“We’ve never lost complete command and control and functionality of 50 ICBMs”

Only, as of this weekend, we have completely lost command and control of a whole bunch of ICBMs.

President Obama was briefed this morning on a power failure at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming that took 50 nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), one-ninth of the U.S. missile stockpile, temporarily offline on Saturday.


On Saturday morning, according to people briefed on what happened, a squadron of ICBMs suddenly dropped down into what’s known as “LF Down” status, meaning that the missileers in their bunkers could no longer communicate with the missiles themselves. LF Down status also means that various security protocols built into the missile delivery system, like intrusion alarms and warhead separation alarms, were offline.


“We’ve never had something as big as this happen,” a military officer who was briefed on the incident said. Occasionally, one or two might blink out, the officer said, and several warheads  are routinely out of service for maintenance. At an extreme, “[w]e can deal with maybe 5, 6, or 7 at a time, but we’ve never lost complete command and control and functionality of 50 ICBMs.”

Now, Ambinder quotes a number of sources effectively saying “nothing to see here, there was never a risk.”

But the fact that they appear to have no fucking clue how they lost control of one ninth of our nuclear arsenal leaves me a little skeptical of their reassurances.

The cause of the failure remains unknown, although it is suspected to be a breach of underground cables deep beneath the base, according to a senior military official.

It is next to impossible for these systems to be hacked, so the military does not believe the incident was caused by malicious actors. A half dozen individual silos were affected by Saturday’s failure.

After StuxNet, are we so sure the hackers to pull this off aren’t out there? And the failure of a bunch of cables … well, that reminds me of the failure of a bunch of other cables.

Alternately, given the accelerating speed with which we’re turning into a banana republic, maybe it’s just possible that we can’t keep our critical infrastructure safe from our own increasing incompetence anymore.

I can sympathize. For about  a year I’ve been debating getting a chest freezer, but thus far have not, because I suspect I would lose power so often so as to make the freezer a collection of inedible meat. Perhaps now the government is considering whether it has the infrastructure to keep 450 ICBMs lying around?

Update: Danger Room has more.

  1. scribe says:

    It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if our communications security people at places like NSA were doing productive things – like protecting our nukes against some idiot hacker – instead of listening to pillow talk between soldiers and their spouses and reading our emails.

    At the rate we’re going, we’re going to need Matthew Broderick to step up and get the computer to ask him for a game of chess.

  2. beguiner says:

    The decline in our infrastructure is glaringly obvious. Everyday I see rail overpasses in my city that are just pathetic (crumbled concrete exposing rusty rebar). The coal-fired power plants here don’t even have scrubbers or selective catalytic reducers — technology that is over 30 years old. Last year around this time, I was driving through the coal region of the Czech Republic. All of their power plants had modern scrubbers and baghouses.

    I truly feel like we slipping out of “first world” status. A former Communist country has vastly improved energy infrastructure than my major American city.

    ICBMs going caput is just another indicator of this decline.

  3. JMLagain says:

    “After StuxNet, are we so sure the hackers to pull this off aren’t out there?”

    So why is it so difficult to engage in a serious conversation concerning the vulnerability of our voting systems which have virtually no security?

  4. orionATL says:

    why would anyone ever design a nuclear bomb delivery system in such a way that the humans controlling the machines would/could lose communiications with those machines under any circumstance.

    even if not armed, these missles could wreak great physical damage on a programmed target

    or start an unintentional war.

  5. barne says:

    Kevin Drum says we’re nuts to worry about voting computers. See bolded text below.

    “It’s true: having a Democrat in the White House does this to conservatives. But here’s a question: are liberals any different? Was Bush hatred any different from Clinton hatred or Obama hatred?

    It’s a serious question. A few years ago there were liberals who were convinced that Bush would declare martial law before the 2008 election and stay in the White House forever. There were liberals who thought Bush knew about 9/11 beforehand and allowed it to happen. There were liberals convinced of a gigantic conservative conspiracy to rig the voting machines in Ohio to steal the 2004 election. I sat across the table one day from a friend of my mother’s, a lefty but a mild-mannered one, who was genuinely afraid that Bush was turning America into a fascist state. Another friend called during the 2008 campaign convinced that Sarah Palin had faked Trig’s birth.

