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Soviets Built a Doomsday Machine; It's Still Alive

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the dead-hand dept.

The Military 638

An anonymous reader points out a story in Wired introducing us to the Doomsday Machine built by the Soviet Union in the 1980s — and that remains active to this day. It was called "Perimeter." The article explains why the device was built, and why the Soviets considered it to be something that kept the peace, even though they never told the US about it. "[Reagan's] strategy worked. Moscow soon believed the new US leadership really was ready to fight a nuclear war. But the Soviets also became convinced that the US was now willing to start a nuclear war. ... A few months later, Reagan... announced that the US was going to develop a shield of lasers and nuclear weapons in space to defend against Soviet warheads. ... To Moscow it was the Death Star — and it confirmed that the US was planning an attack. ... By guaranteeing that Moscow could hit back, Perimeter was actually designed to keep an overeager Soviet military or civilian leader from launching prematurely during a crisis. The point, [an informant] says, was 'to cool down all these hotheads and extremists. No matter what was going to happen, there still would be revenge. Those who attack us will be punished.'"

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638 comments

Doomsday Machine (2, Interesting)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507781)

The point of the system, he explains, was to guarantee an automatic Soviet response to an American nuclear strike. Even if the US crippled the USSR with a surprise attack, the Soviets could still hit back. It wouldn't matter if the US blew up the Kremlin, took out the defense ministry, severed the communications network, and killed everyone with stars on their shoulders. Ground-based sensors would detect that a devastating blow had been struck and a counterattack would be launched.

Nothing can go wrong!

When I recently told former CIA director James Woolsey that the USSR had built a doomsday device, his eyes grew cold. "I hope to God the Soviets were more sensible than that." They weren't.

And nuclear weapons are sensible then?

Once initiated, the counterattack would be controlled by so-called command missiles. Hidden in hardened silos designed to withstand the massive blast and electromagnetic pulses of a nuclear explosion, these missiles would launch first and then radio down coded orders to whatever Soviet weapons had survived the first strike. At that point, the machines will have taken over the war.

So the whole "Doomsday Machine" thing was an automated system based on ground sensors to launch the missiles in case US attacks.

I still wonder were alive in this world after all the shit humans have pulled off... Wonder whats next.

Re:Doomsday Machine (5, Insightful)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507849)

And nuclear weapons are sensible then?

Say what you will about nuclear weapons but they are probably the only reason that humanity hasn't fought World War III yet.

Re:Doomsday Machine (5, Insightful)

eln (21727) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507903)

You're right, nuclear weapons have kept us from getting involved in another massive global shooting war. On the other hand, they've allowed us to settle into a basically constant series of low-level conflicts across the globe. So, instead of having one giant conflict that lasts for a few years, we have a never-ending series of small but locally devastating conflicts that go on forever. Nuclear weapons haven't curbed our innate desire to destroy ourselves, they've just made it more of a long-term commitment to do so.

Re:Doomsday Machine (5, Insightful)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507949)

So, instead of having one giant conflict that lasts for a few years, we have a never-ending series of small but locally devastating conflicts that go on forever.

But we weren't having just *one* giant conflict that lasts a few years. We were having a *series* of them. So we replaced a never-ending series of giant conflicts with a never-ending series of small but locally devastating conflicts. It's not perfect, but it's progress.

Re:Doomsday Machine (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29508013)

are you really comparing afganistan and iraq and eery other way we fought in the last 20 years to WWII / I ?
Despite the media hype, actually look at the number of lives lot / property destroyed. Sorry, not even close.

Re:Doomsday Machine (5, Insightful)

eln (21727) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508083)

I believe he's trying to say that our current system of having a basically never-ending series of localized conflicts is preferred over our old system of having a major earth-shattering conflict every 25 years or so. The point is a good one, I think, especially if you believe we likely would have gotten involved in WWIII sooner rather than later between the Soviets and Americans without the threat of mutually assured destruction. Given the hostilities between the two powers, it's at least a strong possibility that we would have.

So, his argument that we're better off now is perfectly valid, although I'm sure the people living in the various conflict zones would disagree. Of course, figuring out how to live together without killing each other would be better still, but humans have been around for a long time and have yet to do that, so I guess we take what we can get.

Re:Doomsday Machine (4, Interesting)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508121)

You're right, nuclear weapons have kept us from getting involved in another massive global shooting war. On the other hand, they've allowed us to settle into a basically constant series of low-level conflicts across the globe. So, instead of having one giant conflict that lasts for a few years, we have a never-ending series of small but locally devastating conflicts that go on forever. Nuclear weapons haven't curbed our innate desire to destroy ourselves, they've just made it more of a long-term commitment to do so.

It not so much nukes as the breakup of the old two superpower system. In that system, many states align with one or the other; for a variety of reasons. Since both states have a vested interets in not going to war you have relative peace and ofetn high tension, with minor conflicts acting as surrogates for big ones.

