For 15 Years, All That Stood Between U.S. and Nuclear War Were Eight Zeros

A worker at China's military museum naps under a mural of an atomic blast, circa 1992 in Beijing. The Cold War-era secret launch code for U.S. nuclear missiles over 15 years was amazingly simple (Mike Fiala/AFP/Getty Images).
A worker at China's military museum naps under a mural of an atomic blast, circa 1992 in Beijing. The Cold War-era secret launch code for U.S. nuclear missiles over 15 years was amazingly simple (Mike Fiala/AFP/Getty Images).

The secret launch code for unleashing U.S. strategic nuclear missiles for much of the 1960s and 1970s was shockingly simple: 00000000, the London Daily Mail reported.

The predecessor military organization to today's U.S. Strategic Command opted for the eight-zero authorization password so that atomic arms could be launched as quickly and easily as possible, according to the newspaper, which cited the website Today I Found Out as its source. The simplistic secret code was used from 1962 at the outset of permissive action links -- devices aimed at preventing the unauthorized arming or detonating of nuclear warheads -- through 1977.

U.S. military leaders decided to essentially bypass the safeguarding system, though, to guard against the possibility that communications with command centers could be lost in the event of an actual nuclear exchange, according to the Daily Mail.

The report cites Bruce Blair, a co-founder of the Global Zero initiative to eliminate all nuclear arms, as noting from his days as a young Air Force ICBM launch-control officer: "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."

Blair in 1977 wrote an article theorizing that just four terrorists could be capable of gaining control of a Minuteman nuclear missile launch-control bunker. The secret launch code was changed the same year.

Dec. 2, 2013
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The secret launch code for unleashing U.S. strategic nuclear missiles for much of the 1960s and 1970s was shockingly simple: 00000000, the London Daily Mail reported.

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