back to article 30 years on: The day a computer glitch nearly caused World War III

Computer problems are an annoyance for us all, but thirty years ago a fault in the Soviet Union's ballistic missile early warning system very nearly caused nuclear war, if not for the actions of Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov of the Soviet Air Defense Forces. 1983 was a very dangerous time for humanity. In the US, …

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  1. Mother Hubbard

    Don't fret

    >> Nuclear winter would block out much of the world's sunlight, which coupled with the lack of machinery, fertilizers, and pesticides, (as well as radioactive topsoil) would have led to mass starvation.

    We'll get there, we just chose the scenic route.

    1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Don't fret

        Your big-corp sycophantacy has been noted!

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          Re: Don't fret

          ...If you want to go to an agrarian community living at subsistence level, you are free to do so.

          1. Richard 81

            Re: Don't fret

            Just make sure it's as close as possible to a primary target.

            ...or super far away and start building fortifications.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't fret

      Quite a humble guy.

    3. rcorrect

      Re: Don't fret

      We'll get there, we just chose the scenic route.

      And on one side we have Mother Hubbard but there is an equally extreme view on the other side as well. In the middle is where we find balance.

      1. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

        Re: Don't fret

        In the middle is where we find balance.

        More like "where we get run over by both sides", unfortunately.

      2. Stuart Van Onselen

        Re: Don't fret

        Please look up "Fallacy of the Golden Mean".

        Simply aserting that the best position is in the middle of two extremes does not make it so.

        1. Gordon 11

          Re: Don't fret

          Simply aserting that the best position is in the middle of two extremes does not make it so.

          But, given two wrong extremes, the best position to take would be somewhere between them.

          1. Euripides Pants Silver badge

            Re: Don't fret

            "given two wrong extremes, the best position to take would be somewhere between them"

            No, the best position would be 90 degrees away from both of them and as far away as you can possibly go.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Don't fret

            "But, given two wrong extremes, the best position to take would be somewhere between them."

            Actually that doesn't follow at all. Given two wrong extremes, it's likely the whole chain is wrong and best not to be a part of it instead. Between murder and suicide you have suicide bombers. Best just not to be involved in killing in the first place.

        2. Anonymous Dutch Coward
          Pint

          Fallacy

          Wish I could upvote you twice...

    4. big_Jim

      Re: Don't fret

      I think an apocalypse is underrated. There are plenty of fun things to do during a doomsday event.

  2. FozzyBear Silver badge

    He may down play his actions

    The fact of the matter is, there are precious few people out there willing to disregard the idiocy the computer screen is telling them and make intelligent decisions on their own. Even worse, more and more people are willing to be lead blindly by the technology at their disposal even when that small part of the brain (common sense) is screaming at them not to do it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: He may down play his actions

      As sat-nav shows.....

    2. Pypes

      Re: He may down play his actions

      I think it's telling that this guy was following procedures he himself wrote, this suggests he had a very good conceptual understanding of the system he was operating, rather than just some grunt charged with staring at the computer screen until it told him what to do.

      This may have been luck rather than good judgement on part of the Soviet command structure, but It needs to be recognized that putting people who know what they are doing in charge of things is generally a good idea. Your average sys-admin isn't going to be lording praise on himself for knowing that "lp0 on fire" is very seldom to be taken literally, this guy probably feels largely that same way, even if the stakes are exponentially higher (unless lp0 is doing the payroll, in which case all bets are off)

      1. TheOtherHobbes

        Re: He may down play his actions

        >It needs to be recognized that putting people who know what they are doing in charge of things is generally a good idea.

        What? That's just crazy talk. Overpaid people who tell everyone how good they are without actually being any good at anything are so much better, don't you think?

        Petrov is proof that logic is a good thing. He could have been wrong about a pre-emptive mini-strike, but a mini-strike made no strategic sense. He probably also had target estimates, and with random cloud reflections the estimates would have made no sense either. So the call was cool-headed and rational.

        It's still good it was his finger on the console, not someone else's.

        Interestingly for all you fans of near apocalypse, this wasn't the first time an ornery Russian saved the world.

        1. Trainee grumpy old ****
          Unhappy

          Re: He may down play his actions

          >> Overpaid people who tell everyone how good they are without actually being any good at anything are so much better, don't you think?

          Only applies to the people at the very top. The ordinary supervisor is just another (expendable) minion.

        2. oolor

          Re: Hobbes' ornery Russian

          Nor was it the first time said ornery officer was in place to make decisions and contribute to minimizing damage as he had been the executive officer on K-19.

          1. cortland

            Re: Hobbes' ornery Russian

            See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasiliy_Arkhipov

    3. Hardware Man

      Re: He may down play his actions

      Well you know what they say about Common Sense....

      ....It ain't all that common!

