In the commotion of European missile defense, UN speeches, Security Council resolutions, and Iranian and Korean developments, it is possible that you missed Nicholas Thompson’s chilling gift to the world on September 21st in Wired: a public unveiling of an alleged Soviet nuclear doomsday system that remains in operation today.
According to Thompson’s sources, the system, named “The Perimeter” but also known as “Dead Hand,” was built to ensure a nuclear retaliatory capability in the case of a successful American first strike. Even in the direst of circumstances—if the entire command-and-control structure had been eliminated—Dead Hand would bypass all layers of command and put retaliatory authority in the hands of a single man inside of a hidden bunker with a launch button.
The title of the article, “Inside the Apocalyptic Soviet Doomsday Machine”, may cause more alarm than appropriate; the architecture of the existing system does not entail quite the apocalyptic automaticity as the machine in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. Various safeguards have been built into the existing system. Nonetheless, the existence of such a system, if true, is unnerving on the most fundamental and instinctual levels. It is truly bewildering that hardly anyone knows about it, and Thompson and his sources hope to expose it. A fully integrated retaliation system like Dead Hand could be capable of turning a single accident into nuclear holocaust.
Here are a few excerpts from the article to tickle your fancy:
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.
One Soviet official who spoke with Americans about the system died in a mysterious fall down a staircase.
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. Soaring over the smoldering, radioactive ruins of the motherland, and with all ground communications destroyed, the command missiles would lead the destruction of the US.
In fact, the Soviet military didn’t even inform its own civilian arms negotiators. “I was never told about Perimeter,” says Yuli Kvitsinsky, lead Soviet negotiator at the time the device was created. And the brass still won’t talk about it today.