The Co-Intelligence Institute // CII home // Y2K home

Russians Ask for Y2K help with Nukes


SEPTEMBER 4, 1999 . . . 8:03 EDT
Russians ask for Y2K help with nukes


Russia lags far behind in its efforts to fix potential Year 2000
problems that threaten its command and control systems and nuclear
warhead storage facilities, according to a Pentagon message that details
high-level talks between the U.S. Defense Department and the Russian
Ministry of Defense.

The message, sent late last month by the Defense Attache Office in the
U.S. Embassy in Moscow, discloses that the Russian Ministry of Defense
(MOD) has decided to bypass "due to time constraints" the laborious
system-certification process that requires programmers to examine every
line of code to determine whether it contains Year 2000 bugs.

Instead, the message said the Russians have decided to go directly to
live testing of systems to locate Year 2000 errors in the 100 systems
they have identified as mission-critical.
The message provided detailed highlights of meetings held last month
between delegations headed by Edward Warner, assistant secretary of
Defense for strategy and threat reduction, and Gen.-Col. Valery Manilov
of the Russian MOD. The MOD team asked a delegation from the Pentagon to
provide assistance from "key U.S. software vendors to address Y2K
certification and information-assurance issues."

Members of the Pentagon delegation included Warner and representatives
from the Joint Staff and the U.S. Space Command. The Russian delegation
included representatives from the General Staff Y2K Directorate, the
Strategic Rocket Directorate, which controls the Russian nuclear weapons
arsenal, and others.

Government and industry officials familiar with the federal Year 2000
effort said the memo indicated just how far behind the Russians were in
preparing computer systems that control nuclear weapons and other
nuclear facilities. Year 2000 failures in those systems have U.S. and
Russian Defense officials concerned about the systems reporting false
nuclear attacks.
"Anyone who is surprised the Russians are behind in their Y2K
preparations hasn't been paying attention," said a senior Clinton
administration official.
Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the Information Technology
Association of America's Enterprise Solutions Division, called the level
of support Russia requested "no surprise" given the number of warnings
and concerns expressed by the CIA and other national security agencies
over the possible consequences of computer failures. Although the fact
that discussions have been restarted is "encouraging," Grkavac said
there probably is enough time left for the Russian MOD to address "only
the most critical of the mission-critical systems."

A Pentagon source close to the negotiations said the talks remain at a
"low level," but that Secretary of Defense William Cohen plans to visit
Moscow next week for high-level talks on Year 2000 preparedness and
cooperation. "In principle, we've reached an agreement, but there are
still details that need to be worked out," the Pentagon source said.

Bruce McConnell, director of the International Y2K Cooperation Center,
which was founded under the United Nation's auspices, said the memo was
encouraging because it indicated Russia was reaching out for help.
"We're really glad to see the Russians reach out and work with the
international community and get help when they need it," he said.
In addition, given the delay in cooperating on Year 2000 fixes caused by
the war in Kosovo, which strained relations between Russia and the
United States, Grkavac's comments on timing "are probably not too far
off of the mark," one source said. "My money would be on looking only at
the most critical systems."

The late August meeting also focused on what the message described as
"measures to be taken by [the Russian] MOD in ensuring security and
accountability of the MOD nuclear warheads during the Y2K transition
The Russians have "undertaken the creation of Y2K monitoring and control
centers at its nuclear weapons storage sites,'' but the Russians need
U.S. assistance in equipping the centers, according to the attache

The Russians asked the Pentagon to help furnish it with equipment for
those monitoring and control centers, including "computers, copiers, fax
and communications equipment, portable power generators, emergency
response vehicles, utility repair vehicles, warhead handling and
transport vehicles, and environmental monitoring equipment."

Both sides also edged closer to an agreement on Russian participation on
the Center for Strategic Stability, set up by the Pentagon in Colorado
Springs, Colo., to ensure that Year 2000 errors in both nations' C2
systems or nuclear control systems could not lead to an accidental
launch, according to the memo. Both sides reached "general consensus" on
a draft statement on Russian participation in that center "with the
intent of having a document signed by...[Cohen] and the Russian MOD at
their upcoming meeting,'' slated for Sept. 13.

Communications specialists from both sides already have agreed to
install a "secure and highly reliable link'' between the Colorado
Springs center and a Russian command center in Moscow that will include
a dedicated terrestrial circuit and a backup satellite link.
A high-ranking DOD official familiar with the Moscow talks said the
Russians' requests for assistance probably should be discounted "because
their requests tend to be a mix of what they need and what they want.
They think we're Santa Claus.''

This DOD official, speaking on background, added that the Pentagon has
received assurance from the Russians that their key nuclear C2 systems
will not be damaged by the Year 2000 bug. "We are also working with them
to ensure that their nuclear custodial sites are not adversely affected
by Y2K,'' the DOD official added. Another DOD official said it was hard
to determine the extent of Russian Year 2000 problems "because they
don't tell us everything.'' But, she added, "if they are far behind,
they are working hard to catch up."

The high-ranking DOD official declined to comment directly on the
contents of the attache's message, but he did say that the "time
constraints" associated with fixing Russian mission-critical systems was
a real concern, and the Pentagon's efforts to help the Russians were
impeded by their cessation of Year 2000 talks and joint efforts over the
NATO bombing of Serbia. "Because of that pause, months of valuable
discussions were lost,'' the official said.