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The Military United States

Computer Scientist Looks At ICBM Security 124

Posted by samzenpus
from the two-man-job dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Computer security guru Matt Blaze takes a tour of a decommissioned ICBM complex in Arizona. Cool photos, insightful perspective on two man control, perimeter security, human factors and why we didn't blow ourselves up. From the article: 'The most prominent security mechanism at the Titan site, aside from the multiple layers of thick blast-proof entry doors and the fact that the entire complex is buried underground, was procedural: almost all activities required two person control. Everywhere outside of the kitchen, sleeping quarters and toilet were "no lone zones" where a second person had to be present at all times, even for on-duty members of the launch crews.'"
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Computer Scientist Looks At ICBM Security

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 17, 2009 @08:02AM (#30472306)

    It may take two people to launch an ICBM, but it only takes one troll to launch a first post!

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOsPam.gmail.com> on Thursday December 17, 2009 @08:08AM (#30472354) Journal
    ... the buddy system!

    I joke but human redundancy is probably your best bet and pretty reassuring considering I've seen Dr. Strangelove twenty times or so. Also I enjoyed this picture [flickr.com]. Is it a good idea to store the keys right above the safe to the Emergency War Orders? No matter, if you know the combination to the lock and have a twenty pound sledge, those hastily welded rings holding on the safety padlocks will take a few seconds to remove.
    • by maxume (22995)

      The text commentary on the picture you link indicates that the safe is (probably) only intended to resist opening for a certain amount of time (like any safe really). Presumably, the people who approved it were aware that it had certain limitations.

    • Yes the buddy system is hardly confined to missile silos. I was a day labourer and factory worker in Oz during the 70's & 80's, standard industrial saftey rules say that no worker is to be alone where machinery or confined spaces are involved.
      • by tophermeyer (1573841) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @08:49AM (#30472598)

        Yes the buddy system is hardly confined to missile silos. I was a day labourer and factory worker in Oz during the 70's & 80's, standard industrial saftey rules say that no worker is to be alone where machinery or confined spaces are involved.

        I had no idea that the Lollipop Guild had such rigorous safety guidelines.

        • by hey! (33014)

          He was a flying monkey, you insensitive clod!

        • Well, you saw what happened to the Wicked Witch of the East. She was working alone.

        • by Blakey Rat (99501)

          It's a pain in the ass, you can't even plug a lamp into an outlet without filling out a form and having a Lollipop Guild member come in to do it for you. And it takes them like 4 hours to show up. I'd recommend holding your conferences in Narnia, which is non-Union.

    • by Ephemeriis (315124) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @08:22AM (#30472436)

      ... the buddy system!

      I joke but human redundancy is probably your best bet and pretty reassuring considering I've seen Dr. Strangelove twenty times or so. Also I enjoyed this picture [flickr.com]. Is it a good idea to store the keys right above the safe to the Emergency War Orders? No matter, if you know the combination to the lock and have a twenty pound sledge, those hastily welded rings holding on the safety padlocks will take a few seconds to remove.

      Did you read the text accompanying that picture?

      Those keys would not have been on top of the cabinet there - that's a display for the tourists.

      Each launch officer had a key to one padlock, meaning that two launch officers were necessary to open that cabinet. The point isn't to keep some random guy from walking in and launching a missile... That's what all the guards, barbed wire, blast doors, etc. are for. The point is to make sure that it takes two launch officers to launch a missile.

      • I'm pretty sure that it's not secret information that while turning two keys is one way to launch a missile under certain circumstances, there are other conditions that will lead to missiles being launched without keys, or launch commands being ignored despite turning two keys.

        Presumably, the instructions are coded into a tape memory bank of a gigantic complex of computers.

        • by Sanat (702)

          You are right in a sense that if two keys were turned by the launch crew at the launch control facility (LCF)so a launch of missiles was initiated then the launch could be inhibited by other launch crews at other LCF's in the squadron. There was only a narrow window of time in which the launch could be inhibited.

          I was a part of the initial "Operation Looking Glass" in which the missiles (under certain prescribed postures) could be launched from an airborne aircraft. Probably now it is the KC135 but back in

      • The point is to make sure that it takes two launch officers to launch a missile.

        Or one officer with an angle grinder or bolt cutters?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Ephemeriis (315124)

          The point is to make sure that it takes two launch officers to launch a missile.

          Or one officer with an angle grinder or bolt cutters?

          I suspect that under normal operating conditions somebody going after that cabinet with an angle grinder or bolt cutters would probably arouse suspicion.

