In an opinion editorial published in the Washington Post Thursday, Michael Morell, the acting director and deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2010 to 2013, confirmed that he believes North Korea may very well have the capability today to successfully conduct a nuclear attack on the United States.
“Just because North Korea has not yet demonstrated a capability does not mean it does not have it,” Morell warned, as he expressed strong disagreement with a recent statement from Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, who expressed doubt that North Korea was actually capable of striking the U.S. with a nuclear weapon.
In an exclusive report published on the day of President’s Trump’s inauguration, Bloomberg questioned just how much power the president has, and outlined the steps the president would have to follow in order to launch a nuclear strike.
The report was based on information Bloomberg received from a former Minuteman missile launch officer, Bruce G. Blair, who is a research scholar at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security.
Blair confirmed that the commander-in-chief does, indeed, have the sole authority to use nuclear weapons.
The step-by-step procedures for the President of the United States to launch a nuclear strike, according to the report, were outlined as follows:
The president first considers a nuclear strike.
The president then seeks advice from top military advisors and holds a conference with several key advisors within the Pentagon and around the world.
One key participant in the decision is the Pentagon’s deputy director of operations, who is in charge of the “war room,” or the National Military Command Center, which is the around-the-clock operations center that would give out the actual launch order from the president.
The Strategic Command in Omaha director for nuclear forces would also be involved. If the president is in the White House, the conference would take place in the Situation Room. If he is traveling, it would be conducted on a secure conference line. If enemy missiles are already launched against the United States, the conference may only last a mere 30 seconds before a decision is made.
Blair stated that the Pentagon must comply with the president’s eventual order, even if the advisors disagree, try to change his mind, or even resign in protest.
A “challenge code” is conducted by the senior officer at the Pentagon war room to formally confirm that the person ordering the nuclear strike is, indeed, the president. The president must provide a matching code from a card he carries that will verify his authenticity.
The war room then prepares an encrypted message, approximately 150 characters long, that contains the launch order with the chosen war plan, codes to unlock the missiles and the time they should be fired. The message is broadcast directly to the launch crews.
Within seconds, the submarine and ICBM crews receive the message. They open the locked safes to retrieve the codes in their sealed-authentication system and compare their codes with the launch order to confirm a match.
If the missiles are to be launched from a submarine, the order is authenticated by the captain, executive officer, and two others, and missiles are ready for launch within about 15 minutes of receiving the order.
If the missiles are to be launched from land, five separate launch crews in multiple underground centers, spread miles apart, are activated. Each crew has two officers, who each receive their orders, retrieve their codes, confirm a match, and enter the launch order code into their computers. Additional keystrokes unlock the missiles, and the five crews turn their launch keys at exactly the same time, sending five “votes” to the missiles. Only two “votes” are required to launch the missiles, so even if some ICBM crews refuse to comply with the order, there will still be enough “votes” to carry out the launch.
If intercontinental ballistic missiles are launched from a silo, it may take only five minutes from the time of the president’s order until they are launched.
Missiles and their nuclear warheads cannot be stopped once they are fired.
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