Saturday, February 21, 2015

For twenty years the secret code to launch US nuclear missiles was simply 00000000. 

This item didn't not get its proper due when first published: For almost twenty years the secret code needed to launch US nuclear missiles and start World War III, was simply 00000000.

It's like buying an attache case and leaving the unlock code at the factory preset 000.

This fact was 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 had manned Minuteman silos. It 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 in an article on the site Today I Found Out written by  Karl Smallwood.

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. 

Apparently, this security feature was largely symbolic. For two decades, multiple US presidents carried around a briefcase with the allegedly constantly changing codes. The contents might as well have been a dozen copies of bathroom reading.

There is certain irony to this simplistic code. Image a Soviet spy learning that the launch code was 00000000. He or she would start over attempting to learn the code sequence because it would be so unbelievable. 

The U. S. military claimed  they worried about the possibility of command centers or communication lines being destroyed in real nuclear war, stopping soldiers getting the codes or authorization to launch missiles when they were actually needed.
So they simply left the security code for the weapons as eight zeros, getting around the security safeguards. This was the situation from 1963 - 1978. You know in the middle of the fun Cold War years. 

Ten years after the release of this information the Air Force has gone into loud denial mode, claiming this was never true. At the same time there is push in military to replace or rebuild its existing Minuteman arsenal and needs Congress to approve money to do so.

What should the next set of codes be? PASSWORD

Dr. Bruce Blair's 2004 Column

Steven M. Bellovin Paper on PAL

Today I Found Out by Karl Smallwood

Monday, August 04, 2014

I'm Certainly Not Buying A Ticket For This Movie…. "Ebola - In Your Face, Jack!"

August 1, Margret Chen, Director-General of WHO, issued a warning that the current response in Africa to the latest Ebola outbreak has been "woefully inadequate." and that the  "outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it."

Most people outside of the affected areas of Guiana, Sierra Leone and Liberia feel that this is an isolated occurrence over a small portion of Africa. Not so, this is largest recorded Ebola outbreak in history. As of this writing the disease has infected more than 1440 people and claimed at least 826 lives. 

There was an airline passenger, an infected American, who died in Lagos, Nigeria having boarded a flight from Liberia. He was on his way to the United States after a conference meeting. 

Not widely publicized in the United States media was a second death, that of an airline traveler who died of ebola in Morocco sometime before July 30th. The death  was disclosed by the Moroccan Minister of Internal Affairs, Mr. Morris Dukuly, who also said that the deceased Liberian had arrived in Morocco two days before his death.

Yes it true that in today's world the disease can travel to distant lands without buying a ticket, just by hitching a ride with its host. And most medical authorities claim that due to ebola's fragile nature it does not have the infection strength of a flu virus. Right now this is so. 

Previously the largest outbreak of ebola occurred in Uganda in 2000 - 01. There were 425 people infected and 224 deaths. This time the ebola footprint is much larger. With the increased numbers of victims comes the likelihood that the disease will mutate to a hardier virus, perhaps an airborne variety. 

Is this idle speculation? Not according to Margret Chen. She stated that the longer the virus circulates, the more it becomes a public risk: "Constant mutation and adaptation are the survival mechanisms of viruses and other microbes. We must not give this virus opportunities to deliver more surprises.

In 1989, one such surprise occurred at a research quarantine center located in Reston, Virginia. A group of monkeys imported from the Philippines that year were found to have transmitted a variant of Ebola while in captivity at the lab. Richard Preston discussed the theory that virus may have become airborne in his 1994 non fiction book "The Hot Zone" It was lucky for all who involved in that incident that the strain of ebola didn't infect humans. 

The greatest risk comes from the rising number of new cases which increases the opportunity for  the virus to mutate into a more dangerous form.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Ebola Not A Hollywood Movie This Time

Events in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone look like the stuff of a Hollywood or television thriller. This time its for real. At the moment the news has been very low key.

On July 7 news agencies reported a US citizen was being tested for the Ebola virus in Ghana, which has had no confirmed cases of the virus in the current West African outbreak. As of this posting the results are not in.

On July 4th Tom Geisbert, a microbiologist at the University of Texas, agrees that the risk of somebody coming from the affected area and causing a huge outbreak in North America or Europe is extremely low.

But on July 6th British Ebola outbreak: Doctors ordered to look out for deadly symptoms as killer virus hits UK. Although authorities in Britain didn't expect it to spread there they weren't taking any chances. You can get a really bad feeling that something isn't quite right in the British Isles.

But on July 7th Aid agencies such as the French organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) suggest that the world quickly needs to wake up to what is unfolding. According to Bart Janssens, the director of operations for MSF, drastic action is required.
“The reality is clear that the epidemic is now in a second wave,” he said. “And for me, it is totally out of control.
There needs to be a real political commitment that this is a very big emergency,” he said. “Otherwise, it will continue to spread, and for sure, it will spread to more countries.”

Is this all the beginning of a larger and more horrifying pandemic? Let's hope not.

Friday, June 20, 2014


LITTLE OLD NEW YORK, published 1910

This vintage booklet contains 45 engravings depicting views and buildings seen and and built in New York City over the city's first 300 years.  The illustrations include numerous city and farm homes as well as a 1659 vista along the Broad Street Canal,  Gov. Stuyvesant's Mansion in the Bowery which burned in 1778,  the Government House which served as Federal Capital from 1788 to 1793, Tammany Hall in 1830,  the Shakespeare Tavern at Nassau and Fulton Streets which was demolished in 1836, Columbia College in 1758, and the Croton Water Procession passing City Hall in 1842 as part of the celebration of the new aqueduct.  The booklet closes with an 1808 map of the city.