Contrast that to pre-WWI Europe, where numerous roughly equal powers decide to go to war beacuse they believe they can win and there is no larger power restraining them. Shifting allegiances, low tension bur\t it's a lot easier for things to get out of control.

Re:Doomsday Machine (5, Insightful)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508143)

So, instead of having one giant conflict that lasts for a few years, we have a never-ending series of small but locally devastating conflicts that go on forever.

WW2 killed over 70 million people in 7 years, on all sides. I've yet to see any small-scale conflict with similar sustained casualty rates. There are occasional spikes, like Rwanda genocide, but those don't really fall into Cold War proxy wars.

Re:Doomsday Machine (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29508241)

because how right or wrong something is depends on the numbers. fucking idiot.

Flawed logic (4, Insightful)

IdahoEv (195056) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508237)

While I'm no fan of nukes, your logic is seriously flawed: it assumes that the little, ongoing conflicts didn't exist before nukes made world wars obsolete. But of course they did.

There are hardly fewer of the small, regional wars going on now (and since WWII) than there were in the centuries and millennia before. That problem is as old as civilization, MAD certainly did not create it.

Re:Doomsday Machine (0)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507969)

Say what you will about nuclear weapons but they are probably the only reason that humanity hasn't fought World War III yet.

However, it seems they are being used as bullying now. If someone "new one" tries to make them, its a war. Or is someone else than N.Korea and Iran trying to make them now, as they are a bit extreme examples. But maybe they too are just trying to protect their own country (okay, N.Korea is a bit fucked up place)

And they are the reason world is getting more and more as a single nation. If you count in USA, EU, Russia and China thats pretty much 70% of the world. Now just create the same for Africa and we're close to 90%. What's left is to combine these 5 big ones together, and its one ruler over the planet. There might be good things on it, but I really wouldn't like to see it happen. While EU in here brings a lot of nice things like free trade and free moving and working between the area, there are downsides too.

Re:Doomsday Machine (3, Insightful)

Narpak (961733) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507907)

Ground-based sensors would detect that a devastating blow had been struck and a counterattack would be launched.

So technically if someone wanted to deal a massively destructive blow to the US they could just locate one of these "ground-based sensors" inside Russia and create some sort of "devastating blow" to set the entire system off. I guess one should be relieved that certain anti-american groups haven't done so yet.

Re:Doomsday Machine (5, Interesting)

MBCook (132727) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507917)

So the whole "Doomsday Machine" thing was an automated system based on ground sensors to launch the missiles in case US attacks.

On the first page it explains all the conditions that must be met for this thing to go off. They include:

  1. Enabled by military
  2. No contact from headquarters
  3. Detected nuclear detonation
  4. Button press by guy in bunker

It's not automated. All it does it make sure someone is always able to fire the nukes, no matter which parts of the country get bombed. If the US detonated some new bomb that removed all human life within Russian borders, down to 500 miles underground, this system wouldn't be able to launch because the guy with his finger on the button would have been vaporized.

Actually the idea in the article that it was to keep the USSR generals and stuff from doing stupid things like launching first attacks because it would make sure they could always strike back was quite interesting.

At this point, the thing that would worry me most is that it's sounds like it's targeted at the US. So if some group in Afghanistan decides to take revenge for their war 2-3 decades ago (or N.K. attacks to prove they're cool, or...), then if this system enables the button the terrified guy at the button can fire back in defense... which would promptly attack the US because in panic he didn't realize that was who this was designed to defend against.

The article says there is a checklist he is supposed to follow too, but that's not a big comfort.

Re:Doomsday Machine (5, Insightful)

hodet (620484) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508089)

If the US detonated some new bomb that removed all human life within Russian borders, down to 500 miles underground,

...that would take out a good chunk of the planet and would be a doomsday machine in its own right.

Re:Doomsday Machine (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508227)

...that would take out a good chunk of the planet and would be a doomsday machine in its own right.

The planet could easily survive removal of all human life within the borders of Russia down to 500 feet below ground. The mass would be so small, and the surrounding countries would simply cross the border and repopulate the place. Maybe not Siberia.

Some neighbor/allies of Russia might be cold for awhile until the gas supplies were secured and going again, but they'd survive.

Re:Doomsday Machine (1)

hardburn (141468) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508151)

Actually the idea in the article that it was to keep the USSR generals and stuff from doing stupid things like launching first attacks because it would make sure they could always strike back was quite interesting.

In other words, the whole point of a doomsday weapon was not lost because they kept it a secret.

I still think, however, that it's not a practical deterrent for reasons that movie makes all too obvious.

Re:Doomsday Machine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29508247)

It's automated, but it has an off switch. In times of conflict, they switch it on.

