back to article US nuke missile crew falls asleep on the job

In the latest cockup involving nuclear arms, three ballistic missile crew members fell asleep while in possession of classified launch codes used to launch nuclear attacks, the US Air Force says. Officials say the codes, which allow Air Force personnel to communicate with the missiles, were never compromised and remained …


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  1. TheBloke

    What's the problem?

    If all the nuclear launch crews were asleep, surely we'd all be a lot safer.

  2. Mike
    Black Helicopters

    This is a red dash alpha message in two parts

    break break. Prepare for authentication.

    Usually that type of message coming through on the big red PA speaker would wake you up. Well, maybe not you, or me, I would sleep through WWIII (so my wife says), but surely it would wake one of them up ;)

    No harm no foul. or we could just turn everything over to the WOPR.

  3. Chris G Silver badge

    War of the Machines

    This is an argument in favour of building a Skynet, it will never sleep. Always ready to nuke a potential enemy. Just don't try to pull the plug out.

  4. Damn Yank


    Confidence is high, I repeat, confidence is high...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    These guys were not the ones who launch the missiles. Those guys were at their posts, awake (presumably), deep underground.

    The three who fell asleep were at the silo to *change the codes*. I would guess that means they bring a big steel box that has the codes locked inside, go into the silo, take out the old steel box with the old codes and put in the new steel box with the new codes, and then head back to base with the old steel box. While waiting to return to base with the old codes, they fell asleep.

    Sure, procedural mistake. But the codes were still locked in a box. They were still in a secure room, in a secure building, in a secure area. And while three fell asleep, there was a forth member of the team who was awake according to other reports.

  6. Joel Bjorge

    So what?

    I live about 300 miles from this base, so heard about it early this morning. I don't see the big deal. Three guys with *outdated* launch codes, locked in strong boxes only they had the code to (and that I assume were chained to their wrists), fell asleep in a very secure locked room above the silo while waiting for their transport to come pick them up and take them back to the base (after, I'm guessing, finishing their shift). So what's the catastrophe?

  7. adnim Silver badge

    @TheBloke:What's the problem

    I agree entirely. However I would be worried if they were dexterous somnambulists.

  8. Planeten Paultje

    Bad air maybe?

    I assume all these "secure" rooms have their own air supply. If the filtering is a bit off or something, I can imagine people falling asleep.

  9. Andy Barber
    Thumb Down


    Obviously ex Transport for London staff!

  10. SnowHawk

    It's a protocol breach

    That is the problem. You are required to maintain what is called 'positive control' over those codes, even after they are outdated, until they are destroyed. Sleeping while in position of those codes is a failure to do that. It is just one layer of many that are used to safeguard the nuclear weapons and minimize exposure to unauthorized use, which is generally regarded as a very bad thing. Actual physical loss of these code might, at worst, make the weapons unavailable if needed. Loss with many other lapses could be much more dangerous, which is why a single lapse is treated so seriously. Never heard of a fourth member of the team, in any reports that I have read, but if there was, then there is some aspect to this story that is not being reported. The USAF is in the midst of fallout from several serious lapses in security, and apparently a significant lapse in overall judgment recently. It does not surprise this US Army veteran that this is happening to the least disciplined of our services.

    Mines the one with the Big Red One on the shoulder.

  11. J
    Black Helicopters


    What a non-happening... I wonder how many times this kind of stuff happens and nobody finds out.

    "mistakenly loaded nukes onto a B-52 that few across the US"

    Mistakenly? Sure...

    If so, what the fearful Americans should spend their waking (and sleeping) lives fearing is not the "terrorists" attacking them, but their own air force doing "exercises" like this. You know, as in "I thought they were blanks! said the soldier looking at the bleeding crowd".

  12. JT2008
    Paris Hilton

    Slow day, El Reg?

    This is SOP, people. Really.

    Sad that there's no IT/Paris angle, even.

    Paris, because she always looks sleepy ...

  13. Matt


    Hence the atricle being in the Bootnotes section, genius.

  14. Ian Chard


    Missile jockey 1: (pointing gun) SIR, WE ARE IN LAUNCH, TURN YOUR KEY!!

