In his new book Without Hesitation, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Hugh Shelton reports that he was told that President Bill Clinton had “misplaced” the launch codes for America’s nuclear weapons, and that another later admitted the codes had been missing for months.
According to Gen. Shelton, the incident took place sometime “around 2000,” though a previous book by Lt. Col. Patterson claimed that President Clinton had lost the codes in the midst of the 1998 Monica Lewinski scandal.
But Shelton’s account is far more detailed and even includes an allegation of something of a second-rate coverup by Clinton-era aides. According to Shelton officials tried to swap out the codes for a new version as part of a routine updating only to be told twice that the president had them and “could not be disturbed,” it was only later than one of the aides conceded they’d lost them.
The codes, also known as the Gold Codes, are printed on a plastic card and are used by the president for identification purposes when he calls in a nuclear attack. Though it seems the risk of someone else successfully calling in a phony nuclear strike with the codes is comparatively minor, Gen. Shelton termed its loss “a big deal, a gargantuan deal.”
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