It was nearly 2 o’clock in the morning on Oct. 23, 2010, when an Air Force lieutenant called from his base in Wyoming to report the nightmare scenario unfolding before him. Fifty intercontinental ballistic missiles—each tipped with a nuclear warhead 20 times more powerful than the bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima—had suddenly lost contact with the computers at the base’s launch center.
“I… we… have no idea what’s happening right now,” the officer sputtered as he tried to explain the situation to support staff at a remote command center. Another officer barked orders behind him, interrupting the call. “Holy shit!” the lieutenant exclaimed. “I will have to call you back!”
The Air Force could tell that the weapons were still in their underground silos, but there was no way to know whether the missiles had been hijacked. A renegade missile crew, someone splicing into underground cables, or hackers exploiting radio signal receivers attached to the ICBMs could have set them on a countdown to launch. Even worse, without contact with the missiles, it was impossible to halt an unauthorized launch attempt.
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