In Nuclear Silos, Death Wears a Snuggie | Danger Room | Wired.com
At a small United States Air Force installation in eastern Wyoming, I’m sitting at an electronic console, ready to unleash nuclear hell. In front of me is a strange amalgamation of ’60s-era flip switches and modern digital display screens. It’s the control console for launching an intercontinental ballistic missile or ICBM.
On an archaic display screen in the center of the console, three large letters blink in rapid succession. “EAM inbound,” says my deputy commander and the second member of the launch crew. An emergency-action message is on its way, maybe from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, maybe from the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, maybe even from the president. We both mechanically pull down our code books, thick binders swollen with pages of alpha-numeric sequences, and swiftly decipher the message.
After nearly four years of pulling ICBM-alert duty, this process is instinctive. I deliberately recite the encrypted characters to ensure my deputy is on the same page, literally and figuratively, as six short characters can effectively communicate a wealth of information through the use of special decoding binders. “Charlie, Echo, Seven, Quebec, Golf, Bravo, six characters ending in Bravo.” My partner concurs, scribbling in his code book.
“Crowd pleaser,” he adds without emotion, referring to a war plan that mandates immediate release of our entire flight of nuclear missiles, 10 in all.