In the the final Trump-Clinton presidential debate, Hillary Clinton said:

But here's the deal. The bottom line on nuclear weapons is that when the president gives the order, it must be followed. There's about four minutes between the order being given and the people responsible for launching nuclear weapons to do so. And that's why 10 people who have had that awesome responsibility have come out and, in an unprecedented way, said they would not trust Donald Trump with the nuclear codes or to have his finger on the nuclear button.

Some people, such as commenters on this Reddit forum are concerned that that information is classified, and should not have been publicized.

Is that information classified by the US military?


2 Answers 2


No, this is not classified information.

There have been plenty of descriptions of the timeline to launch US nuclear weapons, most much more detailed than anything Secretary Clinton said, and none of the people publishing them have been prosecuted. Also the articles giving those details are still easily available, and have been for years, indicating that the US military does not see any problem with them being published.

Here are some examples:

EDIT: While it is technically possible for information to be both classified and widely known to the public (for example the location of a US aircraft carrier may be technically classified, even when it is in port and visible to anyone for miles around) revealing such information is not a crime if it could be obtained from non-classified sources, and does no harm to US interests, making the question pretty much moot.

  • 9
    Upvoted, but I just want to point out that this argument does have a weakness. It is possible for something to be classified and publicly available without all parties who have access to the information being prosecuted. Oct 20, 2016 at 16:29
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    If a bunch of people sitting around speculating about what the number might be, there is a very good chance one of them may get close to the "correct" value. With this logic, such a person is revealing classified information. That's clearly idiotic.
    – barbecue
    Oct 20, 2016 at 18:33
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    You are showing that this information is not secret, but not that it's not classified. They are very different things.
    – Sklivvz
    Oct 20, 2016 at 18:33
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    The real problem is the assumption that it's actually information and not just some number. Politicians provide exact numbers that are completely meaningless all the time, why are we assuming this one specific case is the exception?
    – barbecue
    Oct 20, 2016 at 18:36
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    @DavidStarkey technically, there are 5 unclassified (for official use only) levels of classification :-)
    – Sklivvz
    Oct 20, 2016 at 20:53



The author bases his estimate on information gleaned from a 30-year old book, so it's not exactly new information.

Bloomberg also reported on this back in September.

About five minutes may elapse from the president’s decision until intercontinental ballistic missiles blast out of their silos, and about fifteen minutes until submarine missiles shoot out of their tubes. Once fired, the missiles and their warheads cannot be called back.

Not exactly four minutes, but I think that would be quibbling.

  • 1
    What's wrong with this answer? Is it too speculative?
    – Golden Cuy
    Oct 20, 2016 at 8:45
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    To mention some things: 1) No citations, just a link and a conclusion. Your answer is in another castle 2) 'The author', is that from that article or is it the OP? 3) Link could quote the title.
    – user22865
    Oct 20, 2016 at 12:04
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    (-1) ''The author bases his estimate on information gleaned from a 30-year old book" What did he estimate? What is the name of the book? Isn't 30 years old info a bit too old? "About five minutes may elapse from the president’s decision until intercontinental ballistic missiles blast out of their silos," That's just a random assumption. It doesn't confirm the exact response time. Oct 20, 2016 at 13:14
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    Also: the references provided are not really reputable in terms of law at all.
    – Sklivvz
    Oct 20, 2016 at 13:46
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    30 years old may still be recent enough given the age of a lot of the hardware and systems in use.
    – mckenzm
    Oct 21, 2016 at 3:43

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