After the Reagan assassination attempt, the top aides didn’t have the briefcase containing the codes for launching nuclear missiles, the Veep was unavailable, & no-one knew what to do. A Soviet sub then moved closer than usual to the US.

Nuclear button chaos behind Reagan

By Katty Kay in Washington

Audio tapes just released reveal the confusion among top presidential aides over the wherabouts of the triggers for the US nuclear arsenal as Ronald Reagan recovered from an assassination attempt.

In the first few minutes after the 1981 shooting by John Hinckley, Mr Reagan’s top aides withdrew to the Situation Room which is located in the basement of the White House.

There, behind electronic locks and guarded by uniformed Secret Service agents, they tried to manage the fallout from the shooting.

Normally no tape recorders are allowed in the Situation Room, but National Security Adviser Richard Allen decided that on this occasion a recording was necessary to ensure an indisputable record of events

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9 thoughts on “After the Reagan assassination attempt, the top aides didn’t have the briefcase containing the codes for launching nuclear missiles, the Veep was unavailable, & no-one knew what to do. A Soviet sub then moved closer than usual to the US.”

  1. mrsuns10

    Soviet Union: Pokes stick

  2. KRB52

    Hey, that sub was just coming to help, that’s all. I mean, if it had been the other way, WE would have sent a sub or two to help.

  3. SpiraOgnew

    Secretary of State Haig also attempted to assert authority, assuming that he was third in line behind the VP, who was unavailable. This was not how the line of succession went.

    Edit: Mixed Haig and Regan up

  4. Fynn_the_Finger

    That was a scary time. I remember my parents freaking out. Rumors were wild, and lots of people were speculating this was part of a Russian attack.

    I often wonder how close we came to a nuclear exchange because a crazy person wanted to impress Jodie Foster.

  5. Project_Progress

    The reason this is unusual is because the Soviets and Russians usually follow fixed patterns to desensitize the US. The repeatedly attack patterns are meant to mimic a real world attack over and over in order to desensitize the US to a real attack.

    If they only deployed aircraft and subs during a real attack, it would be very obvious when a real attack was occurring. So they constantly repeat the same attack patterns over and over so we would never know when a real attack was occurring.

    Those “bombers” they fly along our borders aren’t actually bombers. They are intelligence aircraft that gather data before a nuclear attack. They don’t have bombs, they have a huge radar and datalinks that send targeting data to nuclear submarines. This is important for tracking aircraft carriers and other important moving targets.

    By routinely flying them near our borders we don’t know when a real attack is occurring. During a real attack they could just fly right up to our border without it being seen as unusual. Because they do it constantly and it has become meaningless.

    So a sub suddenly changing from those patterns is extremely concerning. It either indicates a confused crew becoming lost or they were intentionally provoking us.

  6. Methisthopheles

    You forgot the best part! He was keeping them in his socks!

  7. TheRealBobbyC

    Absent invoking the twenty-fifth amendment, the President is still the President unless he dies. It isn’t about the Presidential Line of Succession at that point. It is about who gives orders when the President is incapacitated but not dead.

    The National Security Act of 1947 indicated that the Secretary of Defense would be the principle assistant to the President.

    The point I’m making is that there was chaos. Haig was the senior official actually AT the White House and he tried to take charge and keep things orderly as best he could. He got a lot of shit for stepping up to fill a void, even if he was misguided. But… for a short time the Country had no one who was legally in charge.

  8. sacrefist

    I’ve long thought this was the real reason for Alexander Haig’s declaration that he was in charge. From the first moment, I was sure he was signaling the Russians that the U.S. could still launch.

  9. Rsardinia

    How can the VP be unavailable? Their main purpose is being second in line in case of such an event.

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