Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Codes Used to Launch Icbms Are Compromised

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Codes Used to Launch Icbms Are Compromised

Article excerpt

The top-secret digital codes that enable the launching of strategic nuclear weapons were compromised during routine operations at the U.S. Strategic Command early this month, U.S. officials acknowledge.

The codes are among the nation's most tightly guarded secrets. They unlock the launching mechanisms for hundreds of intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, housed in silos across Wyoming, Nebraska and North Dakota.

Officials at Strategic Command, in keeping with the Cold War practice of refusing to discuss nuclear weapons issues, would confirm only the barest outline of the incident.

But other sources said the mishandling of the codes took place on board a Strategic Command airborne launching control aircraft code-named "Looking Glass," a modified Boeing 747 designed for nuclear warfighting operations.

During the Cold War, at least one aircraft from the small Looking Glass fleet was aloft 24 hours a day. President George Bush ordered these operations reduced to regular exercises.

The sources said the highly classified codes were mistakenly passed to crew members aboard the aircraft who did not have the required clearances to see them. A Looking Glass crew can include as many as 114 people, taking into account maintenance, communications and security personnel.

"No one is supposed to be able to see these codes until they are input into a launch (authorization) message," one source said.

As a result, he said, the codes and authenticating procedures will have to be changed, a cumbersome process that is handled by the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Md.

In a statement issued by Lt. Col. Paula Hoffmann, a Strategic Command spokeswoman, the incident was attributed to "administrative error."

"In order to maintain the highest level of confidence in the nation's missile force, we implemented additional safety measures with all the missiles that may have been impacted," she said. …

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