Minutemen ICBMs were deployed in the early 1960s, and grew to over 1000 in number. They were allegedly protected from a “rogue launch” by an approach known as PAL (Permissive Action Link). The PAL required that the correct 8-digit launch code be entered by the missiliers before the missile would establish ignition. What if all the PAL codes had been set to ‘00000000,’ and ‘everyone’ in the Strategic Air Command knew it? That is unbelievably what happened, as described in this article from the Center for Defense Information.

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 OOOOOOOO.



More here.

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