Paging Dr. Strangelove? Nuclear code was “00000000”

US Titan II Nuclear Missile

A U.S. Titan II nuclear missile in an underground silo. PHOTO: Steve Jurvetson, Creative Commons.

From 1962 to ’82 the nuclear launch code at all U.S. missile silos (if they were password protected at all) was set at “00000000.” Military leaders openly defied orders to tighten missile launch safeguards, in part using the lax nuclear code. Full security improvements weren’t implemented until 2004 when a guy published an article explaining how four people could overtake a missile silo and launch a nuclear bomb. Only then was the security plan (and more stringent nuclear code regulations) ordered by President Kennedy fully implemented.

In reading this, I was reminded of the Cold War-era films Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe. Both 1964 movies, one through comedy and the other through drama, depicted the ability for the United States or the former Soviet Union to start WWIII without even really trying. At the time, the U.S. government required both films to include disclaimers that the events of the storyline could not happen in real life. Perhaps that was true to the specific events of the movies, but this Karl Smallwood story shows that military leaders wanted the ability to launch missiles quickly, without a president if necessary. And you can see how easily history could have turned out very differently.

I’m also reminded of this scene from Spaceballs:

(Via “Today I Found Out,” h/t Political Wire)


  1. My first assignment in the air force was to an ICBM squadron and I also did duty as a SAC EA Controller, part of the execution chain for nuclear weapons. And I don’t believe it. The author has clear factual errors in the article. Sorry, no sale.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.