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Trojan Horse Caused A Siberian Explosion 1183

Posted by Hemos
from the kaos-round-the-world dept.
An anonymous reader writes "William Safire of the nytimes [nytimes.com] has an interesting column this week describing how the Soviets purchased bogus computer chips from the West in the 1970's. These chips caused what "was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space." Fascinating story."
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Trojan Horse Caused A Siberian Explosion

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  • by DarkHelmet (120004) * <mark@@@seventhcycle...net> on Monday February 02, 2004 @09:45AM (#8157754) Homepage
    describing how the Soviets purchased bogus computer chips from the West in the 1970's

    For some reason, I can equally imagine something like this happen from the Pentium I FDIV bug, can't you? :)

    • Re:Pentium I bug. (Score:4, Informative)

      by TwistedGreen (80055) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {neergdetsiwt}> on Monday February 02, 2004 @10:06AM (#8157918)
      Though the article doesn't actually mention bogus computer chips... it talked about software stolen by the KGB which was altered with deliberate flaws, causing their oil pipeline to malfunction and explode.

      I wonder if the editor RTFA.
  • Google Link (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 02, 2004 @09:46AM (#8157760)
    For the tin foil hat crowd, here is a register free link: The Story [nytimes.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 02, 2004 @09:48AM (#8157779)
    In Soviet Russia, computer blows up you !
  • Oh (Score:3, Funny)

    by arvindn (542080) on Monday February 02, 2004 @09:50AM (#8157787) Homepage Journal
    For a moment I thought you were talking about the recent explosion in Trojan Horses coming from Siberia (ok so its not exactly a trojan and its Russia not Siberia but what the hell ;^)
  • Meanwhile in Russia (Score:4, Interesting)

    by after (669640) on Monday February 02, 2004 @09:50AM (#8157788) Journal
    I rememeber that Russia once developed a base-3 computer called ``Trinity''. I cant find a link on it, but I know that it worked. I cannot imagine how logical operations would work on sutch a thing though.
  • Nice story but... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 02, 2004 @09:52AM (#8157803)
    It just makes for too nice a story. Why should we believe it?
  • awesome (Score:5, Funny)

    by hellmarch (721948) on Monday February 02, 2004 @09:53AM (#8157810)
    this story has everything. technology, spies, massive explosions, and high ranking government officials dying. it doesn't get much better than this.
    • Re:awesome (Score:4, Funny)

      by the real darkskye (723822) on Monday February 02, 2004 @10:14AM (#8157994) Homepage
      Can't get much better?
      What about the naked chicks?
      What about the beer?

      Or Naked Chicks bringing chips and beer!

      Chicks, chips and beer, Monday just became more tollerable.
    • Re:awesome (Score:5, Funny)

      by DjMd (541962) on Monday February 02, 2004 @11:19AM (#8158649) Journal
      COMING THIS SUMMER....

      Naration by 6hz-Man
      In a place were the land is always cold

      Against an enemy who would stop at nothing

      (evil soviet general) We will take their Technology and give them our Oil

      (evil soviet underlings) Da Commrad!

      (6-hz voice over)but one man

      (computer nerd, (but surprisingly good looking once you take off the glasses)) My God, we can only have once chance1

      (6-hz) and one spunky little chip

      (inside of computer) Beep!

      (6-hz at double voulme) COLD FIRE

      Dramatic music

      This film has not been rated (but oviously R for extranious sex scene between comp nerd and hot female KGB defector)

      Starring Orlando Bloom as nerd

    • Re:awesome (Score:5, Interesting)

      by EvilTwinSkippy (112490) <yodaNO@SPAMetoyoc.com> on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:01PM (#8159086) Homepage Journal
      Yeah, except verifiable sources. Note this was in the opinion section of the Times. I haven't been able to find a shred about this event anywhere. (Though I'm still looking.)
  • by MiniMike (234881) on Monday February 02, 2004 @09:53AM (#8157814)
    They must have planted an agent inside Microsoft...
  • by wwwrench (464274) on Monday February 02, 2004 @09:54AM (#8157818) Homepage
    Now is a time to remember that sometimes our spooks get it right in a big way.