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: He may down play his actions

        What's common sense good for these days? Having some only means you won't be rewarded for being a complete fucking idiot. We've successfully removed many of the means by which common sense could be bred into future generations. As a culture there is this belief that common sense shouldn't be needed if everyone did what they were supposed to. Thing is we can't back up now without people wailing that country/president/government is a heartless bastard: Think of the children!

        If a nuclear attack happened today, I wonder how many people would sue...

  3. Don Jefe

    Thought Experiments

    I think there is a key point in this. And that is the guy who wrote the operations manual was present when things got real. He had obviously put a lot of thought into what to do, what not to do, and why he might have to do it. He really knew his stuff.

    Had it been someone not so familiar with the entire system and/or who had not thought about the entire scenario so much it might have been much different. Just handing those decision making powers to 'the next guy in line for promotion' might not always be a great idea.

    Serious things like planet devastating weapons systems require more thought about their use case than actual planning for their use. Someone only trained to memorize and follow the manual likely wouldn't have the same, in-depth, thought process and would just take Step #31 and make the call, like the manual says...

    1. Squidgell

      Re: Thought Experiments

      Why do people say 'use case' when they mean 'use'?

      1. Irony Deficient

        Re: Thought Experiments

        Habit case.

        1. cortland

          Re: Thought Experiments

          http://www.ebay.com/itm/NUNS-VEIL-SET-nuns-veil-nuns-veils-nuns-habits-nuns-habit-nuns-veil-nuns-/261295549809

      2. AndyS

        Re: Thought Experiments

        Subtly different meaning.

        "Thinking about their use" would mean how they are to be used, which direction they should be fired, etc.

        "Thinking about their use case" means thinking about the events and decisions which would lead to them being used - the case of their usage.

        It's the difference between thinking about driving my car (the first one), and thinking about getting into my car (the second one). In the event of nuclear war, only the second one really matters. Once the case had been made for the weapons' use, all would have been guaranteed to break lose on humanity.

      3. Khaptain Silver badge

        Re: Thought Experiments

        "Why do people say 'use case' when they mean 'use'?"

        You do know what a "use case " is ?

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Thought Experiments

        @Squidgell

        It's probably because "use" and "use case" mean different things.

        So I imagine people use them in a much a similar way I use the word "cat" to refer to a cat and "dog" when referring to a dog. I.e when we know the right word for something we use it.

      5. Don Jefe

        Re: Thought Experiments

        You have demonstrated the use case for free online dictionaries and encyclopedias. It might benefit you to use one.

  4. Dazed and Confused Silver badge
    Joke

    And we all thought

    Microsoft's blue screen of death was bad.

    1. Hans 1 Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: And we all thought

      Not that funny since their computer systems might have been running MS DOS ... the soviets stole it, changed a few strings (Microsoft -> Was Systems, Inc), and used it extensively ...

      Not 100% sure MicroDos was the one, though, coz my Russian is too bad.

      Not for the faint of heart:

      https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/MicroDOS

      German variant with nice pics:

      http://www.robotrontechnik.de/index.htm?/html/computer/k8915.htm

  5. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

    Sir

    "I was in the right place at the right moment."

    That's what makes you 'that' guy.

    I think the world owes this guy and his poorly wife a few quid to live out the rest of his life in comfort.

    1. J__M__M

      Re: Sir

      Sir Runcible Spoon, when you really think about it, the world really owes this guy, well, the world.

      > I think the world owes this guy and his poorly wife a few quid to live out the rest of his life in comfort.

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Sir

      As a matter of fact, he was given some. Not by USA, not by Russia either. By the EU. It is in some of the russian language articles.

      USA and Russia have given him some trinkets. USA a statue, Russia - a few medals (I cannot recognise any of them as one of the higher level distinctions that change your military or civilian pension).

      I remember those days - it was some seriously trigger happy time. It was reeking of war. In fact, we should probably be thankful that Andropov failed the war on corruption and mafia at the same time. His atempt to use his backing from the KGB apparatchicks misfired pretty badly and failed. Hint - a lot of people who have lived in Moscow during that period have some doubts in his death certificate. Rather unsurprising considering that the "anti-fraud" (quotes intended) squad from the milicia (police) and their counterparts from kgb were having shootouts on the tube and everyone pretended that nothing has happened.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Foreigners tend to exaggerate my heroism," he said

    This is the single most interesting sentence in the whole article. I read this as saying that he thinks most people in the Soviet Union would have done the same - ie. Apart from their leaders, they didn't really think we'd launch a first strike. Funnily enough, apart from our leaders at the time, I don't recall too many people who honestly thought the Soviets would launch a first strike on us either.

    Makes you wonder about the people we pick to lead ...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not wanting to paint the USSR in a good light - I was building the equivalent systems for our side at the time.

      The Russians had fought a terrible total-war fighting for their lives, saw most of their country destroyed and only won by heroic sacrifice. The Americans had a war barely noticed by the civilian population, were never in danger and ended it with an atomic weapon.