          However... Under abnormal operating conditions, it might be desirable to be able to get into that cabinet without too much trouble.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by YrWrstNtmr (564987)
      Given enough time and physical access, anything is breakable. But the security guard who let you in might have an issue with your sledge hammer.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by SBrach (1073190)
        I have toured this site and it is very impressive. As far as getting in, they have a phone at the entrance to the silo that you use to contact an officer inside the silo and code in. Once he opens the first blast door you enter a corridor that is basically an airlock. The 1st blast door closes behind you and you have so many seconds to get to the second blast door phone and code in. If you don't make it or fail to code in correctly there were several truck loads troops on their way from nearby Davis-Mont
    • by alen (225700)

      i bet they had weapons and live ammo with them so if you tried to break into the safe by yourself your buddy might have to shoot you. or beat you with something else from behind while you are concentrating on breaking into the safe

      • by Ihlosi (895663)

        i bet they had weapons and live ammo with them so if you tried to break into the safe by yourself your buddy might have to shoot you.

        But that would make him a loner in one of those no-lone-zones?

        • by alen (225700)

          i imagine that the procedure is to notify your Missile Wing HQ if you kill your "buddy" for trying to launch a nuclear missile without permission

          • by MrNaz (730548) * on Thursday December 17, 2009 @09:33AM (#30473042) Homepage

            Damn bureaucrats. They want a form filled out for *everything*.

          • by jcwayne (995747)

            Please complete form DDR-52.37/5 "Report of Summary Execution Due to Attempted Premature Ignition". You'll find them in the next drawer down.

          • by rhsanborn (773855) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @10:39AM (#30474024)
            No, that is strictly prohibited. You must first contact requisitions and request a form H02B, which you must then fill out and submit to indicate your intent to kill your assigned "buddy". You must submit this form to the secretary in charge of discharges and formal executions who will submit it to the CO in charge of resource allocation who must authorize the destruction of military property. If approved, you will be sent form D43C-A to give to the secretary of resource allocation who will submit it to the same CO in charge of resource allocation who will need to approve the assignment of a new "buddy". If approved, your original H02B will be signed and returned to you within 10-15 business days, upon which you need to submit form T98-A which will designate the method you will use to kill your "buddy" and the subsequent steps to handle the cleanup and disposal of the buddy. If any additional resources are needed, please see the previous steps on submitting a form to resource allocation. You will also need to submit a form R7-BDA which gives you authorization for your method of disposal, and form FGH-9B to signify that disposal has been completed.
        • by MiniMike (234881)

          But that would make him a loner in one of those no-lone-zones?

          The SOP was for him to then shoot himself.

      • If he killed you he would be countermanding the no lone policy. Your buddy would risk being shot by the next pair of people to show up.
      • by Shakrai (717556)

        ,quote>i bet they had weapons and live ammo with them so if you tried to break into the safe by yourself your buddy might have to shoot you

        I don't know if they had small arms with them in the silo but I would imagine they did. If so then it's not a real stretch to imagine that a launch officer who went off his rocker would have to contend with lead. Preemptively killing his partner wouldn't help him either. Gaining access to the keys doesn't permit you to launch the missile(s). All of the controls ar

        • by alen (225700)

          i think the movie was a bit different than the book and more dramatic

          i never manned a missile silo, but the night duty i did in the army we always had to log the most routine things and someone from the higher HQ would stop by a few times a night to make sure everything was OK. I bet in a missile silo they had to communicate with the HQ on a schedule as well and lack of communication would set off someone having to drive there and check things out

        • by ckaminski (82854)
          IANAL, but I'm pretty sure that's a violation of the UCMJ and also the exact reason the submarine nuclear deterrent force was required to operate as they did.

          And also why they no longer operate in that fashion.
          • by Shakrai (717556)

            The XO in that movie may have been justified in refusing to confirm the launch order. He was not justified in seizing command from his CO. I believe they call that mutiny. I'm not actually sure what the UCMJ says on the subject but under war conditions it's not unknown for people to get shot for that -- even in this day and age.

    • by maxume (22995)

      Thinking about it, the padlocks aren't for keeping the safe closed, they are for making it obvious that a single person tried to open it.

    • by JWSmythe (446288)

      They wouldn't stop anyone who was determined to get in, BUT they would slow them down. The general idea was that in the event that one person went a bit mad, they couldn't launch by themselves. There's always someone handy to stop you. I think the more important part of the buddy system was that you always had someone to talk to. Down in a hole all alone, you're more likely to lose it.