If the US detonated some new bomb that removed all human life within Russian borders, down to 500 miles underground, this system wouldn't be able to launch because the guy with his finger on the button would have been vaporized.

And if they detonated some new bomb that disables all electronics down to 500 miles underground, then the system wouldn't be able to launch either, even if you replaced the human with an electronic component.

The guy in the bunker is just another part in the machine. They put them through periodic drills. They're going to push the button so long as they're still in working order, just like an electronic switch.

Re:Doomsday Machine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29508273)

... or more likely a bunch of Afghanis deciding to take revenge for the present war!

Didn't they watch Dr. Strangelove? (5, Funny)

onionman (975962) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507801)

What's the point of building a Doomsday machine if you don't tell everyone about it?

Re:Didn't they watch Dr. Strangelove? (1)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507915)

Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!

Re:Didn't they watch Dr. Strangelove? (1)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508141)

Why do you think the slashdot article is here?!

Re:Didn't they watch Dr. Strangelove? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29507927)

They were going to announce it Monday.

Thanks for posting this the day after a Stanley Kuberick retrospective on AMC. Good memories.

Re:Didn't they watch Dr. Strangelove? (4, Funny)

Ukab the Great (87152) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507941)

If you tell everyong about it, the liberals will try to interfere with our right to bear doomsday devices by either adding a 3 day waiting-period for mad scientists or by classifying them as "assault rifles".

Re:Didn't they watch Dr. Strangelove? (4, Funny)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508119)

Amen brother! I never go anywhere without my mutated anthrax... for duck hunting.

Didn't you RTFA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29507953)

From the article: "The whole point of the doomsday machine is lost if you keep it a secret!" cries Dr. Strangelove. "Why didn't you tell the world?"

Re:Didn't you RTFA? (4, Informative)

multisync (218450) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508189)

Here's a more relevant quote from TFA:

By guaranteeing that Moscow could hit back, Perimeter was actually designed to keep an overeager Soviet military or civilian leader from launching prematurely during a crisis. The point, Zheleznyakov says, was "to cool down all these hotheads and extremists. No matter what was going to happen, there still would be revenge. Those who attack us will be punished."

So it sounds like the purpose of the devices was more to deter a Soviet first strike, rather than a US first strike.

If Soviet radar picked up an ominous but ambiguous signal, the leaders could turn on Perimeter and wait. If it turned out to be geese, they could relax and Perimeter would stand down. Confirming actual detonations on Soviet soil is far easier than confirming distant launches. "That is why we have the system," Yarynich says. "To avoid a tragic mistake. "

Re:Didn't they watch Dr. Strangelove? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29507959)

They were planning to announce it next week.

Re:Didn't they watch Dr. Strangelove? (4, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507985)

As the article explains, the purpose was to keep Soviet generals from being less hot-headed, by assuring them there was retaliatory capability. It wasn't to deter the US, so no need to tell the US.

Re:Didn't they watch Dr. Strangelove? (1)

xkcdFan1011011101111 (1494551) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508213)

But, but, but, wouldn't the Doomsday Device have been *more* effective at preventing war if they told the US? I get that it was to keep Soviet generals from being too hot headed, but... couldn't it be dual purpose?

Re:Didn't they watch Dr. Strangelove? (4, Informative)

99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507989)

What's the point of building a Doomsday machine if you don't tell everyone about it?

That point is well covered in the article:

By guaranteeing that Moscow could hit back, Perimeter was actually designed to keep an overeager Soviet military or civilian leader from launching prematurely during a crisis. The point, Zheleznyakov says, was "to cool down all these hotheads and extremists. No matter what was going to happen, there still would be revenge. Those who attack us will be punished."

The machine was designed as a deterrent to soviet military commanders, not to deter the US.

Re:Didn't they watch Dr. Strangelove? (1)

hodet (620484) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508171)

Kind of scary that revenge was valued higher then deterrence and seems self defeating. I'm no vulcan, but seems illogical. :-/

Re:Didn't they watch Dr. Strangelove? (4, Funny)

MeatBag PussRocket (1475317) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507993)

Gentlemen! you cant fight in here, this is the War Room!

Re:Didn't they watch Dr. Strangelove? (1, Troll)

nine-times (778537) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508003)

If you RTFS:

By guaranteeing that Moscow could hit back, Perimeter was actually designed to keep an overeager Soviet military or civilian leader from launching prematurely during a crisis. The point, [an informant] says, was 'to cool down all these hotheads and extremists. No matter what was going to happen, there still would be revenge. Those who attack us will be punished.'

Re:Didn't they watch Dr. Strangelove? (1)

richardkelleher (1184251) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508029)

I had a Dr. Strangelove moment reading this headline as well. Very scary. Time to get the DVD out again.