  6. BoxTurtle says:

    Some things don’t make sense.

    1) Our ICBMS are dependent on a single line coming from OUTSIDE the base with no backup? I doubt it.

    2) Our security systems also don’t have battery backup? and they’re on the same power feed as the live ICBMS? I doubt it.

    The following is true story. I lived it.

    First, know that our data center ha a world class power supply system. Two power feeds from different substations, each capable of handling our entire load. These were backed by a ups system that could do a hot cutover to batteries if our power feed dropped. The batteries were good for 15 minutes of full normal operation, but they were backed by 6 generators that gave us 200% of our max load. The generators would be up and running within a minute of power loss and the UPS would automatically cut over. Typically, if we lost power the batteries would kick in, thern generators would spin up, and we’d be cut over to them before OPS could get the local utility on the phone.

    One weekend, normal maintenance was done on the generators and batteries. They were in the process of cutting the UPS fully back into the circuit The batteries had not been brought back online and one of the generators was not properly sync’d up.

    Then a truck drove by outside on the main road and rattled loose a chunk of concrete from the lid of our utility pit. This dropped to the bottom ad shorted our live power feed directly to ground.

    When we lost utility power, the UPS tried to cut over to batteries. So we lost power hard. Then the generators spun up, BUT the one generator that hadn’t been properly synced happened to start first and the others couldn’t sync to it. Nevertheless, the UPS saw power up and cut over. We are now feeding out of phase, undervoltage power to delicate computer equiptment. It was ugly.

    So there’s way more to this story than a single cable cut.

    Boxturtle (Report on above was entitled “Greatst cosmic coincidence since the creation of the uverse)

          • bmaz says:

            Well, there were numerous pen fattened quail, geese and ducks with their wings tied, wrappers from heart medication and lithium batteries found strewn about the area….

          • thatvisionthing says:

            What? Wikipedia missed this?

            The Mystery of Minot: Loose nukes and a cluster of dead airmen raise troubling questions

            Dave Lindorff

            November 25, 2007

            To date, more than a month after the incident, Pentagon investigators have completely ignored a peculiar cluster of six deaths, during the weeks immediately preceding and following the flight, of personnel at the two Air Force bases involved in the incident and at Air Force Commando Operations headquarters.

            And since the lost nukes of August 2007, Citizens for Legitimate Government has been keeping a Minot page of oddities which I see was last updated in May 2010. Like July 2008 was crazy. Headlines:

            U.S. fires captain of Japan-bound nuclear warship 31 Jul 2008

            Air Force brigadier general dies of gunshot wound 28 Jul 2008

            US missile alert crew falls asleep on the job 25 Jul 2008

            Air Force says officers fell asleep with nuke code –July 12 incident was at Minot AFB, location of other incidents 24 Jul 2008

            Air Force declares lost B-52 crew dead 24 Jul 2008

            Air Force Finds Lax Nuclear Security 02 Jul 2008

            Lots of stuff — check out Feb 2009:

            Minot base crew commander found dead –Cause of death unclear 02 Feb 2009


      • beguiner says:

        Check out this interview with John Perry Barlow, one of the lyricists for the Grateful Dead. He was also a Wyoming cattle rancher and founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. For some weird reason, he was also a friend of Dick Cheney’s and he served as campaign manager for Dick’s first congressional campaign in 1978.


        “AD: What is the story behind “Throwing Stones”? You wrote that in Cora as well, right?

        JPB: Yeah. That’s the only explicitly political song we ever wrote. And the story behind that was that I was having a serious argument with Dick Cheney at that point, who I’d help get elected and been a pretty good congressman for the stuff that I was interested in, which was environmental stuff. We’d helped stop acid rain in the Wind River Mountains and passed the Wyoming Wilderness Act together and worked out a lot of the necessary compromises. He fished on my ranch and…we were co-conspirators.

