Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Minuteman launch codes

Apparently, during the 1960s, Minuteman ICBMs had something called “permissive action locks” installed on them to prevent accidental firing; but according to this piece, the initial combination was set to “00000000” and never changed. Why? Because “the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in Omaha quietly decided to set the “locks” to all zeros in order to circumvent this safeguard.” According to someone who was stationed there during the 1970s, the codes

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.

[via Paul]

[To the tune of The Police, “Bombs Away,” from the album Message In A Box: The Complete Recordings (Disc 2).]

3 Comments

  1. The ZEROES were there for use in order to accomplish an emergency code change. The actual J-Code was in the Mechanical Code Unit fixed into the back of the ENABLE PANEL. If the J-Code was compromised a code change message would be transmitted to the crews and the Nuclear armed bases that would be installed in the thumbwheel switches thereby allowing the system to change the J-Code right then. Then coding teams would go out and change the codes in all the weapons and weapon enable systems.
    So the person is correct — the ZEROES were the internal values – and never changed. Reason — the J-Code was never compromised.

  2. That does makes it all sound rather less dramatic– maybe even a security feature, rather than a bug.

  3. hayden j coates

    May 31, 2006 at 7:17 am

    i realy need proper intercontinental balistic misile launch codes

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