Remember all those cold war movies where nuclear missile crews are frantically dialing in the secret codes sent by the White House to launch nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles? Well, for two decades, all the Minuteman nuclear missiles in the US used the same eight-digit numeric passcode to enable their warheads: 00000000. That fact, originally revealed in a column in 2004 by then-president of the Center for Defense Information Dr. Bruce G. Blair, a former US Air Force officer who manned Minuteman silos, was also mentioned in a paper by Steven M. Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University who teaches security architecture. Both of these sources were cited this week in an article on the site Today I Found Out written by  Karl Smallwood, as well as in an article in the UK’s Daily Mail.

The codes, known as Permissive Action Links (PALs), were supposed to prevent the use of nuclear weapons—and the nuclear weapons under joint control with NATO countries in particular—without the authorization of the president of the United States.

The need for such controls became clear during the 1963-1964 Cyprus crisis, when NATO members Turkey and Greece were reportedly seeking control of NATO nuclear weapons—to use on each other.     

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