“Warning! The Nation Is Under Missile Attack!”

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Always best when those kinds of disconcerting messages turn out to be false alarms. The ace FOIAers over at the National Security Archive at the George Washington University have just released a two-page once-SECRET memo that then-defense secretary Harold Brown sent to President Carter in 1980 over such a couple of false alarms that led B-52 bomber crews to fire up their engines. Makes for fascinating reading that can basically be broken down into good, and bad, news:

Bad news:

The automated parts of our warning system may generate ambiguous or misleading indications [that the nation is under attack by the Soviets] from time to time.

Good news:

There is no chance that any irretrievable actions would be taken based on ambiguous computer information.

Nonetheless, Brown told Carter, “the Department of Defense has assembled a task force of highly respected computer systems and communications experts to conduct a thorough examination of our NORAD attack warning system.”

Kind of makes you wonder how many bullets we’ve dodged.