Re:Didn't they watch Dr. Strangelove? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29508043)

The answer is not only in the article, it's even in the summary...

Re:Didn't they watch Dr. Strangelove? (1)

dreethal (985821) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508053)

You know how the Premier likes surprises. He planned to announce it at the next party meeting.

Plot (1)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507803)

Wasn't this the plot for a spiderman/captain America cross over or something?

Re:Plot (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508023)

Either way, we shouldn't be afraid. Doomsday "killed" Superman, and we know how long that lasted. Same goes for Captain America's "death".

Obligatory Strangelove Quote (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29507819)

The article explains why the device was built, and why the Soviets considered it to be something that kept the peace, even though they never told the US about it.

But the whole POINT of having a doomsday device is to tell the world you have a doomsday device! Why did they keep it a secret?!?

Re:Obligatory Strangelove Quote (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508073)

read the article. It was to keep the soviets from launching a preemptive strike by reassuring the leadership that nothing could stop soviet revenge.

But But (0, Redundant)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507833)

The whole point of the doomsday machine is lost...if you keep it a secret! Why didn't you tell the world, eh?!"

Re:But But (1)

NoYob (1630681) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508125)

The whole point of the doomsday machine is lost...if you keep it a secret! Why didn't you tell the world, eh?!"

Well, if you read the article, it points out that it was really a deterrent for the hotheads in the Soviet military. They knew that there would some sort of reprisal if we launched the first strike so they didn't have to launch the first strike to beat us to the punch.

It was in the article, - oh Slashdot ID 20178. You've been here a while and yes, I'm 1,630,681 so I guess I'm new here...

Never mind.

I'll learn.

Dr Strangelove? (5, Funny)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507839)

First, where's the Dr Strangelove tag?

Second, (as Dr Strangelove pointed out) a doomsday machine only makes sense as a deterent if both sides know about it. Why wasn't the machine made public earlier when the Soviets thought that the US was about to launch an attack?

Third, no worries. A small, controlled population with a ratio of 1 male to 10 females properly sheltered will be able to keep society going. Naturally, the females will need to be chosen for their attractiveness and the males for the knowledge and skills they know (I'm thinking lots of engineers will be needed so sign me up).

Re:Dr Strangelove? (1)

Narpak (961733) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507943)

Second, (as Dr Strangelove pointed out) a doomsday machine only makes sense as a deterent if both sides know about it. Why wasn't the machine made public earlier when the Soviets thought that the US was about to launch an attack?

I guess because this wasn't exactly a weapon, rather a contingency system ensuring that the weapons the USSR already had (and told the world boldly that they had in massive numbers) would lunch in retaliation regardless of how, when and how massive any American attack would be.

Re:Dr Strangelove? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29508293)

... would lunch in retaliation regardless of how...

... and YOU are not invited, hmph!

Re:Dr Strangelove? (1)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507977)

Third, no worries. A small, controlled population with a ratio of 1 male to 10 females properly sheltered will be able to keep society going. Naturally, the females will need to be chosen for their attractiveness and the males for the knowledge and skills they know (I'm thinking lots of engineers will be needed so sign me up).

They probably need lots of Penetration Specialists too ;)

Re:Dr Strangelove? (1)

Clandestine_Blaze (1019274) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508065)

Third, no worries. A small, controlled population with a ratio of 1 male to 10 females properly sheltered will be able to keep society going. Naturally, the females will need to be chosen for their attractiveness and the males for the knowledge and skills they know (I'm thinking lots of engineers will be needed so sign me up).

They probably need lots of Penetration Specialists too ;)

And their assistants, the Bunker Busters. :D

Re:Dr Strangelove? (1)

Clandestine_Blaze (1019274) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508009)

Second, (as Dr Strangelove pointed out) a doomsday machine only makes sense as a deterent if both sides know about it. Why wasn't the machine made public earlier when the Soviets thought that the US was about to launch an attack?

It wasn't for the U.S. to know, it was for their own military and civilians leaders. MAD was already in place because both sides knew of each others stockpile of nuclear weapons. Had they told the U.S. about this system, however, the U.S. would have tried to plan around it. Think of this as an ace up their sleeve.

No, this system wasn't for the U.S. to know, it was for their own people. This was to prevent the Soviets from being too eager to launch an accidental nuclear counterstrike during a false alarm or an unconfirmed attack. Remember Stanislav Petrov [wikipedia.org] and the situation he was faced with? There was a system malfunction in 1983 that showed IBMs were heading toward the Soviet Union, and he determined that it was a false alarm. Cooler heads prevailed and we're all here today to read about it.

This device, however, would detect a positive missile strike, launch missiles, and those missiles would send down coded orders for any other weapons systems that were still active. It guaranteed revenge, and that knowledge kept overeager people on the Soviet side from being too trigger happy.

