NSA: Every Nuclear-Tipped Missile is an “Accident Waiting to Happen”

7 October 2013 — National Security Archive

New History of Nuclear Weapons Control (and Lack Thereof) Cites National Security Archive Documents on War Plans, Nuclear Accidents, and Command Systems

Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control Wins High Praise from Reviewers, Calls Archive “A National Treasure”

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 442

Edited by William Burr
For more information contact:
William Burr 202/994 7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu

Washington, D.C., October 7, 2013 — A nuclear accident never produced a nuclear detonation, but according to a new book by Eric Schlosser every nuclear-tipped missile “is an accident waiting to happen, a potential act of mass murder.” Schlosser’s book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety (Penguin Press, 2013) includes a truly sobering account of safety breakdowns and failures from the 1950s to the 1980s. All readers will be impressed by the assiduousness of his research, the doggedness of his Freedom of Information Act requesting, and the great care which he has taken to pin down assertions in a great variety of primary and secondary sources. In this connection, staffers at The National Security Archive appreciate Schlosser’s kind words:

“I am especially grateful for the work of the National Security Archive, based at George Washington University, which for almost three decades has been obtaining documents through the Freedom of Information Act and suing federal agencies when they are denied but also to hold it accountable for that behavior. The archive is a national treasure. Its digital collections proved invaluable to my research.” (p. 448)

Command and Control has received high praise from reviewers in The New York Times, The Guardian, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The New Yorker, among other publications. All agree that it is an outstanding and original account of U.S. nuclear accidents and the efforts by top leaders and government experts to “put some sort of harness on nuclear weaponry” (Louis Menand, The New Yorker). The heart of the book, a striking and gripping account of the 1980 Titan II accident, has won deserved acclaim. According to Nina Tannenwald, in The San Francisco Chronicle, “Schlosser has written a powerful reminder that nuclear weapons are never really ‘safe’ despite the fact that safety measures have so far worked.” She further observes that the book might help create more support for President Obama’s proposal for nuclear abolition.

To show how Eric Schlosser mined the Archive’s holdings in the Nuclear Vault and the Digital National Security Archive, the Archive has published a sampling of the document he cites in his notes. Almost all of them were declassified as the result of specific requests by the National Security Archive or were otherwise found through research at the U.S. National Archives. The document selection mirrors key themes in his book: control arrangements over nuclear weapons, command-and-control systems, nuclear accidents, and nuclear war plans

Check out today’s posting at the National Security Archive’s Nuclear Vault – http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nukevault/ebb442/

Find us on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/NSArchive

Unredacted, the Archive blog – http://nsarchive.wordpress.com/

THE NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Archive collects and publishes declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A tax-exempt public charity, the Archive receives no U.S. government funding; its budget is supported by publication royalties and donations from foundations and individuals.

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