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Weapon worries

It’s ironic, if not morally surprising, that the outstanding Millennial Disaster may be the result of human activity — especially hubris, narrow-mindedness and dishonesty in the computer industry’s corporate culture and in the government.

The Defense Special Weapons Agency has admitted falsifying documents in which it had certified that three of its five most crucial computer systems were now free of the Year 2000 Bug (Y2K). CNN today reported this finding by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Defense. The Defense Special Weapons Agency is the group in the Defense Department in charge of the custody and security of all of the United States’ nuclear weapons. It’s both understandable and predictable, that they would feel compelled to cover up deficiencies that may ultimately force them to simply pull the plug on all nuclear weapons and their launch and security systems (or remove the batteries) — which is what I suggested in October last year, a suggestion recently confirmed by a public-interest think tank as reported last week on CNN.

We do not know what Y2K bugs may lurk in the weapons themselves, but because of the inherent unpredictability software outside of its designed and tested range of conditions, and due to the networks and interlocks among various computerized components, the prudent course would be to physically deactivate and physically lock up all weapons before 1 January 2000. There is also the unpredictability of humans, “outside of their designed and tested range of conditions,” which is an especially acute issue relative to the military. It is highly questionable whether the aforementioned people should be left to make the crucial decisions, given that their training and experience has been until now entirely directed toward dangers different than those raised by Y2K. And what about Russia (etc., etc.). I have yet to hear a public report of any reasoned assessment of the Y2K situation and hazards outside the USA.

Last week a congressional committee in charge of oversight of government Y2K preparedness projects reported that those U.S. government departments not well prepared include Department of Health and Social Services, and Department of Energy. The Department of Energy is responsible for designing, building and testing nuclear weapons, and other nuclear energy systems in the U.S.

CNN also reported today the government computers that are used to issue and account for a variety of benefits including Medicare and Social Security checks are not prepared to function properly after Dec. 31, 1999, and at the current pace of efforts to rid them of Y2K bugs, it appears they will not be ready by that deadline, which could result in indefinite delays in benefits checks, or serious errors in them.

Francis Jeffrey

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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