US Nuclear Launch Card 'Went Missing' during Clinton TermWorld | October 22, 2010, Friday // 11:40| views
A card containing nuclear launch codes went missing "for months" during Bill Clinton's presidency, a new book says. Photo by EPA/BGNES
A former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says in a new book that while Bill Clinton was in the White House, a key component of the president's nuclear launch protocol went missing.
"The codes were actually missing for months. This is a big deal," says General Hugh Shelton, as cited by CNN. "We dodged a silver bullet."
In his book "Without Hesitation," the retired Army general writes, "Even though movies may show the President wearing these codes around his neck, it's pretty standard that they are safeguarded by one of his aides, but that aide sticks with him like glue." He adds that President Clinton "assumed, I'm sure, that the aide had them like he was supposed to."
What apparently was missing was a card with code numbers on it that allows the president to access a briefcase -- called the "football" and kept by an aide always near the president -- containing instructions for launching a nuclear attack.
Once a month, Defense Department officials conduct an in-person verification to make sure the president has the right codes. At least twice in a row, Shelton writes, a White House aide told the Pentagon checker that the president was in a meeting but gave a verbal assurance that the codes were with him.
Then one month around the year 2000, according to Shelton, when the time came to replace the codes with a new set, "the president's aide said neither he nor the president had the codes -- they had completely disappeared."
Shelton writes that all this happened very likely without Clinton's knowledge.
CNN called and e-mailed a spokesman for President Clinton Thursday, but there was no immediate response.
Fran Townsend, who served as homeland security advisor to President George W. Bush and who is a CNN contributor on national security issues, said Thursday, "I can't imagine a more serious breach, if something like that were ever to be lost or be compromised.
"That's the command and control capability of the president to launch a nuclear attack."
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