    Let's get this straight - Safire is bragging about the Americans blowing up gas pipelines???? I thought that was terrorism, at least if it is in Iraq. Lucky many weren't killed.

    • Safire is bragging about the Americans blowing up gas pipelines

      Did you even RTFA? The Americans didn't blow up anything. The Soviets bought computer chips and used them to control the operations of the pipeline.

      • Did you even RTFA? The Americans didn't blow up anything. The Soviets bought computer chips and used them to control the operations of the pipeline.

        My turn...

        Did you even RTFA? The Soviets stole Canadian software to control the operations of the pipeline. The Americans added a trojan horse to the software.

        • Not Exactly... (Score:5, Informative)

          by virg_mattes (230616) on Monday February 02, 2004 @10:51AM (#8158354)
          > The Soviets stole Canadian software to control the operations of the pipeline. The Americans added a trojan horse to the software.

          Not precisely true. The Americans sold technology to the Canadians, but wouldn't sell it to the Soviets. Soviet agents posed as Canadian defense contractors to get purchasing rights. The Americans knew they were doing it, and fed poisoned devices to those agents. The agents took the tech home to Russia and BOOM!

          Virg
    • No, the Russians blew up the gas pipeline. Considering they stole the technology, then didn't test it they really have no one to blame but themselves. Sorta like blaming Sony when you buy a VCR that "fell off the back of a truck" when it stops working.
    • by jarran (91204) on Monday February 02, 2004 @10:39AM (#8158259)
      No, no, no. You misunderstand completely. When we blow things up, it's war. When our allies blow things up, it's war. It's only terrorism if someone we don't like blows something up.
      • by JeanPaulBob (585149) on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:13PM (#8159200)
        The primary difference between acts of war and acts terrorism is the target. When al Qaeda destroyed the Twin Towers, that was terrorism. When they crashed into the Pentagon, that was war. Terrorism is the specific targetting of civilians for the purpose of inspiring fear.

        That said, certain elements of the US media would do well to remember this distinction. If I hear Fox News calling attacks on military installations in Iraq "terrorism", I'll start suspecting them of bias. :)
    • by bruthasj (175228) <bruthasj@yah[ ]com ['oo.' in gap]> on Monday February 02, 2004 @10:54AM (#8158397) Homepage Journal
      > Lucky many weren't killed.

      There's the biggest difference. When Americans sit down to plan about blowing things up, they actually put potential casualties and/or collateral damage on the agenda for discussion prior to doing so. When Terrorists sit down to plan about blowing things up, they have this seemingly brainwashed sense of the need to damage, maim, and kill innocent people *directly*.
  • Just great (Score:5, Insightful)

    by d_lesage (199542) on Monday February 02, 2004 @09:54AM (#8157821) Homepage
    Let's cause an explosion that could cause the death of hundreds (if not more), and then gloat about it.

    Cold war or not, this is just callous disregard for human life.
    • Re:Just great (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dillon_rinker (17944)
      War is the normal state of human affairs; peace is an ideal condition we extrapolate from the fact that there are intervals between wars.
    • No known casualties (Score:3, Interesting)

      by PetWolverine (638111)
      If you read the article, you know there were no known casualties. It's not a very in-depth piece, but I would guess it was planned that way from the beginning. I'm not usually one to defend the CIA or the whole concept of espionage, but I'm damned glad we won the Cold War, and doing so through intelligence activities involving no loss of life is better than through military action with the potential for nuclear war and mutually assured destruction and all that.