      Then again, I used to spend hours on end in datacenters by myself. No windows, no

      • Then again, I used to spend hours on end in datacenters by myself. No windows,

        Lucky you! Must other datacenter dwellers must confront Bill's abomination daily...

        • by JWSmythe (446288)

              Hehe. Not quite what I meant, but still true. Unless you count X on my laptop. :)

    • by berwiki (989827)
      the safe wasnt designed to be impenetrable, but "rated to resist forced entry for five minutes." (per the flickr description).

      I guess the army determined that after 5 minutes of hacking away with your sledge, someone would come to see what the fuss was about.
      • by PPH (736903)

        I guess the army determined that after 5 minutes of hacking away with your sledge, someone would come to see what the fuss was about.

        But the only 'someone' around is your partner, who's neck you have just broken. You now have 24 hours (maybe) and the free run of the place. There are inevitably check in procedures and possibly some surveillance equipment so that a rogue crewman could be detected sooner. But how long would it take for the inevitable security team to get through the blast doors and neutralize you?

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      Aren't these the people who, according to a previous Slashdot story, set the launch codes to all zeros just in case they lost the keys?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I was trained while in the US Navy to protect nuclear weapons. We had two-person control. We were also armed with Colt .45s. 1 each. Two guards stood watch at 1 entrance. If there was another entrance, two more guards were posted. Anyone entering had to have two-person control, be on the access list, have a valid reason for being in the area to perform work signed off by the Weapons Officer, XO and CO (if not even a few more persons).

      Anyone believed to be causing harm to the weapons or interfering with the

    • by Blakey Rat (99501)

      I joke but human redundancy is probably your best bet and pretty reassuring considering I've seen Dr. Strangelove twenty times or so.

      On the 19th viewing of Dr. Strangelove, human redundancy isn't your best bet. Apparently? (I don't see how the beginning of the sentence relates to the end of it.)

  • Water (Score:5, Funny)

    by NoYob (1630681) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @08:09AM (#30472366)

    . Jets at the bottom of the silo spray water at the exhaust flames during a launch to create steam, which dampens the massive sound and vibration created by the engines, preventing damage to the missile surface as it leaves the silo

    So, all we'd have to do is turn off the valve from the pond that says "DON'T TURN OFF!" and the missile will ruin itself on launch.

    Da?

  • With all the paranoia about tuhrrarists, is it even safe to be reading this? BRB, someone at the d

  • The thing that speaks to me while reading stories like this is how far we have actually managed to get, in a relatively short period of time. At one point both were stockpiling nuke upon nuke and then it all went away to what it is today.
    • Re:Good Read. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Shakrai (717556) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @08:44AM (#30472570) Journal

      At one point both were stockpiling nuke upon nuke and then it all went away to what it is today.

      For better or worse they've kept the peace. We haven't had to contend with anything larger than a brush fire war since WW2. WW2 claimed 60,000,000+ lives. WW1 took another 37,000,000. Nuclear weapons are the primary reason that there hasn't been a WW3.

      That's one of the reasons why I think those that talk of a future without nuclear weapons must have slept through history class. Get rid of nuclear weapons (not that you really could but for the sake of the argument...) and it's only a matter of time before mankind fights another industrialized global conflict. It's only a matter of time before an arms race breaks out that would make the Cold War look like a peace conference by comparison.

      • by timeOday (582209)
        I agree, but on the other hand the next world war won't be 37M dead or even 60M, it will be billions. Nuclear war raises the stakes. It decreases the frequency of all-out conflict, but is it enough to offset the added cost of that conflict? It's an un-answered question; the fact that we've managed not to annihilate ourselves for a whole 60 years now isn't saying that much.

        If you have never watched The Fog of War [imdb.com] (Robert McNamara), you must. One of the things I learned was that the Cuban Missile Cri

        • Re:Good Read. (Score:5, Informative)

          by Shakrai (717556) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @09:11AM (#30472810) Journal

          Even if the Cuban Missile Crisis had gone hot it wouldn't have been the "end" of the human race nor even the United States. At that point in time the Soviet Union only had a handful of nuclear weapons that could reach the United States. That was one of the reasons they sought to station missiles in Cuban -- to even out the odds. We had hundreds of warheads that could reach the Soviet Union. They had a few dozen that could reach the United States. They could hurt us really badly -- but we could utterly obliterate them.

