The article by Bruce Blair, a former US Airforce Strategic Air Command Minuteman launch officer about the deliberate policy of cirumventing nuclear missile Permissive Action Link command and control systems in the 1970s, at the height of the Cold War is literally astonishing:
"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 OOOOOOOO."
The use of PAL codes was apparently re-instituted in 1977.
Could somebody in authority please double check that all nuclear weapons safeguards in all countries, are actually in place right now, and not just on paper ? This is especially important for easy to transport tactical weapons which are a prime terrorist target.
Submarine launched ballistic missiles, of course, have always eschewed PALs, due to the difficulty of sending Presidential or Prime Ministerial "launch code" authorisation. They work on the principle of "we will launch our missiles at a certain time unless we hear an order not to launch", and/or if the submarine can no longer contact home after a certain period. This includes listening to see if BBC Radio 4 is still on the air etc.
The military history of the Cold War, and even Hollywood films such as the 1983 classic Wargames, need to re-evaluated in the light of this information.