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US, Russian militaries join hands for Y2K horror

Early-warning glitches may end 'civilisation' as we know it

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We can all sleep off our New Year's Eve excesses with a bit more ease knowing that the American military intelligence apparatus is "highly confident" that the Y2K rollover will result in no accidental launches of nuclear missiles anywhere in the world. Whew. Now for the bit that will disturb your dreams: they are "concerned" about deliberate launches. According to CIA National Intelligence Officer Larry Gershwin, who testified before the Senate Y2K Committee two weeks ago, the Agency is "highly confident that Y2K failures will not lead to the inadvertent or unauthorised launch of a ballistic missile. But...we are concerned about the potential for Russia to misinterpret early-warning data." Translation? Knackered Russian computers operated by twitchy Russian military officers spells nuclear retaliation against the USA over some benign radar contact -- a flock of geese, say. With that in mind, the US and Russian governments have cooked up a scheme along the lines of an old-fashioned hostage exchange. Clan Yankee will host Clan Ruski at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a military communications nerve center near the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), presumably with an eye towards bugging out safely into bunkers dug into the bowels of the mountain just before the plutonium starts flying. "US and Russian military officers will sit side-by-side during the rollover period, from late December 1999 to mid-January 2000, and continuously monitor US-provided information on missile and space launches," a DoD statement claims. "These people will be in voice contact with command centers in the US and Russia via a highly reliable, Y2K-tested communications link. The center will [also] serve as a means to communicate about other defense-related events that could be potentially de-stabilizing, such as an aircraft going off course due to a Y2K failure of a navigation or communication system," DoD reports. One limitation is that the data will be fed through the Peterson command en route to Russia, leaving suspicious Russian officers to decide for themselves whether Uncle Sam might have tampered with it. One wonders how inclined they will be to trust American data which contradicts their own. The scheme went on hold during the NATO attacks on Jugoslavia, but has recently been brought back on track. Whatever its shortcomings, it ought to provide some measure of safety -- assuming the USA doesn't get squeamish about the slaughter now going on in Chechnya, and pull out of the deal for spite. ®

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