          There's a good alternate history scenario that I once upon a time that posits a Soviet first strike on Washington that takes out Kennedy, Johnson and most of the civilian leadership. In so doing the Soviet Union seals it's own doom -- Kennedy might have ordered a measured strike in response but without him around the military implements the SIOP [wikipedia.org] and proceeds to completely destroy the Soviet Union.

          Khrushchev knew about this disadvantage and it no doubt played a part in his decision to back down. The fact that we offered him a behind the scenes deal to dismantle our similar missile installation in Turkey also helped.

          Anyway, who knows what the next war will look like, if there even is one. It's entirely possible that we could fight another major war without anybody using them. I don't regard it as likely but there is a precedent for it. Most of the major combatants in WW2 had poison gas programs but none of them dared to use them against each other. The only time gas was used was against countries (China) that lacked the means to retaliate. Right up until the bitter end neither the Germans nor Japanese decided to use their chemical weapons.

          • [citation needed]

            Just about everywhere. The Soviets had plenty of ICBMs by the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The advantage of stationing missiles in Cuba was the reduction in flight-time and the corrosponding reduction in reaction-time that would prove an advantage in a first-strike.

            • Re:Good Read. (Score:5, Informative)

              by Shakrai (717556) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @10:07AM (#30473488) Journal

              No, actually they didn't [encyclopedia.com]:

              Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, read U.S. weakness in the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and blustered publicly that he might retaliate by driving the U.S. out of West Berlin. U.S. President John Kennedy, in return, openly boasted that the U.S. possessed many more (and more accurate and deliverable) nuclear missiles and warheads than the U.S.S.R., and would consider striking first with them if it ever found itself at a military disadvantage. Kennedy's claim was true; in 1962, the U.S.S.R. had at most 20 or 30—perhaps as few as four — functional, deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); the U.S. had several hundred. Nevertheless, Kennedy had claimed, during his presidential campaign, that the incumbent Eisenhower's administration had allowed the Soviets to get ahead of the U.S. in missiles, causing a "missile gap." A missile gap did exist, as Kennedy knew, but in reverse; it had always been the U.S. that was far ahead of the U.S.S.R. in such weapons. Once in office, Kennedy dropped the old story about the "missile gap" and brandished the United States's nuclear superiority openly against Khrushchev.

              • Much rarer [citation provided].

                I stand corrected. Thanks for the link, there is a wealth of interesting material out there on the "missile gap" in the early 60s that I had not come across.

              • It didn't matter what Kennedy said in his campaign - the fix was in in Texas and Illinois. It was a rigged election. Nixon knew perfectly well what had happened but didn't make a stink as he didn't want to destroy the system.
            • Re:Good Read. (Score:5, Informative)

              by LWATCDR (28044) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @11:31AM (#30474750) Homepage Journal

              No they didn't The ones that they had where not very practical.
              That is one reason why the Eisenhower pushed so hard to not go nuts building ICBMs because we had more than we needed.
              The SS-6 Which had just gone on alert in 1959 took two days to get ready to launch and was easy to notice. The USSR had four on alert in 1962. http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/russia/r-7.htm [globalsecurity.org]
              It's replacement the SS-8 didn't enter service until 1965. http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/russia/r-9.htm [globalsecurity.org]
              The only bomber that could really reach the US was the Bear but they where few and the US Air Defenses where actually pretty good at that time. The M-4 could only reach the US on a one way trip and the USSR didn't make many of them. They did use them a lot for propaganda.
              The Bager was a good bomber but the USSR lacked forward bases for them so they where only really a threat to Europe, Japan, and US naval forces.
              So the USSR really had only 4 ICBMs that might hit the US and those took a very long time to launch. They did have around 100 Bears and maybe 20 Bisons that could have reached the US but how many would have gotten through the almost completely intact US Air Defensives is up for debate.
              At the time of Cuban Missile Crisis the US several delevery systems that could threaten the USSR.
              The B-52 fleet was still a real threat.
              The B-47 fleet while winding down where still active and could hit the USSR from their forward bases.
              The B-58 was active and could hit the USSR as well.
              The Atlas was in service.
              32 Atlas Ds
              32 Atlas Es
              80 Atlas Fs http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SM-65_Atlas#Service_history [wikipedia.org]
              There was around 60 Titan Is in service, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HGM-25A_Titan_I [wikipedia.org]
              The US has a massive advantage in Bombers and ICBMs at that time.
              In the area of SLBM the US had just about as big of an advantage
              And the Polaris was in service and the US had 9 SSBNs in service http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_class_submarine [wikipedia.org] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethan_Allen_class_submarine [wikipedia.org]
              The USSR had 21 Golf class SSBs and 8 Hotel SSBNs So the USSR had a 3 to 1 advantage in the number of boats but that doesn't really tell the whole story.
              The USSR's SLBM was the R-13 which had a range of less the 400 miles. Not only that but the Subs had to surface to launch and it took up 10 minutes to launch. The math gets worse for the USSR because each sub only carried 3 R-13s. So the USSR could only threaten coastal areas of the US and had to surface within 300 miles of the coast of the US to launch. The Hotel class was very loud and had very low performance and reliability issues. The Golf was not nuclear so it had to snorkel often. The US ASW forces at the time where the best in the world and I doubt that they would averaged even once shot each.
              The US force was composed of all nuclear boats. They had much higher performance than the Hotel class. When you look at the missile things really start to shift for in the direction of the US. The US boats carried 16 Polaris missiles. The A-1 had a range of over 1000 miles and could be launched while the sub stayed submerged. So while they USSR had three times the number of boats the US boats carried five times as many missiles and they had three times the range. There are reports that they warheads on the Polaris may not have not been reliable but thank goodness we will never found out.
              The simple fact is that the US had a huge advantage and the USSR was really trying to bluff their way into Cuba so they could have a real threat to the US.
              And this is leaving uncounted the other strike options the US had.
              The tact

