wants to reduce the global nuclear arsenal to zero. While that does in no way diminish his expertise, which I am not qualified to judge, it does warrant looking at in terms of motivation.

I have three questions.

1/ Why now? 1974 is a long time ago, so why raise it now?
2/ What is the payout? It is a rare person that goes public as a public service.
3/ He says he has documentary proof. He doesn't have a scanner? You can pick them up from Staples for well under $100 and host the images for free.
He raises it now because its no longer a secret. We are talking about events that happen 40 years ago. The "Gold Codes" to launch the missiles are changed daily.The National Command Authority comprising the President and Secretary of Defense must jointly issue the order to use nuclear weapons to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The order would then be transmitted over a tan-yellow phone, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Alerting Network, otherwise known as the "Gold Phone", that directly links the NMCC with United States Strategic Command Headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

« Last Edit: January 21, 2014, 04:38:57 AM by SPQR »

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Re: Air Force Swears: Our Nuke Launch Code Was Never '00000000'
« Reply #9 on: January 21, 2014, 04:39:42 AM »
He raises it now because its no longer a secret. We are talking about events that happen 40 years ago. The "Gold Codes" to launch the missiles are changed daily.The National Command Authority comprising the President and Secretary of Defense must jointly issue the order to use nuclear weapons to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The order would then be transmitted over a tan-yellow phone, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Alerting Network, otherwise known as the "Gold Phone", that directly links the NMCC with United States Strategic Command Headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

In 1981, almost 20 years after the invention of PALs, just over half of U.S. nuclear weapons were still equipped only with mechanical locks. It took until 1987 until these were completely replaced.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2014, 04:41:28 AM by SPQR »

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Re: Air Force Swears: Our Nuke Launch Code Was Never '00000000'
« Reply #10 on: January 21, 2014, 05:37:50 AM »
In a capsule, an alarm would have alerted the two-person missile crew of those directives. Immediately, over the speaker system, the launch control officers would hear a coded message, giving the command to launch. After verifying the message's authenticity, the launch officers would unlock a small, red, "Emergency War Order" safe above the deputy commander's control panel. Within the box were two launch keys. Each officer would take one key, and insert it into his or her control console. The missileers would then strap themselves into their console chairs and begin the final countdown.
At the end of the countdown sequence, the officers would turn their launch keys. The Air Force employed several fail-safes to prevent an unauthorized missile launch. For example, both officers had to turn their launch keys in unison. Because the launch switches were 12 feet apart, it was impossible for one person to turn both keys at once. The final command to launch also required another "vote" (two missileers performing the same procedure at another Launch Control Center in the missile field) from outside of the ICBM capsule.

When the second vote came in, the LAUNCH IN PROCESS display would illuminate. Explosive gas generators would then push open the 90-ton launch doors covering the ten missile silos, and the nuclear-tipped Minutemen would begin streaking toward their targets half a world away. As each missile blasted from its silo, its upper umbilical cable would sever, triggering the MISSILE AWAY light on the commander's control panel.In less than five minutes, the missileers would have completed their mission. The Minuteman missiles would take another half hour to reach their targets
« Last Edit: January 21, 2014, 05:39:58 AM by SPQR »


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