Declassified Pentagon History Provides Hair-Raising Scenarios of U.S. Vulnerabilities to Nuclear Attack through 1970s
Study Specifically Addresses U.S. Strategic Command-Control-and-Communications [C3] Systems
President Could Try to Survive Attack by Escaping or Try to Command U.S. Forces - But Not Both, According to One Report
Reagan Spent Billions on C3 Upgrades But Kept Secret Its Top Priority
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 403
Posted - November 19, 2012
Edited by William Burr
For more information contact:
William Burr - 202/994-7000 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Washington, D.C., November 19, 2012 -- For decades, U.S. command-control-and-communications (C3) systems were deeply vulnerable to nuclear attack, according to a recently declassified Pentagon study. The document, a top secret internal history of the highly complex procedures that connected the White House and senior civilian and military leaders with local commanders awaiting orders to launch bombers and missiles, details sometimes harrowing reports about systemic weaknesses that could have jeopardized U.S. readiness to respond to a nuclear attack.
According to the report, A Historical Study of Strategic Connectivity 1950-1981, prepared by the Joint Chiefs of Staff Historical Division, earlier top-secret analyses had concluded that despite the presence of counter-measures installed over the years, high altitude bursts and electromagnetic pulses could still paralyze communications links and cut warning time of an attack to as little as seven minutes. Furthermore, nuclear detonations could destroy presidential helicopters along with the vital National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP), putting in question whether the U.S. would be capable of delivering a nuclear response - the essence of deterrence.
A 1978 Defense Science Board report cited by the JCS history found that the "provisions for National Command Authority survival were critically deficient." If the President happened to be in Washington, D.C. at the time of a nuclear attack, "it would be possible ... for the President either to command the forces until the attack hit Washington and he was killed or to try to escape and survive, but not both."
The National Security Archive obtained this JCS historical study through a Freedom of Information Act appeal to the Defense Department. The Pentagon had previously released the document but in massively excised form. This briefing book is one of a series of occasional postings aimed at disseminating new documentation on a variety of nuclear issues as it becomes available through U.S. government declassification processes.
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