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Scary words about nuclear hijacking

Today’s Senate hearing on strategic and cyber matters took a Bondian turn when Sen. Bill Nelson wanted to know if a cyber attacker could take control of Russian or Chinese nuclear missiles and launch them.

A Minuteman Missile test. Credit: U.S. Air Force

The answer was not reassuring: “Senator, I don’t know,” said Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command. “I do not know.”

Seated next to Kehler was Army Gen. Keith Alexander, the commander of Cyber Command. If he knows, he stayed mum through the exchange.

Nelson, D-Fla., suggested that the U.S. might need to do something in the international cyber realm akin to the 1991 Nunn Lugar legislation. It set in motion a process for collaboratively safeguarding dismantled weapons of mass destruction.

“Let’s don’t stop with China. What about the Brits? What about the French? Do they have the capabilities of stopping a rogue cyber attack from coming in and suddenly messing up their command and control?” Nelson said.

Nelson and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, agreed to take up the issue in a closed session.

Kehler tried to calm the conversation a bit. He said Russian commanders are "very careful about their nuclear command and control," and he said the U.S. would like to have military-to-military dialogues with China on the topic.

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