      Soviet weapons systems from the AK47 to the top line fighter were all designed as if it would be the last one standing against a foreign invasion - you can see it in every detail of their kit. American systems all appear to be built on the assumption that they will hit a target 10,000mi away and be home for steak and a beer.

      The idea that the Russians would deliberately start WWIII first never worried us as much as an American leader who God had personally chosen to wipe out the commie menace.

      1. J__M__M

        I'll bet you worked crypto, because I read your entire post twice and still have no clue what the hell you're talking about.

        > I was building the equivalent systems for our side at the time.

      2. JLV Silver badge
        Pint

        I know, I know...

        >The Americans had a war barely noticed by the civilian population, were never in danger and ended it with an atomic weapon.

        Yanks are all a*holes in Reg land. Never do wells. ;-)

        Mayhap a little thinkin o gulags, Ukraine 30s starvation & the like is in order. Not all suffering was inflicted by outsiders. That Solziehnytsin dude (I had an easier time reading his books than spelling his name).

        The US coulda sat out the Western front after Pearl Harbor. Heck, Japan did.

        Big reason Russia bled so much is Dieppe showed the West exactly how much could go wrong & how little be achieved invading Western Europe. 43 was too early to Normandy. & maybe too much effort wasted bombing German cities too, which the UK partook in as well.

        With all apologies to the very real sacrifices by Russians.

        Petrov, we owe him, big. Had it been real, he woulda been shot & doomed his countrymen. A real man to do that.

        1. Michael Hutchinson

          Re: I know, I know...

          "Petrov, we owe him, big. Had it been real, he woulda been shot & doomed his countrymen. A real man to do that."

          Or possibly killed by the very missles he was employed to track.

        2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: I know, I know...

          Nobody is saying the USSR were nice, or even that Stalin was noticeably better than Hitler.

          But that in the 40s and 50s the USA had a very different idea about the desirability, winnability, and impact of a WWIII than the Russians - is pretty well accepted in military history.

          The good side of this was that the USSR was less keen on hosting Stalingrad-2 than the USA was on performing Hiroshima-the sequel. The bad side was that it led to a Soviet high command so paranoid that many believed WWII had been a setup between UK/USA/Nazi against them and the UK vs Germany was a mere side show for forms sake.

      3. auburnman

        The bit that always horrified me when reading about the Cold War was how the Cuban Missile Crisis almost ended civilisation, and yet in the later years the West pushed to get as many missiles in Europe as possible without thinking this could escalate.

        1. Don Jefe

          The Cuban Missle Crisis only escalated so high because there was no way for the heads of state to directly communicate with each other. The Soviets announced their intentions to back down through their newspaper because they knew it was monitored by the US and UK and was the only way to get their message out without it being corrupted by 17 steps of diplomacy on the way to the President.

          After it was over the 'red phone' (not really red or a phone) system was established allowing the Soviet and US heads of state to communicate in case things ever got that bad in the future. Just the existence of the 'red phone' is credited with scaling back future tensions.

        2. jubtastic1

          Re: Cuban Missile Crisis

          No, what's amazing is that it was simple tit for tat, the US shipping missiles to Turkey insigated the USSR to ship missiles to Cuba to even the field again yet the USSR response was presented as the aggressive "they're forcing our hand, we have no choice other than WWIII" move in the media.

          Regarding the story, this isn't the only time it's happened, there are other documented cases, we don't know exactly how many times a single human has saved the world by defying procedure, but I suspect it's a fucking scary number of times. It's inevitable when a load of nations have built extensive systems designed to completly destroy all life on the planet.

          Will we grew up and turn them off before there's an accident? I hope so.

          1. Squander Two

            Re: Cuban Missile Crisis

            The big difference with the Cuban Missile Crisis was that an actual genocidal evangelical nutter was being put close to the controls, as opposed to the usual hard-headed realists. Che Guevara wrote that he believed Cuba should have launched the missiles into the USA and how angry he was with Castro for not doing so -- had he been in charge, he'd have launched them immediately, no question. And Guevara didn't even want to launch them for any well-thought-out strategic reason or in response to American aggression or anything: he was just that much of a true-believing anti-American Communist that he thought it was his duty to bring about the war that Communism would inevitably win, no matter how devastating. I would imagine that the American leadership, who had a good idea of what Guevara was like, were a bit more worried about Cuba than the Russian leadership, who had a good idea what Gursel was like, were about Turkey.

            As far as I'm aware, the Cuban Missile Crisis is the only time nuclear weapons came that close to the control of a man like Guevara. For the most part, the Cold War was fought by people who did actually care whether they themsleves died, which is why MAD, frightening thought it was for the populace, worked. It also appears to have worked between Pakistan and India. It'll probably work on North Korea, though no doubt they'll grandstand like crazy. I am not confident it'll work on Iran.