      Besides, at least it's an example of the CIA d
    • so... (Score:3, Insightful)

      you somehow think only the west did nasty things during the cold war and the soviets hugged trees?

      exactly how do you fight someone bent on killing you? you sing campfire songs to him?

      nice warped view of history and human nature you have there
  • by lhpineapple (468516) on Monday February 02, 2004 @09:57AM (#8157841)
    1. Supply computer chips to Soviets
    2. ??????????*
    3. PROFIT!

    *KABOOOOM!
  • Disinformation (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pubjames (468013) on Monday February 02, 2004 @09:58AM (#8157846)

    Tin foil hat on...

    This guy works/worked for the intelligence services. He was/is involved in "disinformation" operations. The intelligences services in the USA and UK are currently under increadible scrutiny for having goofed big-time about Iraq. This guy gets an article published in the NY Times about a very successful operation that helped finish the Cold War. There is no evidence, other than this article, and it can't be proved or disproved.

    Draw your own conclusions.
  • Gotta love Safire (Score:5, Insightful)

    by noewun (591275) on Monday February 02, 2004 @09:58AM (#8157847) Journal
    Uses the royal "we", as if he was in the trenches fighting, rather than safe at home, daring nothing.

    Gus Weiss died from a fall a few months ago.

    Tinfoil hat time!

  • by Yarn (75) on Monday February 02, 2004 @09:58AM (#8157848) Homepage
    A risky business, but there were thankfully no (recorded) casualties. It does make you realise that for some things it's a really good idea to look at the code!

    Nice, in a way, to see the French and US governments working together too.
  • by dimss (457848) on Monday February 02, 2004 @10:01AM (#8157883) Homepage
    My father was one of developers of top secret soviet chips in 1970's. Many of them were clones of western devices. We had lots of chips, transistors, Fortran listings and special books at home. Most of them were lost because we moved four times in last 24 years.

    As far as we (me and my dad) know no chips or computers were purchased from "the West" before 1980's. We developed and manufactured clones of 360, PDP, VAX and others instead. They were software-compatible with Western ones but contained only Soviet (and other Eastern Europe) components.

    Later we got VAXen (I remember two of them), Macs (no personal experience) and IBM PC.
    • I've heard about this. My cousine used to work for DEC. Right after the dissolvment of the Sovjetunion they received a request for a quotation of "support and services" for a large number of VAX machines in Murmansk!

      And yes the designs were 'stolen', but at a very low level. They copied the silicon masks and even the original logotype on them! Although I think they could have designed superior chips themselves if they have had anything faster than Apple II:s at the universities. But they didn't because of

    • by Memetic (306131) on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:42PM (#8159500) Homepage Journal
      A company I worked for had a chip cloned, however the original deisgn was faulty, hence so was the clone. The Bulgarians who cloned it got in touch and told our engineers how to work round / fix the fault to improve performance!

      They knew they were,at the time, basically immune from prosecution so were not concerned about being so blatant.

      These were by the way telecom chips not exactly militarilly sensitive.
  • by kfg (145172) on Monday February 02, 2004 @10:02AM (#8157890)
    wish to develop their own indigenous computer technologies industries instead of simply buying it from us and possibly subjecting themselves to this sort of intergovernmental terrorism? Had this explosion taken place in a populated area the blood would be on our hands.

    It goes way beyond issues of economic competition. It's a question of independence, control and security.

    Rather like your use of Open Source software.

    KFG
    • by swillden (191260) * <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday February 02, 2004 @11:23AM (#8158713) Homepage Journal

      It goes way beyond issues of economic competition. It's a question of independence, control and security.

      Everything went way beyond economic competition between the US and USSR. It was warfare between two countries who couldn't risk open conflict, but nevertheless fought hard at every other level, and for very good reasons. In hindsight we can now look back and say "The US didn't really need to pull all of those nasty tricks, the fundamentally inferior economic model would eventually have destroyed the Soviets regardless," but that was *far* from clear at the time.

      And, actually, it's not entirely clear now... had the USSR been able to obtain some sort of clear military supremacy, they absolutely would have used that power to expand, and the economic boost gained through expansion may have enabled them to survive, grow and expand even more.

