The world's most dangerous password?

Most of us have seen or read one of those edgy Cold-War thrillers where some psychotic General decides that launching nuclear war seems a sensible idea. Remember all those failsafe measures they had to bypass and those tense showdowns with some insubordinate gripping on to the launch codes for dear life?

Bruce Blair, former Launch Officer for the US’s arsenal of Minutemen Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), says the real-life precautions are far less elaborate. The ICBMs are protected from a ‘rogue launch’ by an approach known as PAL (Permissive Action Link), which requires an 8-digit code to permit launch. It recently emerged that all the ICBMs’ codes were for years set to ‘00000000’ and that everyone working with them knew the code! Maybe they thought it was the odometer? At least the bullets are getting smarter

According to the New Scientist, researchers in Florida have developed a ‘smart bullet’ which can be fired at a target and then wirelessly transmit back information about its travels. US arms manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, is planning to develop ‘even smarter bullets’ to fire at potential bombs. ‘You could fire it into the trash, stand back and determine whether it could detect TNT leaking out,’ says Leslie Kramer, Director of Engineering for Missiles and Fire Control. Shooting at explosives? very sensible.

Welcome to the Matrix, Neo!

AP reports that the US has recently launched a new initiative to combat terrorism – enter the ‘Matrix’ (Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange). The Matrix, incorporates a database of information on hundreds of thousands of individuals deemed to have a ‘high terrorism factor’ based on a classified scoring system developed by Hank Asher of Seisint Inc. So far 120,000 names in Florida have been handed over to the FBI, the Secret Service, the Florida State Police and the Department of Homeland Security. Hank Asher’s former company, Database Technologies, is notorious for adminstering the contract that stripped thousands of African Americans from the Florida voter rolls before the 2000 election, erroneously branding them felons and ultimately aiding Bush’s grab of the White House. Perhaps we should have taken the blue pill?

New Internationalist issue 369 magazine cover This article is from the July 2004 issue of New Internationalist.
You can access the entire archive of over 500 issues with a digital subscription. Get a free trial »

Subscribe   Ethical Shop