United States, Russia cooperate on Year 2000 nuclear risk

Concerned that the Year 2000 millennium bug could cause computer screens in nuclear command and control centers "to go dark" at the turn of the century, the U.S. Defense Department plans to set up a cooperative program to share early-warning-system and missile-threat data with Russia and other nuclear powers, a top Pentagon official said today.

John Hamre, deputy secretary of Defense, said that while the Pentagon does not believe Year 2000 computer code problems could be the cause of an accidental nuclear exchange, DOD intends to mitigate that risk by putting into place "operational procedures" to share nuclear early-warning-system and missile-warning data -- information that was zealously guarded during the Cold War -- with Russia and other nuclear nations.

"We plan to field a proposal this summer to ensure exchange of vital nuclear command and control information with other nuclear states," Hamre told a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minihan, director of the National Security Agency, a super-secret eavesdropping agency also charged with computer security, told the Senate committee that the United States is concerned that military leadership in other nations has not yet grasped the potential implications of Year 2000 date code problems in the systems that control nuclear weapons.

"Countries that represent threats" in the nuclear arena "have only merging awareness of [the Year 2000]," Minihan said. "Their academics are aware...but it has not yet made it into their military.... Our concern is that Russia and China have only a rudimentary understanding" of the impact that the Year 2000 could have on their nuclear command and control systems.

Hamre said the U.S. Strategic Command, which controls the U.S. nuclear triad of bombers as well as land- and submarine-based missiles from its headquarters in Omaha, Neb., already has held "technical discussions" with its nuclear command counterpart in Russia.

The United States, Hamre said, intends to establish "a cooperative program with the Russians on nuclear command and control" to ensure that Year 2000 bugs in the systems operated by either country do not lead to confusion over the intentions of either nations at the turn of the century.

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