      Destroying an enemy's energy infrastructure in wartime isn't "terrorism", it's sound strategy. This particular attack was exceptionally brilliant, in that it achieved key strategic goals while simultaneously maintaining the necessary fiction that the nations were not at war.

      As for the question about what would have happened had this occurred in a populated area, well, it didn't, and the planners of this scheme knew where the pipeline was and where the population centers were. Who's to say what they would have decided if the pipeline had gone through a city?

      Finally, the comparison to open source isn't really applicable, because the Soviets had to have stolen source code. You think you can integrate a pipeline control system, which controls hundreds or thousands of bits of custom hardware with an opaque binary? That sort of software *has* to be customized and tweaked to integrate, and it has to be in source form. The Soviet software engineers took stolen code of unknown quality and employed it to control a vital and fragile part of the Soviet energy infrastructure without reviewing it for correctness. That's a serious failure of due diligence.

      In fact, exactly the same thing could happen with open source software downloaded from some web site. Open source makes due diligence possible, and allows you to hope that someone else has done it, but for stuff that really matters there's no substitute for doing the work yourself. The Soviets were lazy, the Americans were clever, and the Siberian pipeline paid the price.

  • by ab762 (138582) on Monday February 02, 2004 @10:03AM (#8157892) Homepage
    I invite people to do a Google search on William Safire and assess for themselves his credbility and impartiality. I'm dubious about the first, but certain that he's not impartial.
  • Excellent (Score:4, Insightful)

    by andih8u (639841) on Monday February 02, 2004 @10:05AM (#8157910)
    An opinion piece written by a guy who said he used to work down the hall from a guy who said he knew all about this. This sounds more like a review for a book than an actual article. Nothing like a nice post to get all the lemmings whining about loss of life, etc.
  • I doubt it... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Slashamatic (553801) on Monday February 02, 2004 @10:10AM (#8157947)
    The trans-siberian natural gas pipeline used technology by a UK company called Serck Controls. In those days, the telemetry computers were 6800 based and I believe they used DEC PDP-11s or more likely (because of export controls), Serck's own computers for running the main control system. I know they were working with a bundle of other western companies, but I thought they had the telemetry system side of it completely.
  • by Cr3d3nd0 (517274) <Credendo&gmail,com> on Monday February 02, 2004 @10:19AM (#8158040)
    Anyone who has read Tom Clancy's "Red Storm Rising" knows that the events which kick off the 3rd World War are indeed a Siberean oil line being blown up, thus damaging their oil reserves unrepairably. Knowing Clancy's tendency to discover little details like this, and his incredibly acurate rendering of "What if" I can't say it would supprise me at all if this were a true event. Indeed the funniest thing to me is that Clancy except for a few years of ROTC never served in the military at all. (I believe he was an insurance salesman but I could eb wrong about that detail) When he first published his books the government tried to courtmarshall him only to find he had no military experience.
    • by DavidBrown (177261) on Monday February 02, 2004 @11:02AM (#8158485) Journal
      Indeed the funniest thing to me is that Clancy except for a few years of ROTC never served in the military at all. (I believe he was an insurance salesman but I could eb wrong about that detail)

      You are correct sir. I was a Midshipman at the US Naval Academy when "The Hunt for Red October" was published. He couldn't get a mainstream publisher, but the Naval Institute Press (which prints mostly textbooks used at USNA) picked it up.

      While I don't recall any attempt at subjecting Clancy to a court-martial (remember, the Navy's pet publisher printed this book), I once read a Navy report discussing the accuracy of Clancy's depiction of the US Submarine (the USS Dallas, I recall). It was amazingly accurate, but the report concluded Clancy obtained his information from unclassified sources such as Janes Fighting Ships, etc.

  • by gillbates (106458) on Monday February 02, 2004 @10:25AM (#8158099) Homepage Journal

    Basically, the Soviets got suckered because they outsourced the software and chips to US firms.