Oh and the automatic quote that the /. page generates at the bottom is: "Boy, am I glad it's only 1971..." :-)

Re:Dr Strangelove? (1)

Joey Vegetables (686525) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508109)

There was a system malfunction in 1983 that showed IBMs were heading toward the Soviet Union

Could have been worse . . what if they had been MSFTs????

Re:Dr Strangelove? (1)

Clandestine_Blaze (1019274) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508275)

D'oh, just saw that! :)

"Comrade, the IBMs are coming, and they bring Lotus Notes with them!"

Re:Dr Strangelove? (3, Informative)

socrplayr813 (1372733) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508039)

From what I've read, the system wasn't designed as a deterrent to a nuclear war, but rather as a deterrent to an overreaction by the Soviets in the event of an incident with the US. Essentially, it was to keep the Soviets from starting a nuclear war based on bad information or an overreaction such an incident. By ensuring they can strike back after a successful first strike by the US, they allow themselves time to consider the ramifications of their actions and allow cooler heads to make a decision that could lead to the end of the world.

I really hope the system wasn't completely automated in case of some kind of malfunction, but I applaud their foresight. If they anticipated the potential problem of a hot-headed overreaction on their side and put measures in place to help keep that in check, bravo.

Re:Dr Strangelove? (3, Informative)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508133)

I really hope the system wasn't completely automated in case of some kind of malfunction...

There was a man in the loop, but it was whoever happened to be present at the Perimeter facilities at the time. Ideally, it would be someone from high command sent there because the crisis was recognized before hand; but it's possible that it would be just some random soldier sitting in the hot seat.

Even still, the system is only activated for a limited amount of time by high command, only when they suspected an impending attack.

Re:Dr Strangelove? (0, Troll)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508199)

Third, no worries. A small, controlled population with a ratio of 1 male to 10 females properly sheltered will be able to keep society going. Naturally, the females will need to be chosen for their attractiveness and the males for the knowledge and skills they know (I'm thinking lots of engineers will be needed so sign me up).

First, you're a sexist pig. Okay, now that my inner feminist has spoken up. Why the hell do you think intelligence is going to be important in a post-apocalyptic world? As you've just pointed out -- society is dead at this point. If we're going to rebuild, we're going back to basics, and that means people capable of surviving. We need people that are strong, not smart -- we don't need many smart people to rebuild, just a lot of strong backs. And why would you choose females based on attractiveness? If you're talking about survival of the species, then repopulation, not physical attractiveness, is the important trait. Physical attractiveness in modern terms is almost counter-productive to this -- narrow hips, tall, and thin, make horrible baby-makers. You want women with wide hips, the ability to store body fat, and strong autoimmune systems. Oh yeah, and don't forget -- if you've only got 1 man per 10 women, any group with 10 men and 1 woman's going to kill that man. The existing sex distribution ratio exists precisely because it allows people to survive. You want no more than about 128 men for every 100 women -- and no less than about 98 men per 100 women, at birth. That's what 20,000 years of natural selection have decided... and you should listen. It's a lot more experienced at rebuilding society than you, a mere slashdot poster, could ever hope to achieve.

Re:Dr Strangelove? (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508285)

It's a joke paraphrased as best as I could remember from Dr. Strangelove; the pinical of Cold War era gallows humor. Have a read for that and other greate quotes: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Dr._Strangelove_or:_How_I_Learned_to_Stop_Worrying_and_Love_the_Bomb [wikiquote.org] The point of the quote, indeed of the whole movie, is the ridiculousness of the thinking of the time. Some of those quotes were themselves lifted right out of the official briefings and strategies; a fact which is simultaneously hilarious and terrifying.

Re:Dr Strangelove? (1)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508207)

Actually, you need a much larger gene pool to prevent dangerous inbreeding.

Re:Dr Strangelove? (1)

valnar (914809) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508211)

I'm starting to think the Moonraker scenario would be a good thing, so long as I make the list for the shuttle.

Re:Dr Strangelove? (1)

Thaelon (250687) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508259)

It wasn't a deterrent. It was placative. It was designed so that even if the US hit first and wiped out everybody, it would automatically hit back. Did you not even RTFS(ummary)?

A more likely possibility (5, Informative)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507843)

Its construction might have had less to do with Reagan and more to do with the fact that a single moment of restraint [wired.com] two years earlier had stopped a nuclear war. This is exactly the sort of almost-disastrous incident that this system was designed to address.

Re:A more likely possibility (4, Interesting)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507979)

It's hard to say what factors weigh in leaders' heads. We cannot rip out their neurons and study them in a lab[1], so we must use available clues to guess.

Reagan often gets credit for ending the Soviet Union, but the story may not be so simple. Some cite evidence that the Soviets simply wanted to "join" the western world and become more European. The Beatles and their sorts perhaps should be given as much credit as any politician.