          2. JLV Silver badge

            Re: Cuban Missile Crisis

            The bit that never fails to annoy me is how Kennedy is presented as a great president. He was worse than Bush, IMHO. Though smarter, but that's not a high bar.

            A Democrat, he campaigned Nixon in 1960 on a "missile gap" in which had the USSR being significantly ahead of the US. Which he knew wasn't true because he was on the Foreign Relations Committee. Certainly, in 1962, he knew he could push USSR to the brink in Cuba, after he had done put his missiles in Turkey.

            Only reason he could push them to the brink is there WAS a missile gap, just the other way around, with the USA being far ahead.

            Cuban Missile Crisis - Kennedy.

            Bay of Pigs, that's Kennedy.

            Then, Vietnam's road to war is basically started by Kennedy, with advisors coming in, though combat units were only in from 1965.

            Great guy? Camelot? Hah!

            I am not saying anything good about the USSR - they were EVIL. Nor am I necessarily very anti-US. But Kennedy was the most incendiary president during the Cold War and he almost triggered nuclear war because of Cubans removing their tinpot US-supported dictator. We should remember him for that too, not just his good looks and tolerance of the Civil Rights movement.

            1. Don Jefe

              Re: Cuban Missile Crisis

              That happens all the time when people die. It is more prevalent when they die tragically. People keep elevating that person toward deification. There is a social taboo on speaking ill of the dead, so few refute the praise. It usually takes a long time before people view the situation objectively and even then they are called revisionists.

              There's a long list of kings, queens, presidents and musicians who were actually pretty bad at their jobs but whose reputation is greatly improved in culture and in history books. I think some of them actually plan for that to happen. Matter of fact, I know some did: Ronald Reagan and Bush MkII both cratered the US and both also talked of how history would gloss over their mistakes. Takes a real cocksucker to be more concerned with future history books than with the actual living people they are supposed to lead.

              1. Squander Two

                Re: Cuban Missile Crisis -- @ Don Jefe

                > Ronald Reagan and Bush MkII both cratered the US and both also talked of how history would gloss over their mistakes. Takes a real cocksucker to be more concerned with future history books than with the actual living people they are supposed to lead.

                In the case of national leaders (not just these two), if they mention that they'll be vindicated by history, they're usually referring to the fact that historians will eventually have access to all the top-secret files that are influencing their decisions and so will see the context that we can't. Now, they might well be wrong about that, but that's not the same as not giving a damn about people alive now. Often quite the opposite.

                For example, Chamberlain ordered the construction of the underground War Rooms in Whitehall the same day he gave the "Peace in our time" speech. So what we now know he did is totally different to what the public then thought he did. He knew damn well war with the Nazis was coming and he started preparing for it immediately, but he knew that Britain was too weak to start anything right then, so his only sensible option was to postpone the inevitable war by feigning peace. I think the declassification of that top-secret fact -- the construction of the War Rooms -- means that he's been vindicated by history, and it's a shame that he's got this reputation as an appeaser, really.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Cuban Missile Crisis

              Planning for the Bay of Pigs started under Eisenhower. The CIA did not inform Kennedy that they (the CIA) had information indicating the USSR knew the invasion was coming.

              American advisors arrived in then French Indochina in 1950 10 years before Kennedy was elected POTUS.

      4. cortland

        "The Americans had a war barely noticed by the civilian population,"

        Hardly the case. The whole country was mobilized and we were still running out of [trained] soldiers when the Germans launched their Ardennes counteroffensive.

  7. Denarius Silver badge
    Mushroom

    but how much cheaper it would be if

    the system was documented, procedures in place with contractual performance requirements and the monitoring was outsourced to the cheapest provider. Performance bonuses for CEOs all round ! Good enough for essential government and critical infrastructures, isn't it ?

    1. Hans 1 Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: but how much cheaper it would be if

      Makes me think of the cretins that build the EPR in France ... all outsourced outcasts, hardly any can understand French or English, let alone Chinese ... tasked to fit a valve, 1 meter diameter, 2 meters long - some biiiiig thing ... guess what ? They mounted it the wrong way .... and only noticed weeks later ... LOL

      I sincerely hope someone will stop them from starting that death-machine ....

  8. Denarius Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    do not forget other noble men

    Such as the Soviet sailors who returned to their sinking crippled sub in Atlantic to manually shut down the reactor so the Gulf Stream would not cover western European coast with serious radiation. The automatic shutdown had failed. The sub was hot in both senses as well as filled with HNO3 fumes so going into it was a suicide mission, to save the nominal enemy. No icon seems appropriate.

  9. david 12 Bronze badge

    The Soviets claimed the flight was a spying mission, but it was ... off course

    Leading to the development of GPS as a global navigation system for civilian aircraft. The other interesting note is that, of course the Soviets thought the flight was a spy mission. That is what they did with their civilian airplanes, and their obsesive fear of spying was also evident in their bans on tourist access and on civilian photography.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: The Soviets claimed the flight was a spying mission, but it was ... off course

      It's also what NATO did with civilian aircraft and ships at the time.