        • by Wyatt Earp (1029)

          Billions? Naw, if I remember correctly the US estimates were 120-150 million dead here and 110-130 million dead in the USSR.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_warfare#Potential_consequences_of_a_regional_nuclear_war [wikipedia.org]

          "A study presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in December 2006 asserted that even a small-scale, regional nuclear war could produce as many direct fatalities as all of World War I and disrupt the global climate for a decade or more. In a regional nuclear conflict sc

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by alen (225700)

        to be fair WW1 and WW2 were just another in the long line of European wars going back to the founding of the Holy Roman Empire when the French conquered most of Germany. short time later a bunch of French conquered England and then went to war with the rest of France for the next few hundred years.

        the French, Germans and English have been fighting each other on a regular schedule for hundreds of years. after the Spanish drove out the Moors the Spanish added themselves to the regular conflicts. When the Russ

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by hey! (33014)

        For better or worse they've kept the peace.

        So far.

        When making projections for the success of this strategy it's important to remember how successful it *has* to be. On the issue of *using* nuclear weapons as opposed to be *having the ability to threaten* with them, it has to be 100% effective for a very, very long time before we can take the inevitable first failure and say, "well, on balance it was worth it."

        We're making gross simplifications when we say that nuclear weapons helped us "keep the peace". It's too much to reduce the last sixty years

  • by mantis2009 (1557343) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @08:24AM (#30472444)
    An article this excellent is rare enough that it deserves special recognition. Thanks to the author for taking this trip to the middle of nowhere, and relating the experience so lucidly, that I feel almost like I was there myself.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Cragen (697038)
      Having been stationed on a USAF missle base (mumble) years ago, and having toured such a missle site, I remember it being just as weird to me that these guys in the missle crews had to spend days or weeks in the middle of nowhere at these missle sites. There was a central place for a few crews to eat and sleep between shifts. I always wondered what it would have felt like to be sitting there eating and realize all the missiles were lifting into space. Thankfully that never happened.
      • by SBrach (1073190)
        Ah, its only 15 miles south of Tuscan.
      • Having been stationed on a USAF missle base (mumble) years ago, and having toured such a missle site, I remember it being just as weird to me that these guys in the missle crews had to spend days or weeks in the middle of nowhere at these missle sites.

        Pfft, they had it easy. Even in the middle of nowhere they had TV, and phones, and saw the daylight and the horizon.

        Try babysitting missiles while being [mumble] feet under the North Atlantic for ninety days at a time.

  • What if... (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    ICBM Security Looks At Computer Scientist

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "fueled and ready to be launched toward the Soviet Union on a few minutes notice."

    So what if the Limeys decided to get some revenge for 1776? Or those goddam sneaky cheese-eating rat-bastard French?

    • by NoYob (1630681)

      "fueled and ready to be launched toward the Soviet Union on a few minutes notice."

      So what if the Limeys decided to get some revenge for 1776? Or those goddam sneaky cheese-eating rat-bastard French?

      Considering our current economic state and budget train wreck, I think the English are thinking "Bloody hell! We sure dodged that one!"