    Missile jockey 2: zzzz... oh yes Paris, turn my key... zzz

  15. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    BFD! So what?

    We used to fall asleep all the time when I was in the Army in a missile base in Germany, but we didn't get caught. Their mistake was getting caught!

  16. paulc

    that was not funny...

    "I thought they were blanks! said the soldier looking at the bleeding crowd".

  17. James O'Brien

    I was there

    And I will tell you that we were NOT, I repeat NOT sleeping. What were doing in fact was three things. Bob was making sure the procedure of closing your eyes and kissing your ass goodbye was valid, Joe there had to piss so bad he had his eye closed and was hopping around (bet no one mentioned the hopping DID THEY??) and me? Well I just got a new pair of gag glasses with the eyes closed and the big nose. (heh, shouldve seen the commanders face. .PRICELESS). BUT, we were NOT SLEEPING. Just because the flyboys get to work from 10am-2pm everyday and have a mandatory 2 hour nap in there somewhere we all get labeled as slackers? Hell do you know how hard it is when your working with three guys after a night out in a secure, AIR-TIGHT facility? Damn the other week Bob ripped one so badly me and Joe about died. Now stop worrying about the nuclear codes, they are saf........zzzzZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Four man crew, two *allowed* to be asleep

    From AP:

    One of the crew members was not in the room with the other three at the time they fell asleep, the Air Force said.

    From CNN:

    Under standard procedure, the four-officer crew of the facility is supposed to keep the component secure until it is returned to the base. Ford said the crew took the component to a building above the facility and locked the component in a lockbox.

    Then, three of the four crew members fell asleep.

    From AFP:

    The four member missile crew changed the codes in the underground launch control center during their watch and had gone "top side" to an above ground missile alert facility with the component containing the old codes to await transportation back to the main base, the air force said.

    While awaiting transportation, they went into a crew rest area with bunks where they fell asleep, a violation of the rules, according to the air force.

    UPI reports: "...the airmen took the component to a building above the facility, locked the component in a lockbox, then three members fell asleep. Protocol calls for at least two members to be awake while in control of the component."

    So, turns out two were allowed to be asleep. The only violation was the third crew member who fell asleep.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "dexterous somnambulists"

    You so owe me a keyboard

  20. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    tick, tick, ...


    (I lied about the pyramids)

  21. Graham Marsden

    Shall we...

    ... play a game...?

  22. Doug Glass


    What's the problem, a nuclear hit would wake them.

    "Do you want to play a game?"

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    they were in...

    ...An 'alert' center?

    Ha! Ha! Ha!

    Seriously, though, I agree with other posters. Protocol breech and for good reason, but this is hardly 'zomg bin laden could stolz our nukez lol' material.

  24. Anonymous from Mars
    Black Helicopters











  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thats nothing

    I'd worry about Pakistan's launch security. It consists of a bloke with a box of matches (to light the fuse) who won't hand them over unless he's given the right password. If he falls asleep, we're screwed.

  26. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge


    I think I understood that one! "Hazing JFK boy" ... got your .308?

  27. Anonymous Coward

    not newsworthy?

    Ah really I'm a bit puzzled by the whole "this is not a story" attitude. Firstly, it's funny. And secondly (and I'm glad to have a serviceman agree with me in this assessment) it's unnerving to me because of the implicit lack of discipline and procedure; perhaps I'm just a child of the cold war but there is a chill for me in thinking that anyone could fall asleep on a nuclear missile base, let alone when on duty and charged with the launch codes.

    It's not about "zomg they could steal our missiles lolz" it's about the environment of a ballistic launch site with great big ICBMs in it descending to the level of the stock room in tescos.

    As any manager knows, if they're sleeping on the job now then within six months they'll be coming in at 3pm and urinating at their desks. Long before that they'll have started whining about training days and being allowed to drink alcohol and masturbate at their desks.

    If it's not newsworthy that a ten story stack of city levelling ordinance is being tended by narcoleptics then I'd best skip all the articles about security problems on some internet or other or who's laptop might catch fire... lolz, zomgz and failz not withstanding ;-)

    And of course big missiles and their bases and their launch codes are nothing to do with IT, right?

