Jim Innes asked me to forward this very interesting and surprising item to
] On Behalf Of
Sent: Tuesday, June 01, 2004 11:31 AM
Subject: [IP] The worst case of password abuse - ever.
....... Forwarded Message .......
From: "Trei, Peter" <ptrei@...
Date: Tue, 01 Jun 2004 10:58:50 -0400
Subj: The worst case of password abuse - ever.
[For IP, if you wish]
This is just Strangelovesque....
What was the password which controlled the firing of America's ICBMs
for years during the height of the Cold War?
That's right. For *all* of them. The Permissive Action Link codes for
all of Americas missiles provided less protection than on an average
[It's fair to note that there were a lot of other controls, such
as the dual key system. However, it appears that a pair of
rogue controllers could have unleashed Armmagedon - pt]
Bruce Blair's Nuclear Column Home Page <http://www.cdi.org/blair/
Keeping Presidents in the Nuclear Dark
(Episode #1: The Case of the Missing "Permissive Action Links")
Bruce G. Blair, Ph.D <http://www.cdi.org/aboutcdi/bruce_blair1.html
CDI President, bblair@...
Feb. 11, 2004
Last month I asked Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense during
the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, what he believed back in the
1960s was the status of technical locks on the Minuteman intercontinental
missiles. These long-range nuclear-tipped missiles first came on
line during the Cuban missile crisis and grew to a force of 1,000
during the McNamara years - the backbone of the U.S. strategic deterrent
through the late 1960s. McNamara replied, in his trade-mark, assertively
confident manner that he personally saw to it that these special
locks (known to wonks as "Permissive Action Links") were installed
on the Minuteman force, and that he regarded them as essential to
strict central control and preventing unauthorized launch.
When the history of the nuclear cold war is finally comprehensively
written, this McNamara vignette will be one of a long litany of
items pointing to the ignorance of presidents and defense secretaries
and other nuclear security officials about the true state of nuclear
affairs during their time in the saddle. What I then told McNamara
about his vitally important locks elicited this response: "I am
shocked, absolutely shocked and outraged. Who the hell authorized
that?" What he had just learned from me was that the locks had been
installed, but everyone knew the combination.
The Strategic Air Command (SAC) in Omaha quietly decided to set
the "locks" to all zeros in order to circumvent this safeguard.
During the early to mid-1970s, during my stint as a Minuteman
launch officer, they still had not been changed. 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. SAC remained far less concerned about unauthorized launches
than about the potential of these safeguards to interfere with the
implementation of wartime launch orders. And so the "secret unlock
code" during the height of the nuclear crises of the Cold War
remained constant at 00000000.
After leaving the Air Force in 1974, I pressed the service, initially
by letters addressed to it and then through congressional intermediaries,
to consider a range of terrorist scenarios in which these locks could
serve as crucial barriers against the unauthorized seizure of launch
control over Minuteman missiles. In 1977, I co-authored (with Garry
Brewer) an article ( reprinted below
entitled "The Terrorist Threat to World Nuclear Programs" in which