      Trawlers used to leave Hull for the Arctic with more antennea than fish

      The Korean aircraft was unlucky that there WAS an American spy plane following close behind it that night watching a soviet missile test but the Americans forgot to inform the airliner that it was off course.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: The Soviets claimed the flight was a spying mission, but it was ... off course

        Actually for some reason the airliner crew didn't notice they were off course.

        There was an unresolved question about why the sun wasn't up yet when it should have been. Didn't ring any alarm bells. They must have been overworked.

        1. Denarius Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: The Soviets claimed the flight was a spying mission, but it was ... off course

          cause is known. Bad design of the autopilot navigation user interface. IITIRC it could be read two ways and the usual human problem of complacent trust in the computers made error fatal. SR71 flight was running down Russian coast at time. Used to do it to flash up missile radars for analysis. Took the Russians a while to realise they were being mislead and giving away info for decoy creation.

          In defence of the Russian fighter pilot who fired the missile, it is hard to determine aircraft model details in the dark thru a fighter windscreen. A 747 can look like a KC135 (707 tanker to civvies) at night. PPRUNE forums had some useful informed information about this incident.

          I have read claims 4 Korean intel guys and gear joined KAL flight before takeoff. Which may mean nothing more than 4 service people traveling. If one has blackbirds probing, probably with sig-int aircraft listening further out, why would quickly kludged portable gear be used rather than the dedicated automated systems ?

          See book Skunkworks for some further reading on this incident.

          1. Gordon 11

            Re: The Soviets claimed the flight was a spying mission, but it was ... off course

            ... and the usual human problem of complacent trust in the computers made error fatal.

            Given the original story behind this thread, not so usual. Thankfully.

          2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: The Soviets claimed the flight was a spying mission, but it was ... off course

            In this case the US spyplane was a KC135 (ie 707) electronic eavesdropper rather than an SR71 - which they would never have been able to catch anyway.

            The logs between the fighter pilots and their control are interesting, along the lines of "shoot down a civil airliner over neutral waters - are you serious?", very similar to the US fighters intercepting airliners after 9/11.

            1. oolor

              Re: The Soviets claimed the flight was a spying mission, but it was ... off course

              >KC135

              RC-135, KC aircraft are tanker variants generally, though some early recon versions were indeed KCs, but by the time of the incident were converted back into tankers or into newer RC-135 variants.

              >707

              C-135 aircraft and derivatives are based on the prototype of the 707, having shorter and narrower fuselages than the 707. 707 derivative military planes are designated C-137, and the E-3 and E-6 are the newest electronics variants.

            2. Fr. Ted Crilly
              Coat

              Re: The Soviets claimed the flight was a spying mission, but it was ... off course

              Dons anorak and a pair of ladies slacks...

              Ehrm you mean a RC135 not KC135. KC denotes a Tanker. Previously reconnaissance designation is the 'R' as in boeing RB50 (B29/B50 variant) RB47 (B47 variant) RB52 etc etc. Tankers are 'K' as in KC50 KC97 (boeing stratocruiser variant), KC135 (c-135 variant) KC10 (Mil version of the MDC 10)

      2. qwertyuiop
        Facepalm

        Re: The Soviets claimed the flight was a spying mission, but it was ... off course

        Trawlers used to leave Hull for the Arctic with more antennea than fish

        I am not a trawlerman so please forgive me if I get this wrong, but surely this is situation normal? I mean, as I understand it, you tend to leave your home port without a catch and so you would quite likely have more antennae than fish. It's what you have aboard when you come back that matters surely?

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Soviets claimed the flight was a spying mission, but it was ... off course @david 12

      >bans on tourist access and on civilian photography.

      Ever tried taking a photograph near the houses of parliament recently?

      >and their obsesive fear of spying

      This supposedly obsessive fear of spying seems to be justified and only equalled by the Americans obsessive fear of communism, and you can bet your boots that what one country is suspicious of others doing because they would do it then the other country is doing it for the same reason.

      1. Squander Two

        "the Americans obsessive fear of communism"

        Oh, can we lay this nonsense to rest? There was nothing irrational about the American fear of Communism. It's just that we didn't get to hear any expression of the very real, reasonable, realistic fears of Communism experienced by almost every single person actually living in a Communist country, because they would be killed or disappeared if they made any attempt to publicly express those fears and weren't allowed any contact with the West. That left us hearing the Americans ranting (accurately) about the oppression of populations from whom we heard very little complaint. To conclude from that imbalance that the Americans were being obsessive or irrational is to draw completely the wrong conclusion.

        1. h4rm0ny

          Re: "the Americans obsessive fear of communism"

          Regardless of conditions over there, don't you think it was irrational of Americans to think that the USA was going to be overthrown by communists?