    Doesn't anybody see the similarity between what companies are doing now (with outsourcing) and the Soviet Union did 20 years ago?

    And in case you're wondering, this is why Congress is afraid of cyber-terrorism - we literally used computers to kill people in Siberia in the 80's. Perhaps they are scared that the same thing could happen here?

    I realize the fears of cyber-terrorism are overblown, but it is a real threat. The threat isn't from outside hackers, but rather, from insiders who plant trojan software programs and sabotage hardware. What would happen if a nuclear power plant computer was programmed to silently vent small quatities of nuclear waste over a period of months or years? By the time it would be noticed, it would be too late to avert disaster.

  • by Noryungi (70322) on Monday February 02, 2004 @10:26AM (#8158107) Homepage Journal
    (I am probably going to be moderated down in flames for this, but what the heck... Entering 'Rant' mode...)

    From the article:

    President Francois Mitterrand of France also opposed the gas pipeline. He took President Reagan aside at a conference in Ottawa on July 19, 1981, to reveal that France had recruited a key K.G.B. officer in Moscow Center. Col. Vladimir Vetrov provided what French intelligence called the Farewell dossier.

    This little bit of information is more or less correct. "Farewell" was the code name assigned to Col. Vetrov by his French DGSE (French CIA) handlers.

    The next time you are tempted to say that France is not an ally of the USA, just remember that little bit of transatlantic cooperation. I personally think Mitterand was a crook, a thief and a sleazeball -- and I am trying to stay polite, here... But, ultimately, he may have done the right thing here.

    But Safire glosses over the saddest part of the Farewell history (emphasis mine):

    Vetrov was caught and executed in 1983. A year later, Bill Casey ordered the K.G.B. collection network rolled up, closing the Farewell dossier. [...] Now is a time to remember that sometimes our spooks get it right in a big way.

    What Safire does not says is that:
    1. Farewell was a French agent, and not an American one! Give credit where credit is due!!
    2. Col. Vetrov, aka Farewell, died because of the CIA involvement (If I remember well, he was caught communicating to American agents after the big explosion mentioned), and before DGSE could smuggle him and his family out of the USSR. In short, he paid the price for American incompetence.


    In short: every good intelligence in this story was supplied by the French, and the USA made a mess of it, an important source was killed and years of hard work were wasted.

    A little bit like the recent situation with a middle-east country with vast oil reserves, but I digress... You can mod me down now. End of Rant mode.
  • Outsourcing (Score:5, Funny)

    by b1t r0t (216468) on Monday February 02, 2004 @10:29AM (#8158140)
    That's what they get for outsourcing their software.
  • by jon787 (512497) on Monday February 02, 2004 @10:49AM (#8158337) Homepage Journal
    Here [cia.gov] is an article Gus Weiss wrote on the CIA's website that includes some other interesting tidbits. Including the design of the Buran (soviet space shuttle) being a rejected NASA design that was leaked to them as a part of this stuff.
  • Ok... (Score:5, Funny)

    by awarnack (665425) on Monday February 02, 2004 @11:02AM (#8158479) Homepage
    We give the Soviets bad chips. They give us TETRIS. Productivity drops to ZERO on both sides. Sounds fair to me.
  • by tverbeek (457094) on Monday February 02, 2004 @11:16AM (#8158617) Homepage
    ... is that he's such a well-preserved specimen of his breed, and his era. This partisan propaganda article of his is a fine example of him reliving the Good Old Days, scolding Americans about the Red Menace, and gloating about the covert harm American "intelligence-gathering" agencies could do to the Godless Commies. The potential loss of innocent lives is irrelevant to him, because we were (in his mind) at war with the Soviet Union, for the very soul of humanity.

    Any parallels to contemporary situations are left as an exercise for the reader.