      Anyway, why would anyone want to attacks us? We're on a road to self destruction - we're doing it to ourselves.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by benjamindees (441808)

        Extremely aggressive people are ironically suicidal most of the time. Personally, I think you would have to be to sign up for most military services. I would say that it's not that most of them have any particular grievance or target or political view, but that they have a need to lash out at something, even themselves.

        A competent defense will take this into account. It's the philosophy behind Judo, for instance. Take your attacker's weaknesses into account. The fragility of his determination to do him

        • by iluvcapra (782887)

          A nation can march itself right off a cliff in order to spite an enemy, almost as easily as an individual. Obama Bi den -- coincidence or not, this example is just too eerie to ignore. ... I am however concerned about the social and legal changes that such a massive collective effort brought about in American society.

          You sound like Noam Chomsky in 2003, mutatis mutandis -- and he was probably just as "correct". This claptrap about the great nation falling on her sword at the height of her power is a la

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Shakrai (717556)

      So what if the Limeys decided to get some revenge for 1776?

      They already did. It didn't involve nuclear weapons though. They used something far more deadly [wikipedia.org] and destructive.

  • by FranTaylor (164577) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @08:51AM (#30472628)

    My cousin was one of those guys with the keys and a gun and a buddy for many years. He's retired now and shares the stories at family reunions. He was a colonel so I'm sure he knows exactly what he can and cannot talk about. What's even better are his stories about winter life in rural North Dakota.

    This stuff has been out in the open for years.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ArsenneLupin (766289)

      He was a colonel so I'm sure he knows exactly what he can and cannot talk about.

      My ex-brother-in-law was the guy who sunk the Rainbow warrior (he who actually fixed the limpet-mine to the boat). Didn't stop him from boasting about it to his family as soon as he was back from the mission. At that point in time it wasn't even yet publicly known that it was a French secret op, so I'm pretty much sure that he wasn't supposed to talk about it. Yes, "secret" agents are only human too, and might be more loose-lipped than they should...

      • You don't know my cousin. He was the prototype when they invented the word "conservative". He also left out a lot of details.

  • And from above . . . (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PolarIced (119874) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @08:57AM (#30472684)

    Great article. As someone who grew up in Cheyenne, WY near F.E. Warren AFB (an AFB without planes or a landing strip - you can guess the mission) the details of these monsters have always fascinated me. I'd hear stories from my friends whose dads worked either as the missile capsule crews themselves or were maintenance personnel.

    If Slashdot readers are flying in and out of Denver International Airport (or any area around CO, NE, WY) you can look out the window and see the launch facilities from the air. Amid the farm lands and country roads, you can look down and see an outcrop of buildings and maybe a quonset hut or two, and then a separate concrete reinforced pad maybe a hundred yards away; the whole area carefully fenced. You can tell they don't quite fit in with everything else. The number of them is startling. Yeah, in fact a little scary. But the author is correct when he states that in the (then) USSR they had the exact same thing pointing at us. Gives me the willies still.

    • You say it past tense... the fact remains, all sides are *still* prepared for all out war.

      The difference now is that countries like North Korea and Iran think they'll somehow survive it. The long detente between the massive powers resulted in a long term truce and the wars were fought in little puppet skirmishes.

      Now we face a world where there are a LOT of people capable of setting off a massive war, and there is no single large target. Just tons of scattered small targets.

      These silos are dark because that

      • by umghhh (965931)
        MAD function only if both sides are assured of mutual destruction and there are no maniacs involved. The first part funtions also because the world in which we all live - earth would become very unattractive if US/USSR all out war took place. However if a maniac in small country A drops its bomb on small country B and annihilates it in a process the remaining forces of country B can then annihilate country A. The boss of country A lives in a nice place somewhere else. In this scenario - personal ambition of
        • While I don't agree with the 'bomb them before it's too late' theory, we agree about MAD.

          That was the old way. The new way is limited high-speed tactical retaliation using standard munitions. Considering the threat posed to a small player (like NK) by even a single Carrier Group showing up in the Sea of Japan, I consider the new method to be very different than the old.

          The threat of mass nuclear proliferation ('Global Thermo-Nuclear War' How about a nice game of Chess?) is less likely. The threat of nuclear

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by smellsofbikes (890263)

      Great article. As someone who grew up in Cheyenne, WY near F.E. Warren AFB (an AFB without planes or a landing strip - you can guess the mission) the details of these monsters have always fascinated me. I'd hear stories from my friends whose dads worked either as the missile capsule crews themselves or were maintenance personnel.