Further, Reagan was gambling. His gamble appears to have paid off, but it may have also gone sour because one can never know for sure what another leader is thinking. Is it brilliant strategy, or shear luck?

We should thank our lucky stars (or the Anthropic Principle) that we are still here......so far. The Cold War played with fire many times.

By the way, howz the LHC coming along?

[1] Although there's a few I would have liked to try.

Re:A more likely possibility (2, Informative)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508025)

Or you could read the article and find out that Perimeter had to be turned on by a human in the first place, and there are several ways that it could be turned off even if Perimeter determines that it should launch.

Re:A more likely possibility (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29508131)

Sorry, replied to the wrong post :(

Re:A more likely possibility (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508135)

If anybody should have their form commemorated via a huge statue, Stanislav Petrov would be it . . . . well, and that reporter who pelted W with a shoe.
     

Re:A more likely possibility (1)

hardburn (141468) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508251)

Petrov's gut feeling was due in large part to his lack of faith in the Soviet early-warning system, which he subsequently described as "raw."

Nothing quite like Soviet engineering. For every Sputnik success, they have a Soyuz 1 failure [wikipedia.org] .

In Soviet Russia (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29507861)

the missiles sense you!

Creepy thought... (4, Interesting)

swanzilla (1458281) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507869)

Some anti-Yankees (North Korea) could detonate a warhead to set off Perimeter, and wipe us off the map. Maximum return on investment.

Re:Creepy thought... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29507923)

Hear! Hear!

Re:Creepy thought... (3, Informative)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507961)

That IS a Creepy thought. Unless Doomsday can detect location of Origin, and decide accordingly. I bet Washington's Co-ordinates are hardcoded though.

Re:Creepy thought... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507983)

According to TFA, Perimeter would only go into action if it was previously activated and it could no longer communicate with HQ and detected nuclear activity in the relevant area. I hesitate to describe any thermonuclear doomsday hair-trigger as "well designed"; but (assuming the system is working correctly) it'd probably be out of reach of somebody with a nuke or two and fabulous hair.

Whether or not there is some Russian analog of Gen. Ripper, who just so happens to have a working knowledge of how the system functions and could be made to malfunction, is another question...

Re:Creepy thought... (4, Informative)

99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508071)

Some anti-Yankees (North Korea) could detonate a warhead to set off Perimeter, and wipe us off the map. Maximum return on investment.

It doesn't work that way. High command has to enable it because they saw what they think was a launch from us. Then the detonation would have to sever all communication between command and the bunker. Then, an officer in the bunker would have to look at the seismograph and radiation data and misinterpret it to think there had been a major attack that wiped out all the people in charge and in turn order a launch.

It was actually (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29507877)

This thing only exists to keep the Russian military from firing off it's nukes. If they know the doomsday machine will take over if they can't, they have no reason to jump to a first strike conclusion.

Automated Response (From the USSR, not me) (4, Insightful)

Artifakt (700173) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507913)

The whole ND aspect of the cold war involved calculated appearances of insanity by both sides leaders. What "Perimiter" proves is that you can't expect the other side to fake crazy the same way you would fake crazy. This long after the fact, nobody in the US knows how President Reagan's moves were interpreted by the USSR nor how sincere they were in developing an automated response.
            The cost of going down that path is incalcuable. Both sides spent themselves dry funding responses to every conceivable attack, and trying to detect which responses were fake insane and which might be real insane.

Re:Automated Response (From the USSR, not me) (2, Interesting)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508221)

You've put your finger on a question that won't be answered until it's too late: has nuclear war been avoided because of the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, or in spite of it?

FTA (3, Interesting)

wiredog (43288) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507925)

Given the paranoia of the era, it is not unimaginable that a malfunctioning radar, a flock of geese that looked like an incoming warhead, or a misinterpreted American war exercise could have triggered a catastrophe. Indeed, all these events actually occurred at some point. If they had happened at the same time, Armageddon might have ensued.

I wonder if the Israelis and Iranians have contemplated this possible chain of events?

And then USSR collapsed... (-1, Flamebait)

mi (197448) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507935)

A decade after Reagan the USSR collapsed dramatically loosing the Cold War... And then another decade was spent helping them get back on their feet, which — unfortunately — went without Nuremberg-like trials of the Communist criminals against humanity (some of whom have since passed away — peacefully, in their beds).

And today the revived Russia is, once again, at its evil empire's worse — provocative "patrols" (both air and submarines) close to the American borders, military invasions into neighboring countries, propping up regimes hostile to the US for the sole reason of their being hostile to the US.

Carthago delenda est [wikipedia.org] — used to insist Cato (the Elder) in between Punic wars, which nearly destroyed Rome itself. There is no need to kill all men and sell women and children to slavery in our era, but here is hoping, the next time we have a spectacular (if more difficult) victory over Russia, we don't allow its criminal institutions (such as the KGB and the Communist Party) to survive, and take away their nuclear weapons while we are at it...

