The launch code to unleash the terrifying powers of America’s most destructive nuclear missiles was as simple as eight zeroes. The secret code, which could start a World War III, was even listed on a checklist.
For 20 years it was that way. The Daily Mail reports that John F. Kennedy introduced the encoding system called PAL of the nuclear weapons. From 1962 to 1977, the secret code needed to fire America’s nuclear missiles was simply 00000000.
In 1962, JFK officially signed the National Security Action Memorandum 160 obliging the placement of PAL systems on all of the country’s nuclear weapons.
PAL or the Permissive Action Link was designed as a security device that prevents the unauthorized launching of the nuclear weapons of the U.S. The PAL system also aimed to keep the nuclear weapons system from the independent control of potentially renegade officers. During the height of the Cold War, the Strategic Air Command chose the simple eight number code to fire the missiles as quickly and as easy as possible.
The military was worried of a scenario when command centers or communication lines were intercepted or destroyed in the event of a real nuclear war. The military, thus, made the effort to keep the code simple for soldiers to have authorization to launch the missiles even during emergency situations. Nuclear experts think that the gravity of the potential threat weighed more for the military to sacrifice security safeguards than failing to launch the nuclear weapons.
Dr. Bruce G. Blair, who worked as a Minuteman launch officer in 1970 until 1974, wrote one article about the command and control systems of nuclear weapons of the U.S. defense. In one of his articles, Keeping Presidents in the Nuclear Dark, he commented of the decision of the Strategic Air Command as “far less concerned about unauthorized launches than about the potential of these safeguards to interfere with the implementation of wartime launch orders.”
He said in the paper that the generals of the Strategic Air Command cared less about unauthorized launches even letting some of the officers to note down the code. “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,” Dr Blair wrote.
He further revealed in a paper in 1977, The Terrorist Threat to World Nuclear Programs, that only four people were needed to start an Armageddon from where he used to work. During that same year, the SAC decided to change the nuclear combinations. They activated the PAL systems and got rid of the ‘00000000’. Over the years, the U.S. has maintained the PAL system. It has been upgraded with the replacement of old nuclear weapons. The new sophisticated weapons are said to be fitted with more reliable and secure PAL system safeguarding the life of the nuclear service until at least 2025.