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Dead Hand: The Ultimate Doomsday Machine

WEAVERVILLE, NC – In the fall of 2009, I read an article in Wired Magazine, written by Nicholas Thompson, that left me utterly speechless and–quite frankly–scared out of my wits.

In his article, Nicholas Thompson tells of a secret nuclear launch plan that the Soviets called Dead Hand that would activate even after an apocalypse. That, in and of itself, is bad news. But, even worse news is Dead Hand is still operational.

A 72-year-old former Soviet colonel by the name of Valery Yarynich was interviewed by Mr. Thompson in March of 2009 in a Washington, DC restaurant known as the Iron Gate.  Valery is very cautious about what he reports to Mr. Thompson because he knows that he is being followed–or at least is under surveillance–by KGB operatives and his life is threatened. However, Valery Yarynich wants the world to know about a device that the Soviets have kept very Top Secret since 1985…so secret, in fact, that even many top officials of the Soviet government were not aware of it.

What Valery talks about is Russia’s doomsday machine, codenamed Perimeter, and also referred to as Dead Hand.  This is an actual doomsday device that is real, functional, and may be the ultimate weapon that isn’t apocalyptic fantasy…it’s a reality. So why is it that if top-level Soviet brass didn’t know about Perimeter, Valery did? Quite simply, this 30-year veteran of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces and Soviet General Staff helped build it.

Valery Yarynich goes on to say that the Perimeter system was built to guarantee an automatic Soviet response to an American nuclear strike. Furthermore, even if the United States was able to cripple the United Soviet Socialist Republic (CCCP) with a surprise nuclear attack, the Soviets could still hit back with Dead Hand. Even if the U.S. destroyed the Kremlin, disabled the Soviet Defense Ministry, severed all lines of Soviet communications networks, and annihilated all the Soviet government military officers, Dead Hand would still be able to initiate a retaliatory strike against the United States. How is this possible? The Perimeter system uses ground-based sensors that are able to detect that a devastating nuclear attack has been made against Soviet soil and would launch the counterattack without human intervention!

Perimeter (or Dead Hand) was built and activated in 1985, and has remained a closely guarded secret ever since. With the fall of the USSR, the secret about Perimeter remained a secret. Even though Valery Yarynich and a former Soviet Minuteman launch officer have been writing about Perimeter since 1993, the Soviet government refuses to acknowledge the existence of the system. In fact, the Russians won’t discuss Perimeter, and former top officials of the State Department and the White House claim they have never heard of it. What worries Valery is that no one is willing to admit that Perimeter is still operational today, and that it is simply too easy for the system to mistake a natural disaster, such as a powerful Earthquake, as a potential nuclear attack. However, Perimeter does have some safety systems built in to prevent this.

Perimeter was designed during the Cold War to ensure the Soviet’s ability to strike back against any adversary–and especially against what they viewed as the potential enemy, the U.S., who was, in their view, planning a surprise attack against the Soviets. It was designed to lie semi-dormant until switched on by a high ranking official during a crisis. Perimeter would then begin active monitoring through a network of seismic, radiation, and air pressure sensors looking for signs that nuclear explosions had occurred. Before launching a retaliatory counterattack, however, the Perimeter system’s internal logic and safety systems had to be convinced that four propositions had been met:  (1) if it was turned on, then it would try to determine that a nuclear weapon had hit Soviet soil; (2) if it appeared that a nuclear explosion had, indeed, occurred, the system would then check to see if any of the military communications links in the Soviet war room of the Soviet General Staff had survived the blast; (3) if there were existing communications and, if after some pre-established time frame of fifteen or twenty minutes, no further indications of nuclear attack were detected, Perimeter would assume that military officials were still living that could order a counterattack and the system would return to its semi-dormant status; but (4) if the lines of communication to the General Staff went dead, then the system would infer that an apocalypse scenario had been initiated by an external force and would then transfer launch authority to whomever was manning the system deep within the protected bunker that was designed to withstand any nuclear attack, bypassing normal chain-of-command and giving that launch authority to anyone who happened to be on duty at the time.

The article goes on to say that once initiated, the counterattack would be controlled by so-called command missiles that were hidden in hardened silos designed to withstand the massive blast and electromagnetic pulses generated by a nuclear explosion. Once launched and airborne, these command missiles would then issue radio commands to any and all Soviet ICBMs that had survived the initial nuclear strike, giving them the orders to launch as well. At this point, the machines would be in control of the war and not humans. Flying over the smoldering, radioactive ruins of Mother Russia, and all ground communications destroyed, the command missiles would lead the destruction of the United States without human intervention. What a scary nightmare!

Unlike the missile defense system proposed by President Reagan in 1983–known as Star Wars–which was made known to the Soviets as a means of a deterrence against nuclear war being initiated by the Soviets, the Russian government did not make their doomsday plans known to anyone and missed a golden opportunity to make Perimeter a deterrent against a possible nuclear first strike by the United States. In fact, the Soviets, at the time, viewed Star Wars as a back up to a U.S. first strike against them.

The secrecy surrounding Perimeter remains today. What is most disturbing to me is that if this doomsday machine actually exists and if it is still operational, will it someday detect what it thinks is a nuclear strike against Soviet soil, and launch–or allow someone in charge to launch–a nuclear counterattack against the U.S., removing the human element from the equation, and executing a full-scale nuclear war controlled by machines?