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Bill Clinton Lost Nuclear Codes While in Office

October 21, 2010

Nuke CodesThe fate of a United States nuclear missile launch lies with something called “the biscuit.” But for a period of time during the Clinton administration, the biscuit was nowhere to be found.

The biscuit is the card  bearing the codes the president must have in order to launch a nuclear attack. A PIN number of sorts that must be presented to the nuclear ATM. No codes, no launch.

A new book by General Hugh Shelton, who served under Clinton as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tells the story of Clinton’s missing biscuit. “At one point during the Clinton administration,” Shelton writes, “the codes were actually missing for months. [...] That’s a big deal — a gargantuan deal.” The account is included in his just-published memoir, Without Hesitation: The Odyssey of an American Warrior.


Shelton’s story seems to be confirmed in another earlier Clinton book by Ret. Air Force Lt. Col Robert Patterson, ABC News reports. In that book Patterson, who carried the nuclear launch device called the “football,” asked Clinton for the biscuit so Patterson could update the codes. When Clinton went to give it to Patterson, it was gone.

“He thought he just placed them upstairs,” Patterson recalled to ABC. “We called upstairs, we started a search around the White House for the codes, and he finally confessed that he in fact misplaced them. He couldn’t recall when he had last seen them.”

Patterson’s story occurs in 1998 — the morning after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke — while Shelton’s takes place in 2000. It could be the dates are fuzzy. Or, Clinton could have done it twice.

Losing the biscuit may not be just a Clinton affair (pun intended). In a story that has never been confirmed nor denied, Jimmy Carter sent his biscuit to the dry cleaners after leaving it in a dirty suit.

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