          1. Squander Two

            Re: "the Americans obsessive fear of communism" -- @h4rm0ny

            > don't you think it was irrational of Americans to think that the USA was going to be overthrown by communists?

            It wasn't irrational of them to think that Communists would attempt to overthrow the established order in the US, no, since the Soviets were in fact trying to do just that. You could argue that any such attempts would be futile, but then you could also argue that they would have been far less futile in the face of complacency, making the fear and extreme opposition quite sensible.

            I think it's easy to forget and to underestimate the inroads Communism made in the West in the early and mid Twentieth Century.

        2. Kubla Cant Silver badge
          Big Brother

          Re: "the Americans obsessive fear of communism"

          hearing the Americans ranting (accurately)

          That's right. Senator Joseph McCarthy was a normal, rational person. His committee did a good job getting rid of all the commies.

          </irony>

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "the Americans obsessive fear of communism" @Kubla Cant

            The most frightening thing about the McCarthy episode, even worse than him being allowed to do what he did and also worse than those who actually snitched on others they suspected of having un-American tendencies, what a wonderful conceit, on the flimsiest of evidence was those who snitched on others they knew were beyond reproach just so they could be seen to be doing the right thing. But then wasn't that encouraged, name someone or you must be hiding something. Basically there were so fearful of their own government they felt the need to throw an innocent person to the wolves in an attempt to lift suspicion off themselves.

            It's been a very long time since I've been to the US so I'm not even sure if UK citizens need to fill out those landing forms, if so do they still have the question about being a member of a communist party or have they changed it to being a member of Al Qaeda. Let's see, I'm going to the US to work on a defence contract, what should I answer? How stupid do you have to be to think up such a question in the first place and then have it approved and these people are in their government.

            1. Squander Two

              Re: "the Americans obsessive fear of communism" @ Chris W

              I think you may have confused McCarthy with the HUAC, which he was not actually involved with.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: "the Americans obsessive fear of communism" @ Chris W

                >I think you may have confused McCarthy with the HUAC

                Yes I did, however the sentiment remains the same wrt HUAC

                1. Squander Two

                  Re: "the Americans obsessive fear of communism" @ Chris W

                  Well, here are three facts. Since Hollywood started making films, America has never won a war without Hollywood's support. The USA was at war (albeit cold) with the USSR. There were some Communists and Soviet sympathisers in influential positions in Hollywood.

                  So, ignoring the issue of whether the HUAC was a good or effective or moral way of approaching the problem, the fact remains that there was a problem. Seeing the problem and wanting to do something about it was not unreasonable -- even if what they ended up doing was.

          2. Squander Two

            Re: "the Americans obsessive fear of communism" -- @ Kubla Cant

            > Senator Joseph McCarthy was a normal, rational person. His committee did a good job getting rid of all the commies.

            No, Joe McCarthy was a bastard and a thug whose tactics did a lot to undermine the cause of ant-Communism. But, on the subject of whether his fears were irrational: no, they weren't: the State Department was indeed being heavily infiltrated by the Soviets, just as he claimed, as we have known from released KGB files since the end of the Cold War.

    3. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

      Re: The Soviets claimed the flight was a spying mission, but it was ... off course

      I always thought that Korean airliner was flying the shortest great circle route in order to save fuel, rather than taking the official detour away from Soviet territory.

      The surplus fuel would then be sold off for somebody's unofficial profit. The Soviets were peeved that they were not cut in on the deal.

  10. Irony Deficient

    transliteration

    Friazino would be better transliterated as Fryazino (the third letter in the Russian name is я, typically transliterated into English as ya — nothing to do with frying). The town has an interesting coat of arms!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mad fools and planet killing weapons

    And we still vote for the bastards!

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Mad fools and planet killing weapons

      "If they don't vote for a lizard, the wrong lizard might get in"

      - Douglas Adams

  12. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    I was in the right place at the right moment

    and did the right thing, which seems to be the key point.

    The Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize committee has awarded the prize to lots of undeserving jerks, IMHO. If anyone deserves it it is this guy, and it looks like he actually could use the money that comes with it. If awarded, however, I suspect Mr. Putin's government will only let a small part of it to reach his bank account.

    1. JLV Silver badge

      Re: I was in the right place at the right moment

      No offense to Obama but his was a low in Nobel awards. Why award a _new_ pres this award???

      For not being Bush, I guess. There is significant value in that, true, but not a Nobel. 8 yrs on, the only way his legacy will justify it is if he forces Israel to negotiate in good faith & brings peace to Palestine. & Israel.

      Wanna lay odds?

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: I was in the right place at the right moment

        Why no offense? That guy needs to be offended. Fiercely!!

      2. JC_

        Re: I was in the right place at the right moment

        No offense to Obama but his was a low in Nobel awards.

        Lower than Kissinger's?

        1. oolor

          Re: I was in the right place at the right moment

          >Lower than Kissinger's?

