Tales from the Nuclear Age:

 Copyright©2010  by Charles Glassmire


Nov. 15, 2010


           We laughed at Dr. Strangelove, and its science fictional Doomsday Machine. Fifteen years earlier though, on an NBC Radio broadcast in February 1950, U.S. atomic physicist Leo Szilard described a system of Hydrogen Bombs which could (theoretically) be detonated to cover the world in radioactive dust, to destroy all human life. This would be used by a nation about to be defeated, he said, as a last ditch desperation move to destroy the enemy.

          Curiously, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1991 hints of the creation of just such a real Doomsday system began to leak from high level sources in the (former) Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces. The Soviet code name for this system was Perimetr. Allegedly created in 1985 at the height of Cold War paranoia, it was a computer driven machine which was to launch an automatic Soviet nuclear counter attack against America, without any human hand on the button. This system was to be used in the event of a nuclear first strike against the Soviet, which decapitated the Military Command to the point where no authority existed to launch a nuclear counter attack. Then the machines were to take over.

          Dr. Bruce Blair is currently head of the Washington based World Security Institute, a nonprofit organization to promote independent research on global nuclear affairs. His credentials are important, because he is mainly responsible for uncovering and spreading public warning of the Soviet Union’s use of Perimetr. During the early 1970’s, he served in the U.S. Air Force as a Minuteman ICBM silo Launch Control Officer and support officer for the Strategic Air Commands Airborn Command Post. He is today one of the foremost experts on U.S. and Russian security policies, specializing in nuclear forces and command-control systems. He has testified frequently before Congress and taught security studies as a visiting professor at Yale and Princeton universities. He is the author of numerous books and his list of publications reaches to 20 pages. He served as a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings institution for 13 years. He served as project director at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment for three years. He writes for Scientific American, the New York Times and the Washington Post.  

Dr. Bruce Blair

          Dr. Blair is very interested in Russian control of their nuclear weapons. In the Soviet Union it was known as “C3” – Nuclear Command, Control and Cooperation. It’s the system whereby the military controls and communicates essential information about nuclear weapons deployment, especially in the event of nuclear war. In Russia of the 1990’s, this was top secret stuff. It was there that Bruce first met Colonel Valery Yarynich, who was then serving in the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces. He also served  on the Soviet General Staff, and advised members of the Duma on matters of defense.

          Dr. Blair had information on the Soviet automatic response system given to him by his superiors in SAC. He wanted details. In contrast with other Military high commanders, Yarynich seemed willing to talk. But in answer to Blair’s question, said there was no such fully automatic system in the Soviet Union. It was a carefully worded response, and the key words, Blair later realized, were “fully automatic”.  This didn’t exclude a semi-automatic system. Later, Blair discovered Colonel Yarynich actually helped to build Perimetr.

          Some called it Mertvaya Ruka, the Dead Hand. The image conjured up is of a hand reaching out from the grave of a destroyed Russia, and pushing the switch for a total retaliatory revenge strike at the enemy. Its purpose was to insure a second strike capability, even if the Soviet command structure was destroyed. It was designed to lie dormant, quietly waiting for its day. Perimetr could be brought to life by a political (or military) command in crisis. When switched on, the system would begin monitoring four variables. Sensors would detect a seismic event signifying a nuclear detonation, or atmospheric overpressure from a nuclear blast, or high radiation levels. If some of these were detected, the system would then check for open communications back to Moscow, or other high command structures. If communication was still open, the system would assume command authority was still available to make wartime decisions, and it would take no action.

          But if all communication was disabled, the system would conclude that a mass attack had obliterated the Motherland. Then it would activate the Perimeter counter attack, by launching Command Missiles. These small automatic missiles were embedded in very hardened secret silos across the Soviet. They would launch automatically, and fly across the vast reaches of a destroyed and burning U.S.S.R. In flight, they would broadcast awakening messages to the big ICBMs waiting for launch across the land. These would be the SS-18’s and SS-20s with mirved weapons. These missiles would then launch automatically upon awakening, and head from the Soviet Union towards the enemy, presumably across the North Pole to the United States.

          This is essentially the system described to Dr. Blair by his Soviet contact. (with one important exception). Sometime in the 1990’s Colonel Valery Yarynich came to the United States and resides here writing and lecturing. He says the system is not fully automatic. The launch order will be given to a small spherical command center deep underground, where three Russian troops are on duty to execute the actual launch orders. So the order to destroy the world would lie in the hands of whoever was on duty that day – perhaps some Sergeant or Lieutenant.

          The Russian landmass comprises the largest land mass on earth organized under the rule of a single government. Since it’s the biggest, it has the highest probability of impact from space debris or perhaps an incoming meteorite. At 7:14 a.m. on June 30, 1908, an enormously powerful explosion occurred near the Tunguska River in what is now Russian Siberia. The explosion is generally accepted to have been caused by a meteorite, estimated to be over 100 feet in diameter,  exploding at about 7 km above the Earth’s surface. The explosion distributed blast energy

1908 Tunguska Meteorite

equivalent to a 15 Megaton thermonuclear weapon across an area later evaluated to be about 830 square miles. The blast wave knocked over an estimated 80 million trees, and the shock wave would have registered at 5.0 on the Richter Scale.

          Such a blast, occurring overhead, would be capable of destroying a large metropolitan area. I suggest that, had this blast occurred 70 years later over Moscow instead of in Siberia, it would have destroyed the military command centers and triggered the blast and seismic sensors in Perimetr, and there would have been no communication remaining with Moscow.

          For interest sake, I submit a selected eyewitness report of two brothers of the Shanyagir Tribe who experienced the event, as recorded by I.M. Suslov in 1926(1):

           We had a hut by the river with my brother Chekaren. We were sleeping. Suddenly we both woke up at the same time. Somebody shoved us. We heard whistling and felt strong wind. Chekaren said, ‘Can you hear all those birds flying overhead?’ We were both in the hut, couldn’t see what was going on outside. Suddenly, I got shoved again, this time so hard I fell into the fire. I got scared. Chekaren got scared too. We started crying out for father, mother, brother, but no one answered. There was noise beyond the hut, we could hear trees falling down. Chekaren and I got out of our sleeping bags and wanted to run out, but then the thunder struck. This was the first thunder. The Earth began to move and rock, wind hit our hut and knocked it over. My body was pushed down by sticks, but my head was in the clear. Then I saw a wonder: trees were falling, the branches were on fire, it became mighty bright, how can I say this, as if there was a second sun, my eyes were hurting, I even closed them. It was like what the Russians call lightning. And immediately there was a loud thunderclap. This was the second thunder. The morning was sunny, there were no clouds, our Sun was shining brightly as usual, and suddenly there came a second one!

          Chekaren and I had some difficulty getting out from under the remains of our hut. Then we saw that above, but in a different place, there was another flash, and loud thunder came. This was the third thunder strike. Wind came again, knocked us off our feet, struck against the fallen trees.

          We looked at the fallen trees, watched the tree tops get snapped off, watched the fires. Suddenly Chekaren yelled ‘look up’ and pointed with his hand. I looked there and saw another flash, and it made another thunder. But the noise was less than before. This was the fourth strike, like normal thunder. Now I remember well there was also one more thunder strike, but it was small, and somewhere far away, where the Sun goes to sleep.”

          Researchers also noted the peasants of the village of Karelino were so stunned by the explosions they sent a deputation to the local archpriest to ask if the end of the world was beginning, and how they should prepare…


(1)  N.V. Vasiliev, et. al., Eyewitness accounts of Tunguska (Crash), 1926, Section 6, Item 4. (

 (to be continued …)



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