Re:And then USSR collapsed... (4, Interesting)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508137)

Why do we need a victory over Russia? They aren't even maintaining a replacement birth rate and have 1.4 billion hungry Chinese on their border. Why spend American blood and treasure when demographics will take care of the problem for us?

That makes at least two... (5, Interesting)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507967)

I got news for you...while I will not go into any more detail than this, while I was in the Air Force I worked on a system for three years for the Strategic Air Command that would automatically launch all of our ICBMs if the chain of command was ever knocked out. As far as I know that system or its successor is still operational (I've been out of the military for 29 years). I am always amazed that the world has managed to avoid a nuclear war...

Re:That makes at least two... (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508021)

So what happens when Everyone has a Doomsday machine and just ONE of them gets set off?

Re:That makes at least two... (2, Funny)

tilandal (1004811) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508103)

You only need one if it is designed right.

Re:That makes at least two... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29508261)

Lol! That's unlikely, unless these systems are THOROUGHLY tested before put in place...

Re:That makes at least two... (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508155)

We'll Meet Again...Don't Know Where...Don't Know When...

Re:That makes at least two... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29508201)

So what happens when Everyone has a Doomsday machine and just ONE of them gets set off?

Doom.

Re:That makes at least two... (1)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508081)

So is that why everyone was so fascinated about a meteorite exploding just off the ground in Russia? It could have triggered a ground sensor and activated the "Dead Hand" perimeter? Perhaps that explosion was a bomb that went off prematurely? I'm guessing (hoping) we have more than one type of sensor that's required to be triggered to "ignite the fuse" on one of these systems. Who's to say China doesn't have a knockoff system they bought from the Russians?

Re:That makes at least two... (4, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508123)

At the risk of stating the bleedingly obvious, since you're claiming to have been in the military, and you are stating something obviously directly related to national security... I can't imagine this would be unclassified at its inception and remain so. Therefore, for you to tell us this, it would have had to be declassified at some point, and you would have received a communication to this effect.

Please provide a citation with either the name of the authority who notified you of the new classification status, or whatever relevant information is required to get an authenticated document confirming this statement. Otherwise, you're seriously lacking in credibility and/or taking an enormous risk posting this publicly. Or you're just plain nuts.

Re:That makes at least two... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29508265)

OP is plain lying. Anyone who has security clearance knows the risk of posting this type of thing online, even "anonymously."

More interestingly... (5, Insightful)

TheProphet92 (1448257) | more than 4 years ago | (#29507973)

...is the fact that it was designed by the Russians to stop them from making a pre-emptive strike. With an automatic retaliation system in place, Russia gets its revenge whether or not there are any survivors. There was no reason to announce its existence when its purpose is not to prevent your enemy from attacking you, but instead to prevent you from attacking your enemy.

Threads (1)

A Friendly Troll (1017492) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508051)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090163/ [imdb.com]

It can still end like this...

I don't think there's a legal way to obtain the movie, so you know where to look for it... If you really think you want to. It's not something you can unsee.

Re:Threads (1)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508191)

Or for a more realistic approach, try Warday and the Journey Onwards, by Whitley Strieber. It's excellent, well-researched, and frightening as hell-- it's a tour of the US after a "limited" nuclear exchange with the USSR and journals the effects of it.

(Yes, *that* Whitley Strieber, but it was before he went all wacko and started writing about nothing but UFOs. This book is really good though.)

http://www.amazon.com/Warday-Journey-Onwards-Whitley-Strieber/dp/0340366494/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_8 [amazon.com]

Credit where credit may be due (5, Insightful)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508115)

Indeed, Reagan's true achievement wasn't in intimidating the USSR militarily into despair. Rather, he managed to convince them that he thought Star Wars was a documentary. He then subsequently convinced them that we were building this fantastic laser-beam and ICBM-based international defense system that would annihilate them if they sneezed on us. Which cause the military hot-heads over there to spend far too much money on military defenses, while letting the rest of their empire rot.

Hence Reagan's irresponsible spending and gloating lead to even more irresponsible spending and gloating in the USSR - which became their undoing.

You guys are buying this? (0)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508129)

If ever there was a case of [citation needed], this is it. The story reads too much like one of those self-published research papers where the "professor" claims he's being plotted against by established academia - it's not the work of a wacko nut job, the research is being actively conspired against by people in power who want to keep it buried! The proof is in the same file as the data on the 200mpg carburetor!

Maybe no one knows about it because it doesn't actually exist... and no, some 85-year-old former Soviet officer "mysteriously" falling down some stairs isn't really proof.

Dear Wired: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29508147)

Thanks for your excellent parody of Dr. Strangelove [wikipedia.org] .