          How about Al "you-better-grow-gills" Gore.

      3. Benjol

        Re: I was in the right place at the right moment

        Surely "force Israel AND Palestine" to negotiate in good faith?

        Easier said than done.

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: I was in the right place at the right moment

      > Mr. Putin's government will only let a small part of it to reach his bank account.

      Care to explain why or are just another guy on the Putin demonization bandwagon so prevalent in the indoc channel "western media" (MUH SYRIAN CHILDREN!!++)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I was in the right place at the right moment

        Let me get this straight - You are complaining about people demonising Putin, the person rapidly taking Russia backwards, into corruption, extra judicial murders of journalists, support of Assad, corrupt elections, homophobic demonisation of Gays, imprisonment on trumped up charges of any dissenters or protesters? I could go on...

        However you think that the person who is the problem is Obama? Who is carrying out those evils of slightly socialised health care and drone attacks? (NB: Bad as they are: Each drone is a US army not on the ground, not trampling through someone's country and even though there are terrible accidents, it's way lower than if an invasion was mounted.) He's fighting a modern war against a distributed and predominantly hidden enemy, who strike and run away or strike and deliberately kill themselves in the doing so, the deliberately hide in countries with weak governments and law enforcement. How would you go about it?

  13. J__M__M

    There are others...

    Vasili Arkhipov for one

    1. oolor

      Re: There are others...

      Already mentioned above. He was also on K-19. Being in the right place at the right time sure helps when one is the right person.

  14. Ian Emery Silver badge

    Going Green

    Are you recycling this story because the BBC has??

    Go back into the archives and you will find an almost word for word copy of this from not so long ago,.

  15. eJ2095

    Wargames also came out in 1983......

    Joshua/WOPR: Greetings, Professor Falken.

    Stephen Falken: Hello, Joshua.

    Joshua/WOPR: A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?

    1. Annihilator

      Re: Wargames also came out in 1983......

      Oddly enough, this article pretty much describes the opening scene of War Games (but as a US drill), prompting the WOPR to be installed as first reponse. "Sir, turn your key!"

  16. wolfetone Silver badge

    Obviously, in Soviet Russia, computer doesn't tell you, you tell computer.

    1. oolor

      I was waiting for that.

  17. Myvekk

    As the saying goes...

    No good deed goes unpunished...

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Russian memorial in Orkney

    Slightly off topic but if you're interested in the convoys to Russian in WW11 you should visit Lyness.

    Tomorrow, the Consul General of Russia in Edinburgh Mr Sergey Krutikov, is coming to spread the ashes of a comrade in the Scapa Flow.

    http://www.orcadian.co.uk/2013/05/arctic-convoy-veterans-remembered-in-lyness/

    Also the museum at Lyness is much better than it's web-site: (entry is free so no backhanders for me)

    http://www.scapaflow.co.uk/sfvc.htm

    1. NoOnions
      Mushroom

      Did I miss 8 World Wars?

      I was worried, growing up, about WWIII, let alone WW11!

      ;-)

  19. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    "!n the right place at the right time"

    But he did the right thing under extreme pressure.

    Not everyone works that well under pressure when "Computer says" incoming US missile attack.

    BTW for those who know "War Games," this man is the Russian equivalent of "Brass Hat."

  20. Anonymous Coward 101

    Some things are not clear to me...

    1. Why would such a critical piece of equipment be left in the hands of a relatively low level operative?

    2. Would these flashing warning lights only be seen by one person?

    3. Would his superiors be such blockheads that they would not deduce the same things this man deduced?

    1. Hans 1 Silver badge

      Re: Some things are not clear to me...

      1. Lieutenant Colonel, a low level operative ? It is a senior officer ...

      2. Did you read the article ??????

      3. He was in charge and was supposed to inform his superiors, which he did not do because he thought the computer systems were wrong. Speculation, speculation, but you never know what his superiors would have thought, supreme commanders would probably have believed the computer systems due to their close ties with the political apparatus ...

      1. NoOnions
        Headmaster

        Re: Some things are not clear to me...

        But was he that rank when the incident took place? I can't seem to find out with a (very brief) Google search.

        From the BBC - "Mr Petrov - who retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel and now lives in a small town near Moscow - was part of a well-trained team which served at one of the Soviet Union's early warning bases, not far from Moscow. His training was rigorous, his instructions very clear."

        1. Don Jefe

          Re: Some things are not clear to me...

          He wrote the operations manual for the system. I think it is fair to assume, regardless of his rank, that he knew what he was talking about.

          Rank alone is never a good qualifier for intelligence or capabilities. Like high levels of education, you can get high rank through sheer perseverance or connections. That's true in all militarized forces, regardless of country.

          In fact there's a good argument that non-wartime officers of high rank are the most likely to do something dumb because at that level they are all politicians, no longer soldiers. It is different in wartime, but thankfully that isn't all the time (for most countries anyway).