      If Slashdot readers are flying in and out of Denver International Airport (or any area around CO, NE, WY) you can look out the window and see the launch facilities from the air. Amid the farm lands and country roads, you can look down and see an outcrop of buildings and maybe a quonset hut or two, and then a separate concrete reinforced pad maybe a hundred yards away; the whole area carefully fenced. You can tell they don't quite fit in with everything else. The number of them is startling. Yeah, in fact a little scary. But the author is correct when he states that in the (then) USSR they had the exact same thing pointing at us. Gives me the willies still.

      As someone who grew up in part in northern Colorado, and ran across several missile silos while out on horseback or mountain biking, I'd like to point out that Warren AFB has helicopters, lots and lots of helicopters, and I've been told they show up in a hurry if you spend too much time poking about a missile silo because of the rash of anti-missile protests in the '80's. Warren *does* have a landing strip, actually: the WWI flying ace Eddie Rickenbacher wrecked a plane there once in the 1920's. But AFAIK

  • by necro81 (917438) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @09:00AM (#30472728) Journal
    Those who are interested to read more about the global nuclear complex are encouraged to read a recent book A Nuclear Family Vacation [nuclearvacation.com]. It is written by a husband-wife duo, both of which are professional writers/journalists, both with a professional focus in defense. They spent a number of family vacations visiting landmarks of nuclear significance: the Trinity Test Site, Nevada Test Site, Oak Ridge, Kwajalein atoll, Cheney's "undisclosed location" bunker, Cheyenne Mountain, a Soviet test site in Kazakhstan, a Soviet secret city (like Los Alamos), and even eventually visited Iran's enrichment facility near Isfahan. Along the way, aside from the basic travelogue reporting of what's there, they reflect a bit on the enormity of the whole system, how it worked, and the miracle that we're still alive. They also discuss the current state and future of the US nuclear arsenal, the reliable replacement warhead program, and point out that there are still plenty of nukes out there, and Armageddon is still only about 30 minutes away.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by sheehaje (240093)

      As a positive of visiting all these sites to write their book, they also now glow in the dark and can heat their food without a microwave.

  • More on Titan I (Score:3, Interesting)

    by flattop100 (624647) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @09:41AM (#30473154)
    I'd like to point you all to the Titan I Epitaph website: http://www.chromehooves.net/Titan_Epitaph_main.htm [chromehooves.net] . It's 2 parts urban exploring, 2 parts history, and a surprising amount of original technical documentation (including a "guidebook for the planning, construction, phasing, systems integration, installation and checkout, turnover and activation of the operational Titan I complexes and their support facilities"). If you've got an afternoon to waste, you won't be disappointed.
  • Star Trek was here (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TooTechy (191509)

    Just an FYI but Star Trek First Contact was filmed here.

  • I am so glad to hear that the toilet is *OUTSIDE* the "no lone zone".

    "Is the Colonel's underwear a matter of national security?" - Lt. Kaffee, "A Few Good Men"

  • by Anonymous Coward

    All the policies that SAC (Strategic Air Command) enacted are still present in every day life of a Missileer (Those of us who still man underground silos). Mainly concepts like TPC (Two person concept) along with TPC (Two person control). Both of these allow us to operate in a very safe environment. The best time the public hears about nukes is when they don't hear about them.

    • by Sanat (702)

      Thanks for the update... we called it two-man concept back in the 60's but now I see it is now a two-person concept.

      If I may ask are women now doing the maintenance and the launch procedures also? At the time I was in it was only for males... no idea why that was so... maybe a hold over from WWII as there were many individuals there who flew B-29's and B-17's over targets during the war.

      Lots of nice personal stories came out of those conversations when traveling two hours to a LF or LCF located a few miles

  • by bdsesq (515351)

    We have all seen a movie where they take out a card with multiple lines of 20 digit numbers and two people have to read theirs before a strike is authorized.

    Turns out they were so paranoid that ALL the launch number were zeros. Everyone in power was so afraid of not being able to launch that they decided to short circuit the security. This came out a few years after the US and Russia stood down their nukes.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      You're confusing launch codes with PAL (Permissive Action Link) codes. PAL codes would have been used when the warhead was stacked onto the missile in the silo, not at launch time. PALs were meant to protect stored warheads, not live ones in the silos (it was thought to be easier for a stored warhead to go missing than one already attached to missile). But yeah, apparently a lot of the PAL codes were set to stupid values (all zeros was common). I've never heard a claim that launch codes were similarly misha
  • by MtlDty (711230) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @11:05AM (#30474418)
    I love reading things like this, but the article desperately needed more photos in my opinion. This [phildorsett.com] is a nice page regarding the older Atlas launch silos, which are now decommissioned and (in this case) have private owners. This page [captainswoop.com] is a nice view of a Minuteman III launch facility, which are expected to be in operation until 2025.
  • by pongo000 (97357) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @11:38AM (#30474860)

    ...in South Dakota [nps.gov]. The cool thing is that the tours are small (6-8 people), and are led by folks who were actually in the bunkers when they were active. Fascinating stuff...like how the escape hatch actually led to a spot under the parking lot asphalt.

