Sunday, November 14, 2010

It Was Easier To Remember

"America’s gaggle of “Minuteman” long-range nuclear missiles went on line for the first time during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. But the world was supposedly protected from mutual assured destruction by the “Permissive Action Links” (PALs) which required an 8-digit combination in order to launch. Robert McNamara, then the U.S. Secretary of Defense, personally oversaw the installation of these special locks to prevent any unauthorized nuclear missile launches. He considered the safeguards to be essential for strict central control and for preventing nuclear disaster.

But what Secretary McNamara didn’t know is that from the very beginning, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in Omaha had decided that these locks might interfere with any wartime launch orders; so in order to circumvent this safeguard, they pre-set the launch code on all Minuteman silos to the same eight digits: 00000000.

For seventeen years, during the height of the nuclear crises of the Cold War, the code remained all zeros, and was even printed in each silo’s launch checklist for all to see. The codes remained this way up until 1977, when the service was pressed into activating the McNamara locks with real launch codes in place. Before that time, the the lack of safeguards would have made it relatively easy for a small group of rogue silo officers or visitors to implement an unauthorized nuclear missile launch."


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