        But then he got into this obsession with the Russians and this conviction that we had a clash of cultures that had to be resolved by whatever means, and so he helped base the MX Missile in Wyoming. The original idea of the MX Missile was that it was a second-strike, retaliatory weapon that could not be taken out by a first strike because it would be running around on a vast railroad system kind of like a gigantic shell game, so the Russians wouldn’t know where the MX’s were. And the MX itself is an extremely destructive instrument. It has ten warheads, each one of which delivers 550 kilotons of explosive energy. And just for purposes of comparison, the bomb that completely leveled Hiroshima and took out half a million people in a second had only seventeen kilotons to give you some idea. So you can to the math. That’s just one missile. And the plan was to base 100 of them. And Dick was instrumental in seeing to it that they were not based in the original basing formula, which made them explicitly second strike, but that they were basically first strike weapons. They were completely naked and stationary and they were all put on launch on warning. And had all of those missiles gone, because some cloud of geese flew over a radar in Greenland, that would’ve been the end of all like on the planet. And I got so freaked out that somebody was so determined to win a political battle that he was literally willing to endanger all the life on planet Earth, that I felt like I had to say something…so I wrote that song. And like I say, I owe Dick a lot for that song.”

        • AitchD says:

          Have never been a Grateful Dead fan (only have the Workingman’s Dead LP).

          Quoting John Perry Barlow:

          And just for purposes of comparison, the bomb that completely leveled Hiroshima and took out half a million people in a second had only seventeen kilotons to give you some idea. So you can to the math.

          From wikipedia: “Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki,[5] with roughly half of the deaths in each city occurring on the first day.”

          • TalkingStick says:

            The insanity of de’tent and the cold was even greater than anything the Tea Party can come up with. Somehow it’s reassuring to know a powerful nation governed so many years by madmen has so far survived.

  7. AitchD says:

    Seymour Hersh’s article in the latest New Yorker may shed some light. I haven’t read it beyond its first paragraph online. It hasn’t been delivered to me bc the postal workers haven’t finished looking through the issue.

    • ottogrendel says:

      Thanks for the link to the article.

      A great snapshot of control being controlled by its need to control and of the Obama administration:
      “This official, like many I spoke to, portrayed the talk about cyber war as a bureaucratic effort “to raise the alarm” and garner support for an increased Defense Department role in the protection of private infrastructure. He said, “You hear about cyber war all over town. This”—he mentioned statements by Clarke and others—“is being done to mobilize a political effort. We always turn to war analogies to mobilize the people.”

      “The Pentagon adviser on information warfare, in an e-mail that described the lack of an over-all policy and the “cyber-pillage” of intellectual property, added the sort of dismissive comment that I heard from others: “It’s ironic that all this goes on under the nose of our first cyber President. . . . Maybe he should have picked a cyber czar with more than a mail-order degree.” (Schmidt’s bachelor’s and master’s degrees are from the University of Phoenix.”

      “Schmidt told me that he supports mandated encryption for the nation’s power and electrical infrastructure, though not beyond that. But, early last year, President Obama declined to support such a mandate, in part, Schmidt said, because of the costs it would entail for corporations. In addition to the setup expenses, sophisticated encryption systems involve a reliance on security cards and on constantly changing passwords, along with increased demands on employees and a ceding of control by executives to their security teams.”

  8. eCAHNomics says:

    Sounds like U.S. needs a more responsible nation, like Pakistan, to take over the U.S. to make sure U.S. nukes are safe.

  9. fuckno says:

    We compare the crumbling American Empire to all the preceding ones, but, shit – this one is bristling with Nukes.

  10. AitchD says:

    Seven Days In May is on Turner Classic Movies at 12:00, Eastern Midnight Time. Also, this October month has five weekends — five Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays — an extreme rarity.

    • bmaz says:

      Thanks. Used a clip from Seven Days In May recently. An absolutely awesome movie with much to lend to the current existence in the US. Starts at 12 EST and 9 PST on TCM. I highly recommend it to one and all.

  11. jdmckay0 says:

    Seems odd Pentagon (?) would even release info on this incident.

    given the accelerating speed with which we’re turning into a banana republic

    Do you have an ETA?

  12. fuckno says:

    “In May, after years of planning, the U.S. Cyber Command was officially activated, and took operational control of disparate cyber-security and attack units that had been scattered among the four military services. Its commander, Army General Keith Alexander, a career intelligence officer, has made it clear that he wants more access to e-mail, social networks, and the Internet to protect America and fight in what he sees as a new warfare domain—cyberspace. In the next few months, President Obama, who has publicly pledged that his Administration will protect openness and privacy on the Internet, will have to make choices that will have enormous consequences for the future of an ever-growing maze of new communication techniques: Will America’s networks be entrusted to civilians or to the military? Will cyber security be treated as a kind of war?

    Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/11/01/101101fa_fact_hersh#ixzz13W11F79s

    • ottogrendel says:

      In re “Will America’s networks be entrusted to civilians or to the military? Will cyber security be treated as a kind of war?”

      What Hersh makes clear in this article is that the overriding goal of the NSA is control. An example: “”The lesson of Clipper is that the N.S.A. is really not good at what it does, and its desire to eavesdrop overwhelms its ability to protect, and puts at risk U.S. security,” Rotenberg said. “The N.S.A. wants security, sure, but it also wants to get to capture as much as it can. Its view is you can get great security as long as you listen in.””

      Radio and television make possible a one-way message from broadcast to receiver, from public authority to passive citizen. And Goebbels’ radio and the idea of Tribalism evolve into the internet and the global village. But the problem, in terms of propaganda, control and the power that goes with them (all under the pretense of safety), is that the internet is not a unidirectional communication tool. It undermines central control and authority. As encryption pioneer Whitfield Diffie says in Hersh’s article, ““I am not convinced that lack of encryption is the primary problem. The problem with the Internet is that it is meant for communications among non-friends.”” And there’s the rub for Control. It’s what drives the NSA nutty and accounts for the scrambling for dominance among control addicts, whether civilian or military.

  13. PeasantParty says:

    Hmmm. Last week we read and heard that Clinton lost the codes. This week Obama had a black out.

    I think somebody is up to a great deal of Journamalism.

  14. seaglass says:

    The Christotaliban has almost total control of the Air Force High Command these days and guess who runs the missile silo. It’s not a wiring problem.

  15. Cujo359 says:

    From what I read in the article, I don’t see any reason for concern. The command center lost contact with the missile silos. They sent people to investigate. As BoxTurtle’s example at #8 shows, even a properly designed data center can be taken down thanks to operational mistakes and bad luck.

    There might be something of concern here, but it’s going to take some investigation to find that out.

    • PeasantParty says:

      “There might be something of concern here, but it’s going to take some investigation to find that out.”

      Yeah, and who will investigate? The CYA people to be sure. I bet the journalmalism that released this news will help and let us know how it turns out.

      • Cujo359 says:

        I spent a good portion of my career examining similar issues. How information gets from whatever it’s describing to where people need to look at is seldom a simple thing when computers are involved. What is reported to have happened is what I expect would happen. They didn’t have information that they expected to have so they found out. IOW, there were procedures in place, and people in place who were smart enough and disciplined enough to follow them.

        I agree that the government’s fetish for secrecy is a cause for concern, and it’s likely we won’t know how all this turned out for a decade or more. Still, I don’t see any reason to assume there was a dangerous failure in the system, either. Parts of systems fail. That’s inevitable. These are thirty-plus year old weapons. To expect that they, and all the systems that monitor them, will function perfectly all the time is idiotic. As long as the DoD shows that it understands that, I won’t be too worried.

  16. solerso says:

    Oh boy, i cant wait until our nuclear arsenal is in the capable hands of “security contractors”, because everyone knows that the “free market” does everything better than the govt.

  17. TheOracle says:

    Hmmmm, Dick Cheney is from Wyoming, hmmmm…has he been out hunting again?

    Or has he been digging any underground, undisclosed-location bunkers anywhere near missile silos? Maybe he was just testing his “command and control” of 50 nuclear missiles?


  18. lsls says:

    I go with the UFO story…it was predicted to happen a week ago…apparently there have been tons of sightings…or maybe it is some strange kind of military coup…there have been rumors of that too. Oy. Do I have to put a snark tag – I’m not sure I’m snarking?

    Scary reality.

  19. thatvisionthing says:

    kinda off topic / on topic — comment I read the other day on Craig Murray’s blog:

    Sorry this comment is off topic but I must put it somewhere in case it gets removed from the Daily Telegraph comments on Dr Kelly


    ‘Everyone in Authority had dodged the association to Dr David Kelly being the overseer of the Covert Conservative purchase in1991 of 3 ex ARMSCOR Pelindaba, Pretoria Battlefield Nuclear Bombs.