  • by DerekLyons (302214) <(fairwater) (at) (gmail.com)> on Thursday December 17, 2009 @12:40PM (#30475734) Homepage

    The authors discusses PALs and wonders about their absence. ICBM warheads were (and are) not equipped with PALs, because they are only required on weapons that may be exposed to capture or loss.
     
    The authors mentions the security seems to "have a hard shell and a soft interior". That's because he discusses the veru visible security measures (meant to protect against external threats) but only briefly discusses the surety procedures (meant to protect against internal threats and unauthorized launches) and doesn't realize the full import of the latter. (The full details of the surety procedures are classified and are much more extensive than detailed in the article or in any public source.) I don't think he even realizes there is a difference between the two. I suspect, like the computer geeks I've seen here on Slashdot, that he's a little fuzzy on the difference between electronic (computer and network) security and security in the physical world.
     
    Disclaimer: Yes, I am a former ICBM crewman - though I wore Navy blue rather than chair force blue.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 17, 2009 @12:47PM (#30475824)

    I live within 4 miles of one of the Titan II sites in SE Arizona. They are up and down the1-10 and 1-19 freeway from Tucson. When they were decommissioned, the silos were filled with debris and cement and permanently disabled, the control rooms and Blast rooms were not. Many of the sites were sold to people who later covered them up. Some didn't do such a good job and I was able to find one that afforded access, although you had to shimmy down a small shaft about 30 feet to get to the Control center and the crew quarters. I wasn't the first to do this and there were some pics on flicker that were taken by other "explorers".

    One of the things that struck me was the extreme solitude you got inside one of these. All of the instrumentation and most of the furnishings have long ago been stripped out. There were lots of electronic cabinets and a few desirable computer racks (including a nice DEC PDP rack I could have used for my PDP-11)

    The Titan II ICBM's were large a liquid fueled and were extremely dangerous. The Titan II was used to launch the Gemini capsules in the 60's. There was a greater danger due to a hydrazine explosion (like the one one in Arkansas) than by a nuclear explosion. Still, I shudder to thing of a 9 megaton nuclear warhead parked 4 miles from my house...for 20 years!! The Titan II ICBM had the distinction of carrying the largest nuclear warhead by a missile...ever! Later the one big warhead were replaced by several smaller mirv warheads.

    I remember after crawling through the access shaft and walking through the terrible dark control center and then using a ladder to get to the crew quarters, I could have imagined what it was to be working in one of these. Someone else had that feeling also and inscribed by one of the places where the bunks may have been, I saw this graffiti written on the cement wall of the bunker:

    "You've just launched a motherfukin nuclear missile and started World War III and doomed mankind...It's Miller Time!"

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      The Titan II ICBM had the distinction of carrying the largest nuclear warhead by a missile...ever! Later the one big warhead were replaced by several smaller mirv warheads.

      No, the Titan II was never MIRVed. It was a single warhead missile over it's entire service life.

      "You've just launched a motherfukin nuclear missile and started World War III and doomed mankind...It's Miller Time!"

      T shirts we had while I was serving as a Navy missile fire control tech back in the 80's:

      • "Sixteen empty tubes, sixte
  • Banks frequently have at least two people present when counting cash. For obvious reasons.

    In a number of places where I have worked we usually had two people present when moving databases or critical software to production. It didn't matter i the person watching was a junior member of the team or not. Their role was to double check things, e.g. make sure current backups are available, the person doing the rollout was pointed at the correct server, the correct release version was being used.They could call o

  • Seems like very few people have noticed that this is the Titan Missile Museum in Tucson, Arizona, which is entirely open to the public. I toured the same place and took pictures very much like what is in the article. It's definitely high up there in the list of cool places for a geek to visit while on vacation:

    http://www.titanmissilemuseum.org/ [titanmissilemuseum.org]

    I would also recommend the nearby Pima Air and Space Museum, also in Tucson. There is also supposedly the Biosphere II one could visit, although I didn't get to see t

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