Monday, December 2, 2013

Why I do not fear Big Brother, reason number 00000000

Some people are scared that various governments and government agencies will work in tandem to violate their civil liberties or do other bad things. However, bureaucracies don't work that way. Gizmodo has published yet another example at how government agencies will work at cross purposes with each other.

In the United States, one of the duties of the President of the United States is to serve as Commander in Chief. In an effort to avoid the military dictatorships that have plagued so many nations, my country has firmly established that a civilian has ultimate control of the military. I've had occasion to visit various U.S. Marine facilities over the past few years, and at every one of those facilities, any displayed organization chart clearly shows that Barack Obama is at the very top of the chain of command.

Back in the early 1960s, John F. Kennedy was at the top of that chain. It was an extremely tense time, between the Bay of Pigs, the building of the Berlin Wall, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. If one general or admiral decided to take matters into his own hands and launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike at the Soviet Union, you probably wouldn't be reading this blog today - because neither you nor I would be alive.

Add to this the fact that much of our nuclear arsenal was located in foreign countries, some with their own levels of instability, and it was clear that President Kennedy would have to do something to maintain control.

[I]n 1962 JFK signed the National Security Action Memorandum 160, which was supposed to ensure that every nuclear weapon the US had be fitted with a Permissive Action Link (PAL), basically a small device that ensured that the missile could only be launched with the right code and with the right authority....

To give you an idea of how secure the PAL system was at this time, bypassing one was once described as being "about as complex as performing a tonsillectomy while entering the patient from the wrong end." This system was supposed to be essentially hot-wire proof, making sure only people with the correct codes could activate the nuclear weapons and launch the missiles.

Problem solved, right?

Well, not exactly.

First, the systems actually had to be installed - and 20 years later, the installation was STILL in process.

Second, while the President said that the system had to be implemented, it was up to the military to determine the way in which the system was to be implemented. Now, Americans wouldn't be as stupid as the Syrians and choose a password of "12345." Of course not!

Those in the U.S. that had been fitted with the devices, such as ones in the Minuteman Silos, were installed under the close scrutiny of Robert McNamara, JFK's Secretary of Defence. However, The Strategic Air Command greatly resented McNamara's presence and almost as soon as he left, the code to launch the missile's, all 50 of them, was set to 00000000.

Oh, and in case you actually did forget the code, it was handily written down on a checklist handed out to the soldiers.

As Gizmodo notes, some of this was revealed back in 1977 by Dr. Bruce G. Blair, in a co-authored article entitled The Terrorist Threat to World Nuclear Programs.

Of course, I wonder if even Dr. Blair could have envisioned a scenario in which terrorists would take four planes and fly three of them into two buildings.

But this proves my contention that we do not need to fear Big Brother. We need to fear a lot of Little Brothers.
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