nuclear pages. national security archive. false alarms.

from unredacted

via the three a.m. phone call at the national secu­rity archive nuclear vault

Let me assure you, that after our “Cap­tain” told us that the red phone “didn’t work” and that the Pres­i­dent couldn’t be found, that my scope part­ner and I laughed sar­don­ically. The thought that we couldn’t have launched with­out the autho­riza­tion of the Pres­i­dent was ridicu­lous to me and I’m guess­ing to all of us. I can­not say exactly why, except that noti­fy­ing the Pres­i­dent was pre­sented as pro­to­col and that pro­to­col was pre­sented as a cour­tesy, not a require­ment, in the case that we were under attack or had rea­son to believe we were. No one said this explic­itly. I’m not say­ing that any­one would have ordered a first strike with­out the President’s orders; but in the case that we thought our­selves under attack, with the pol­icy of MAD; rely­ing on the Pres­i­dent for launch autho­riza­tion was not even a con­sid­er­a­tion in my mind, even while hav­ing no rea­son to believe that we were not, in fact, under attack— espe­cially then.

As you can see in this doc­u­ment, the Pres­i­dent wasn’t noti­fied nor was the Sec­re­tary of Defense. One could argue that that was the case because Com­mand believed that it was a false alert from the begin­ning, as that argu­ment has been made. I’d like to know how it was that they picked up on that from the begin­ning, because my unit most def­i­nitely did not. The accounts I’ve read on-​line say “for­tu­nately” or “luck­ily” some­one “thought to check the raw data on the satel­lite”, which sug­gests that the attempt to find an error respon­si­ble for the sig­nals of a decap­i­tat­ing Soviet strike went beyond the check­list and the obvi­ous and that we were, indeed, hang­ing by the skin of our teeth, as it has always felt to me. Con­tinue read­ing