  28. Mike Richards Silver badge

    @ Anonymous from Mars


    And a vowel please Carol.

  29. Watashi

    A strange game...

    "The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?"

  30. Henry Wertz Gold badge

    How long were they up?

    First off, I'm not concerned. Who really gives a toss if 3 out of 4 (instead of 2 out of 4) fell asleep, in a secure room, with obsolete launch codes? Note me. Anyway..

    I wonder how long they were awake? I have heard it is common in the military to have people up for very extended time, and have them take amphetamines to keep up. Maybe the uppers wore off and they fell dead asleep?

  31. Jesse Dorland

    India is the worst

    Seriosuly, if you really want to worry about security -- worry about Indian. Their nuclear weapons are stored in places where natives are at ware with one another. Tamil vs Hindi speakers, Nagaland (oriental indian vs brown indian). India is a 2nd version of Soviet Union. Half of its population is at war with eachother based on race, class, and religion.

    Not counting the fact that Nagali (the untouchable) the 25% of the population are treated like subhuman -- they wouldn't mind doing the unthinkable.

  32. viciouz

    What they need...

    ... is a huge computer that can control the codes, launch the missiles according to simulated scenarios and be easily accessed by a teenager with a 300 baud modem.

  33. David Cornes


    Gotta love the irony of them falling asleep in a "crew *alert* area" :-D

  34. TheHempKnight

    @anonymous from mars

    Not sure about in the US but in the UK armed forces, that last line over radio would basically be a command to launch a heavy artillery attack. I was always told in the army to use SAY AGAIN if I didnt hear something clearly because of this...

    so in the vein of that message

    REPEAT, target chavsville UK

  35. Landis McGauhey

    Peace *was* our Profession

    As an alumnus of both the U.S. Army *and* the U.S. Air Force, I don't object to the comment of my brother from the 1st Infantry Division. Having said that, I will point out that neither this lapse nor the flying-across-the-country-with-nukes to Barksdale AFB lapse would have happened in the old Strategic Air Command.

    Make mine the gloved lightning with the motto, "Peace is Our Profession".

  36. Anonymous Coward

    Here in Iran Republic

    We never have such problems. We has three vigalent mens at all times with buckets of water to throw on fuzes for nuclear missiles if lit without authorization.

  37. Andy Worth


    Give em a bollocking and a bit of a slap, honestly it's hardly worldwide headline news.

  38. Zack Mollusc

    procedural problem

    The men are not at fault, the blame clearly lies with the operational procedures that mandate the integration of their standard issue mickey mouse alarm clock with the CRM-114 discriminator.

  39. Joe Harrison Silver badge

    No chaining

    @Joel Bjorge... don't think you're allowed to chain valuable things to people's wrists any more. At least in the UK. Health & Safety you know.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Devices? Components?

    Why do those words make me think USB stick?

  41. Tim

    This is actually good news!

    USAF found a chink in its own armour and no-one got hurt. Presumably they are going to re-enforce this chink before their wmd's get hacked!

  42. Gary

    Friendly Fire

    Well you know the US are known for their trigger happy friendly fire :) But makes you wonder how they can preach to other countries when they are lax about their own Nuclear management, that's the big deal here.

  43. Mike Crawshaw

    @ AC 17:27

    "As any manager knows, if they're sleeping on the job now then within six months they'll be coming in at 3pm and urinating at their desks. Long before that they'll have started whining about training days and being allowed to drink alcohol and masturbate at their desks."

    There are places where you're not allowed to do that???

  44. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    CRM-114 Discriminator

    I believe the CRM-114 would be to blame here, the problem being that someone set it to POE instead of EOP, causing the beginnings of a global thermonuclear war. As a sysadmin, i would remove the possibility of human error, by making the setting of discriminator codes completely automated. I propose the use of a new, state of the art supercomputer called the 'WOPR' which will be linked directly to POTS lines all over the country (rollout starting in Sunnyvale, CA). This will give me the ability to remotely troubleshoot any problems, including having a completely bogus state bit set that causes the 'WOPR' to imagine the entire world is it's playground.

    -Prof. Falken

  45. Anonymous Coward

    Who cares!

    You can get all the required launch codes on the Microsoft Update website.

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