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Some things are not clear to me...

            Hence - the most dangerous thing in any army = " a 2nd lieutenant with a compass"

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another version here.

    http://www.damninteresting.com/a-hairsbreadth-from-utter-destruction/

    I have always thought this piece of historyshould be required reading in schools. Everyone should know his name

  22. JimmyPage Silver badge

    Is a bad or a good thing ...

    that kids today (anyone under the age of 30) just won't fully appreciate the tension of the 70s and 80s. I was 14 in 1980, and recall me and my friends (all fairly geeky) were convinced it was a question of "if" not "when" the 4-minute warning would come.

    "Protect and Survive" was considered essential reading.

    1. Thomas 4

      Re: Is a bad or a good thing ...

      Having just watched "Threads", this particular 30 year old totally gets it. Mum was very keen on films like that, like When The Wind Blows and so on. There is absolutely nothing cool about nuclear war.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Is a bad or a good thing ...

        I visited Hiroshima recently, I went round the peace park and the museum. It's horrific, far worse than you imagine and a large amount of photographs and film footage are still classified by the American government. This is because it was thought that the American people wouldn't stand for funeral pyres and mass graves rather reminiscent of the Nazi Death camps, so there are just descriptions.

        1. pigor

          Re: Is a bad or a good thing ...

          "I visited Hiroshima recently, I went round the peace park and the museum. It's horrific, far worse than you imagine"

          I did visit the same places some years ago, and the impact was terrifying.

          The museum leads the visitor in a painful path from the big picture into the details.

          The first rooms show the international status before the launch of the bomb, how they reached there, and so on... a view very distant from the day to day events, like in a school book.

          The more you walk into the museum the following rooms bring you closer and closer to the human tragedy.

          Until you reach the last rooms where you see the scarce remains of some of the victims.

          They do the possible to bring the tragedy to a human level that everybody can understand and relate too... like the name and background story of a school boy just next to a partially melted lunch box and a "shadow" on a wall: that's all it remains of him.

          People talk inside the museum ... at the beginning.

          By the time you get out nobody is talking anymore and the faces of all visitors are extremely serious and tense.

          Even when finally you get out in the sun the silence and the feeling of sad uneasiness remain... you look around at the Peace Memorial Park and you realise that you at "ground zero": all that open space was created by the bomb.

          An experience that make you seriously think

    2. Ottman001

      Re: Is a bad or a good thing ...

      I think possibly you're under estimating the age point. As a young school child in the late 80s and early 90s, I was 'protected' from the truth. You may have to be closer to 35 or 40 to have an accurate recollection.

      The one stand out memory I have on the subject is the discomfort of a teacher when asked questions about that mornings topic: the end of the second world war. Now I'm sure primary school teachers have to tip toe around issues all the time and are good at maintaining youthful innocence. But there was something about the way she changed subject that was different and causes me to remember.

      I was in her class during the 1989 ~ 90 school year so the Berlin wall may or may not have been toppled and the Soviet Union was yet to collapse. I recall that we were told that Germany was divided into two "because Germany was too powerful". The Russian occupation of east Europe was a bit too grown up a subject.

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: Is a bad or a good thing ...

        Children were protected from the truth, and rightfully so. They'll get their own case of existential angst one day, no need to instill fear of something out of their control in them. Scary stories about very grown up subjects, simplified for children's understanding, is how entire generations grow up scared of a particular group or thing. Fear leads to the Dark Side :)

        Let the sorry ass adults play brinkmanship with bombs and have their willy waving contests. Leave the kids to be worried about Christmas presents and puppies and other such fantastic nonsense. Those times are short enough even without worrying about Commies or terrorists or national debts or all the bullshit adults waste their lives fucking with. Maybe I should start a Kickstarter campaign to mail all members of Congress and Parliament a puppy. They need to get back to the real world. Not the one they've fabricated with big guns and small balls.

  23. Velv Silver badge

    Go watch the film "Fail Safe". Both of them. The original is good, the remake is awesome with an excellent cast.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058083/

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0235376/

  24. El Presidente

    Watch Threads

    That's all.

  25. Reginald Gerard

    It happened to the US even earlier - in the '60s

    A new radar system detected a series of possible missile launches, turns out they saw the tips of some moon mountains coming over the horizon.... but tension was low at the time and they checked their data first, before panicking.

    http://servicevirtualization.com/profiles/blogs/what-the-cold-war-taught-us-about-testing

  26. Stuart Halliday
    Mushroom

    On that day I was 22 year old, working in Ferranti (a military based electronic company). A manger rushed through to tell us all that a nuclear missile alert had been given. We just waited and waited. We had no TVs, no radio, no phone access.

    We just sat in the middle of Edinburgh waiting and talking about the end of the world...

    It was pretty scary I can tell you...

    At lunch time we came out and wondered why no one else seem to know. We were later told it was a mistaken announcement. Phew....

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