Wired: News For Everybody-Where Nothing Matters.

Yours In Novosibirsk,
Kilgore T.

Perimeter Is Not A Doomsday Machine (2, Informative)

careysub (976506) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508149)

If one reads the article one soon discovers that it is misrepresenting itself. The Perimeter system is not an automatic response system - it transfers launch authority to an actual authorized person in a secure location who makes the launch decision. In no way is this an automatic "Doomsday Machine".

Is this a shocking revelation? Well, the U.S. has its own "pre-positioned national command authority" who does exactly the same thing! See Bruce Blair's book The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War.

US-Soviet Hotline (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508167)

"But if you promise not to respond, I will order an absolute lockdown immediately."

Kinda reminds me of a little story [youtube.com]

False Premise (0, Troll)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508181)

The reason nobody talks about Perimeter is that it is largely the creation of Yarynich and Blair... A neat piece of semi fiction largely believable in the era immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, but increasingly irrelevant ever since. The rest of the world has moved on, but like the one trick ponies they are Yarynich and Blair keep flogging the same dead horse. (Well, most of the rest of the world has moved on - there's still a thriving industry in creative semi fiction about the Cold War.)

scary shit (4, Insightful)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508193)

I first heard of this a few years after the cold war ended. Most of it was probably fictionalized but the way it was described is that three hardened telephone lines took widely separate routes from Moscow to a command bunker maybe a hundred miles away. These were severely hardened lines and for all three to go down at once could only mean that Moscow was nuked -- or some idiot tripped over a plug, you know how it is when you say something is fool-proof. Something else claimed at the time was that the Soviet method of controlling nukes was entirely automatic. The American system relies on computers sending launch codes via hardline or radio and human beings at the weapons personally deciphering and acknowledging the codes.

There could still be a hole in the system, say launch orders were improperly sent. I guess the pentagon thought erroneous orders could be directly countermanded. But there was a sense of comfort in having humans in the loop. By contrast, the soviet system was described as being completely automatic. I don't think that sounds completely right. I can understand maybe a missile silo being setup for automatic launch on order with the human crew just being caretakers but I don't see that working for a sub. The sub would have to get the order, the crew would have to bring the sub to launch depth, punching through the ice sheet if on polar patrol, and this is all assuming the Russians even had the ULF system the Americans did where subs at patrol depth could receive low-bandwidth radio signals -- because otherwise subs were incommunicado without coming to periscope depth and extending a radio mast.

The thing that still amazes me to this day was that the soviets could have a coup without nukes flying. I thought for sure a power struggle like that would end in a fireball.

The thing that scares me the most from the Cold War is we were raised to fear the specter of a Soviet attack but our own leaders were every bit as batshit crazy as they were accusing the Soviets of. Fucking Nixon and his brinksmanship, fucking LeMay and trying to start WWIII during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and fucking Reagan as mentioned in TFA. Those fucking monsters did their level best to end modern civilization.

Don't tell Putin. (2, Funny)

Icegryphon (715550) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508219)

The system remains so shrouded that Yarynich worries his continued openness puts him in danger. He might have a point: One Soviet official who spoke with Americans about the system died in a mysterious fall down a staircase.

polonium-210 milkshake anyone?

Idiocy (1)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508231)

This system, if it's real, is a massive security flaw. Look at how it works. Normally, if you want to lock up nuclear weapons, you need to have the weapons dependent on secret codes, with one copy stored at the authority capable of authorizing a launch (a very limited list of people) and the other copy should be stored inside either a microcontroller inside the warhead itself or inside computers buried in an armored silo. Either way, it's very important to prevent physical access - that's why missile silos have elaborate security systems, and all of the information on how they work is kept a secret. Yes, security through obscurity DOES work as a strategy if your computer system is so obscure almost no ones knows about it. It doesn't work as a strategy if your "obscure" security method is contained in a win32 binary that is publicly distributed.

Anyways, for "perimeter" to work, once the system sends out an arming signal, the codes for launching the missiles has to be distributed over a much larger number of machines. Further, the absence of signals from a machine higher up arm the missiles - basically a negative rather than a positive safety interlock system. Very poor design.

Of course, I've read about a U.S. system where there is a UHF radio antenna on certain missile silos, and if communication is cut to that silo, the antenna becomes active. A RADIO FREQUENCY CODE can now arm the missiles. That's fcking stupid - what if the ancient computer that reads the codes has some kind of buffer overflow bug in it's 30 year old firmware?

Nice Game of Chess? (1)

jDeepbeep (913892) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508271)

Would You Like To Play A Game?

It wasn't me!!! (1)

zuckerj (993079) | more than 4 years ago | (#29508295)

Good thing China never figured out they could set off the doomsday machine with a strategic strike on the Soviet Union. Wait... I mean....
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