    The very 3 Nukes stolen by the Weapons Broker John Bredenkamp from their poor security facility in OMAN under the Watch of Dr David Kelly.

    One of those Stolen Nukes, detonated by North Korea on 25 May 2009.

    But then, the Labour Party have stayed silent because they uncovered the huge financial Conservative money laundering Fraud associated to this Nuclear Weapon purchase and the Backhander of £17.8 Million through a front Company of Bredenkamp into the EMPTY Conservative Coffers to fight the 1992 General Election.

    David Cameron is fully aware, it was he and Ken Warren, ordered by Thatcher to take an Armscor Paid visit to Pelindaba to arrange the process of transporting the 9 remaining South African/Israeli manufactured Pelindaba Battlefield Nuclear Bombs.

    6 to be sent to Chicago for De-Commissioning

    and 3 to be diverted to Oman for retaliation if Saddam used Chemicals against Coalition forces in the retake of Kuwait, Gulf War 1

    The UOR to purchase the Nukes designated on the UOR as


    Signed by Thatcher on her last day in Number 10

    MP Peter Lilley for the DTI

    Stephan Kock for ASTRA


    Authorised by Lord MacAlpine and a selection of Tory Grandee’s

    Posted by: Ruth at October 22, 2010 9:17 PM


  20. SnarkiChildOfLoki says:

    The most scary part is the following:

    LF Down status also means that various security protocols built into the missile delivery system, like intrusion alarms and warhead separation alarms, were offline.

    (bolds mine)

    Better make damn sure that all the warheads are still attached, none missing or replaced with fakes.

  21. matutinal says:

    Well the “pinging” “out of sequence” mentioned in the article is rather vague, but it would be a technically correct description of the problem if either a token-ring network card or a token-ring controller (network device) failed.

    It’s hard to believe that the military is using such antiquated networking technology. But from what I’ve seen, it’s quite possible.

    This doesn’t sound to me like an external intrusion (hacking) event, and I doubt these systems even have any physical connection to the Internet.

    Just what I speculate as a sometime network techie.

  22. alank says:

    This comes under the head of a non-non-event. Only jarheads could possibly care. The fact that there’s such an arsenal at all is what’s appalling.

  23. amghru says:

    Raise the terror alert warning to red. Islamofascist trained suicide prarie dogs are secretly tunneling under our ICBM bases right now to chew through all of the electrical cables. I didn’t think that prarie dogs could swing from monkey bars but I guess I was wrong.

    • thatvisionthing says:

      Craig Murray of the UK has been making hay re the nuclear sub HMS Astute running aground on a sand bar off Skye — he wrote a parody on his blog:

      Sky News Exclusive – Inside the World of the Taliban Sandbank Squads

      BIGGER THAN 9/11

      MOD sources have revealed exclusively to Sky that the Taliban attack on HMS Astute could have been “Bigger Than 9/11”. As Sky correspondent Adam Ramsay was told exclusively by Taliban commander Hilal-al-Wemadeituppy, a crack Taliban team planted the Improvised Sandbank Device that almost destroyed HMS Astute on Friday.

      The whole thing is pretty funny, and reminds me again of my idea that TCM could bring about world peace if they only showed The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming 24/7. The fact that TCM never shows it confirms my belief.

      There’s a real corollary news story, which is that the billion-pound no-hands worlds-most-advanced HMS Astute was pulled off the sandbank by a tug that only a day earlier had been announced as one of four due to be scrapped to save 32 million over 4 years. You can’t make this stuff up.

  24. JohnLopresti says:

    Bulletin to McCaf, MilleniaLab: if the recent Belgium nuclear deployment scandal is an analog, perhaps the Wyoming glitch could have been caused by inadequate hiring of kennel managers. NB: the first link has background in a post a week prior there. As ew alluded in one cite, there are international peace treaty factual respresentations involved subsequent to an abnormal event like the referenced occurrences in WY or Belgique.

  25. b2020 says:

    Banana republic. With nukes.

    If there is a 30+ years engineering debt on maintaining and restoring critical domestic infrastructure – if you have bridges dropping into rivers, and levees break – there is no reason to believe that the Land of DOzD in general or weapons of mass-destruction program related activities specifically are in much better shape.