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Cold War Legacy

Date Saturday - October 10, 2009
Host Ian Punnett
Guests David E. Hoffman

Renowned journalist and author David Hoffman discussed the Cold War arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States, and revealed how close we came to potentially ending life as we know it.

Hoffman shared the story of Stanislav Petrov, a Soviet officer who likely prevented a worldwide nuclear war. Petrov was working at an early warning station in 1983, Hoffman explained, when his system reported the U.S. had launched missiles against the USSR. According to Hoffman, Petrov made a "guts decision," deviated from protocol, and correctly identified the attack warning as a false alarm. Hoffman said a similarly shocking incident occurred in the U.S. during Jimmy Carter's presidency. Like the Soviet event, U.S. defense monitors showed incoming nuclear missiles. It turned out to be a false alarm caused by an inexpensive malfunctioning microchip, he noted. Hoffman also pointed out that 23,000 nuclear warheads still remain from the Cold War build up.

Hoffman talked about the USSR's secret biological weapons effort, which he said continued for years in violation of the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. The program was brought to light in 1979 after an anthrax leak at a germ warfare laboratory killed 64 people in the Soviet city of Sverdlovsk. Even more frightening to Hoffman is that the Soviets wanted to "produce the anthrax bacteria by the ton" at a factory in Stepnogorsk, Kazakhstan. According to Hoffman, the Soviets intended to use their biological weapons after a nuclear holocaust, to kill off any remaining human enemies as well as their animal and plant food resources.

Hoffman reported on President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), and the mostly-fabled Soviet laser missile defense program that inspired it. At the time, U.S. intelligence knew the Soviets had constructed a large facility to house the ambitious system's power source. What they did not know was that the power source did not work and the Soviets had no computer hardware advanced enough to make the system function, he explained. Hoffman also spoke briefly about Soviet chemical weapons systems left over from the Cold War. There are 1.9 million artillery projectiles with 5,447 metric tons of sarin and other nerve gases currently sitting in a warehouse in Southern Russia, Hoffman said.

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