From Dr Strangelove, in 1964:
Ambassador DeSadeski: The fools… the mad fools.
President Muffley: What’s happened?
DeSadeski: The doomsday machine.
Muffley: The doomsday machine? What is that?
DeSadeski: A device which will destroy all human and animal life on earth.
Muffley: All human and animal life? … I’m afraid I don’t understand something, Alexiy. Is the Premier threatening to explode this if our planes carry out their attack?
DeSadeski: No sir. It is not a thing a sane man would do. The doomsday machine is designed to to trigger itself automatically.
Muffley: But surely you can disarm it somehow.
DeSadeski: No. It is designed to explode if any attempt is ever made to untrigger it.
Muffley: Automatically? … But, how is it possible for this thing to be triggered automatically, and at the same time impossible to untrigger?
Strangelove: Mr. President, it is not only possible, it is essential. That is the whole idea of this machine, you know. Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy… the fear to attack. And so, because of the automated and irrevocable decision making process which rules out human meddling, the doomsday machine is terrifying. It’s simple to understand. And completely credible, and convincing.
Turgidson: Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines, Stainsy.
Muffley: But this is fantastic, Strangelove. How can it be triggered automatically?
Strangelove: Well, it’s remarkably simple to do that. When you merely wish to bury bombs, there is no limit to the size. After that they are connected to a gigantic complex of computers. Now then, a specific and clearly defined set of circumstances, under which the bombs are to be exploded, is programmed into a tape memory bank. … Yes, but the… whole point of the doomsday machine… is lost… if you keep it a secret! Why didn’t you tell the world, eh?
DeSadeski: It was to be announced at the Party Congress on Monday. As you know, the Premier loves surprises.
From Wired, this week:
Russia’s doomsday machine. That’s right, an actual doomsday device—a real, functioning version of the ultimate weapon… Turns out Yarynich, a 30-year veteran of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces and Soviet General Staff, helped build one.
The point of the system, he explains, was to guarantee an automatic Soviet response to an American nuclear strike. Even if the US crippled the USSR with a surprise attack, the Soviets could still hit back. It wouldn’t matter if the US blew up the Kremlin, took out the defense ministry, severed the communications network, and killed everyone with stars on their shoulders. Ground-based sensors would detect that a devastating blow had been struck and a counterattack would be launched.
The technical name was Perimeter, but some called it Mertvaya Ruka, or Dead Hand. It was built 25 years ago and remained a closely guarded secret. With the demise of the USSR, word of the system did leak out, but few people seemed to notice. In fact, though Yarynich and a former Minuteman launch officer named Bruce Blair have been writing about Perimeter since 1993 in numerous books and newspaper articles, its existence has not penetrated the public mind or the corridors of power. The Russians still won’t discuss it, and Americans at the highest levels—including former top officials at the State Department and White House—say they’ve never heard of it. When I recently told former CIA director James Woolsey that the USSR had built a doomsday device, his eyes grew cold. “I hope to God the Soviets were more sensible than that.” They weren’t.
It’s not quite the same as the fictional Premier Kissov’s scheme, but – damn. And it’s still being upgraded.
ELSEWHERE: Talking of worrying automated systems…