After the Kennedy administration decided that the threat of a rogue general launching America’s nuclear weapons was too serious to ignore, a safeguard was deployed: a code lock mounted on all nuclear bombs. This was essentially the “launch code,” considered in popular lore to be the most important of all government secrets. However, the members of the Strategic Air Command—whose power the code lock was designed to constrain—decided that the code was dangerously limiting to them. According to the scholar (and former launch officer) Bruce Blair, they set the code to eight zeros—00000000—and kept it like this for more than 15 years. Higher-ups finally rectified the issue in 1977.
Alexander Klimburg is a program director at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, and an associate at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center.