  • by ajagci (737734) on Monday February 02, 2004 @11:26AM (#8158745)
    Col. Vladimir Vetrov provided what French intelligence called the Farewell dossier. It contained documents from the K.G.B. Technology Directorate showing how the Soviets were systematically stealing -- or secretly buying through third parties -- the radar, machine tools and semiconductors to keep the Russians nearly competitive with U.S. military-industrial strength through the 70's. In effect, the U.S. was in an arms race with itself.

    Maybe it took Safire thirty years to figure this one out (the guy doesn't seem to be too bright, despite his reputation), but the Soviets themselves were saying it at the time, as were the Europeans. Of course, they didn't put it as "we need to steel technology in order to keep up", they put it as "the US is forcing this arms race upon us".

    "The pipeline software that was to run the pumps, turbines and valves was programmed to go haywire," writes Reed, "to reset pump speeds and valve settings to produce pressures far beyond those acceptable to the pipeline joints and welds. The result was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space."

    Apart from the scientists and engineers this could have killed, it may also have condemned many civilians to a miserable existence and even killed them. Depriving civilians of heat and energy really is terrorism, whether it is perpertrated by the US or anybody else.

    The Soviet Union was not a nice regime. But the end does not justify the means, and it is far from clear whether the downfall of its government and the resulting chaos is making the world safer. These kinds of dirty campaigns may have blowback a century from now, just like US intervention in the Middle East decades ago is hurting us now.

    The last chapter of the history of this is not at all written yet. But one thing we can already be certain of: people like Safire, who gloat about such dirty tricks, are morally bankrupt.
  • by cavac (640390) on Monday February 02, 2004 @11:54AM (#8159012) Homepage
    Just take a look at key military technology in the '60s and '70s:

    First men in space: Russia (implies better ICBMs)

    First operational jetfighter with thrust-vectoring (MIG): Russia

    First working long-term space stations: Russia (also used for spying)

    First undedectable stealth fighter dedected and shot down by: Russian technology in Yugoslavia (nice done, guys!)

    World's most powerfull rocket: Russia (Energija), implies that they could launch a BIG amount of plutonium for a BIG shot.

    Most reliable rocket technology: Russia

    First figher plane with look-and-lock systems (you look at your enemy and the rockets automatically lock onto that target): Russia (IMHO the MIG25)

    Well, sure, USA has a great deal of hightech gadgets lying around, but the Soviets are the guys that actually made them working.

    There was also a big fuss about that the USSR stole the space shuttle technology for their Buran shuttle. Actually, the Buran uses a more modern design, has a much higher capacity, better aerodynamics and even can fly completly on automatic (whereas the US shuttle must be landed per joystick).

    Sure, the USSR stole *some* technology, but the US wasn't any better. Didn't they steal MIG's whenever they saw a chance, just to try out how to beat them in air combat and integrate russian thruster-design into US fighters?
  • Total Crap (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 02, 2004 @11:59AM (#8159058)
    The story is total crap.
    I served in Strat. Int. and I can say with total confidence that -if- such a thing happened heads in the community would roll.

    In a time of all out war, yes it would be ok.
    But the Cold War was not all out war and such a thing would have been an act of war, and not worth the risk.

    The Nixon and Reagan administrations would have been stupid enough to risk GTNW for a feather like that, but nobody else until GB2.
    The pipeline was not a proper target for such an action.
  • gus weiss (Score:4, Interesting)

    by subtropolis (748348) on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:19PM (#8159283)
    Info about the farewell dossier can be found here [cicentre.com].

    Here's some info about the fall which killed Gus Weiss:
    washinton post article [washingtonpost.com] and Nashville Tenessean obit [tennessean.com]

    Notice that Audrey Wolf, mentioned in the latter obit, is Joseph Wilson's literary agent [publishingnews.co.uk].

    Not that that should mean anything...

  • by Rufus211 (221883) <[rufus-slashdot] [at] [hackish.org]> on Monday February 02, 2004 @02:00PM (#8160180) Homepage
    The CIA actually has a fairly long article (study?) on their website about this incident here [cia.gov]

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