|arts & leisure|
Avoiding Atomic Annihilation
By Declan McCullagh
February 16, 1999
Pentagon brass are worrying about buggy radar screens warning of a flight of incoming Russian nukes just after midnight on January 1, 2000. And what if the Russians see the same thing? This is a transcript of Captain Mike Doubleday's briefing to reporters at the Pentagon. The date is February 11, 1999.
Q: Another subject?
Q: Published reports yesterday and today about the problems with Russia's early warning system. To what degree is that a cause of concern for the Pentagon? How serious is it? How worried is the Pentagon that problems with the Russian system could result in a miscalculation or accidental response? Is that something that's seen as likely, unlikely? What degree of confidence do you have?
A: I think that people in this building believe that an accidental launch is unlikely. However, we have been engaging, in the process of engaging the Russians in a program called Shared Early Warning, and that process continues. The overall goal is one that would result in both sides having a greater degree of confidence in their early warning systems, so that any kind of anomalies that might appear in early warning systems could immediately be checked, and resolved in a way that did not cause either side to become more anxious about the activities of the other.
Q: In other words they talk to one another? So Russia would call the United States and say I see an incoming missile. Have you fired something?
A: I think it goes beyond that. There is some thought that perhaps, at some point there should be representatives from both sides in rooms, either both here in the United States and in Russia or in some central location where these issues could be addressed.
Q: Is that a system that the United States is promoting with the Russians?
A: As I say, this is something that was addressed by the President and President Yeltsin some time ago, and we have been talking to the Russians about discussing this further.
Q: Mike, the September 1983 alleged close call, that was in that article yesterday. Also I think it was '94, '95, the Norwegians launched a satellite that the Russians mistook for a possible attack against them.
Did those two incidents happen? Were they a serious lack of early warning? Serious misinterpretations? Or do you know?
A: I think there have been occasions where there has been anxiety on the part of the Russians. I can't cite any specifics for you, but as I say, we are aware of those. We have talked to the Russians about those kinds of situations, and we are taking steps to address that in terms of this shared early warning.
Q: But not yet. It's not been implemented.
A: No, not implemented yet, and we are no doubt some ways away from actually getting to that point. We need to do a lot of talking first.
Q: Is that what the threat reduction agency project in Moscow is about?
A: I'm not sure exactly what you're talking about.
Q: I thought it was early warning in Moscow. No?
A: I'm not sure exactly what you're talking about. There needs to be additional talks before we actually get to the point of having everybody on board with this one.
Q: When do you think you could have a system up and running?
A: On our part, we're anxious to move ahead very quickly, but the Russians I think have indicated that they want to address this further before we get to that juncture. So I don't have any prediction at this point when we may be at the point of actually establishing a site.
Q: Secretary Hamre, I think it was last month, said that the United States was sending a team to Russia to talk about Y2K issues. Would early warning be part of the Y2K discussions?
A: The vision that he had on that was that Y2K, since we've been working through this thing, has the potential of causing anomalies to occur in computer systems. And his thought was that perhaps we needed to have some sort of a place where Russians and Americans could be looking at scopes together during the time when Y2K problems may be at their greatest, namely at the turn of the year.
This is an issue that we're continuing to address with the Russians. Next week there is a group of people here in the building who will be traveling to Moscow to discuss a number of issues, among which will be Y2K with the Russians.
Q: How many people in that group? Can you tell us who's leading it?
A: The leader of the group is Assistant Secretary of Defense, Ted Warner. I don't know exactly how many people are going. I think it's probably about a dozen.
Q: There seem to be some stories floating about in Russia that this Y2K group is coming with large amounts of money to solve the Russians' Y2K problem. Is that not true?
A: We certainly want to share with the Russians what we know about Y2K, and the steps we have taken to address this problem, we think successfully, here in the Department. But I saw those new reports. I'm not aware that there has been any official request from the government of Russia for money in connection with their Y2K problem. But we certainly have insights that we can share with them about what we have done to solve that problem.
Q: So DoD is bringing information, they're not bringing --?
A: We are taking experts who have technical expertise in this area, and information. That's correct.
Q: When is the trip?
A: It starts next week. I can't give you an exact date, but I believe
that it's toward, the middle of the week.
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