Nukewatch Quarterly Summer 2014
CHEYENNE, Wyoming — On April 28, CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl gained unprecedented media access to an underground control room at an Air Force launch control facility in charge of ten intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) tipped with nuclear warheads. Stahl’s 60 Minutes report on the aging ICBM arsenal, broadcast from the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, revealed that the US’s 450 land-based nuclear missiles are still controlled by 1960s computers, with a launch system that relies on eight-inch floppy disks.
Officials claim the outdated equipment keeps the nuclear weapons system safe from potential hackers, as it is not connected to the internet. As one commentator pointed out, this Air Force strategy is similar to one employed by the crew of the Battlestar Gallactica in the popular science fiction TV series, where the ship was saved from a disabling virus because its computers weren’t networked.
The security benefits apparently come with a sacrifice in functionality, as one missileer told Stahl about problems with the facilities’ analog phone systems.
“They’re awful. You can’t hear the other person on the other end of the line. Sometimes you can’t dial out, which makes it very difficult if you’re trying to do your job,” the officer stated.
In an apparent public relations backfire, Stahl said she suspected the Air Force granted her access to the facility to reassure the public in the wake of a widespread cheating scandal involving over 90 nuclear