Faulty US software was to blame for one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions the world has ever seen, which took place in a Siberian natural gas pipeline, according to a new book published on Monday.
At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War, written by Thomas C. Reed, a former Air Force secretary who served in the US National Security Council during the Reagan administration, documents how software and other technology was deliberately created with flaws as part of US attempts to undermine the Soviet economy.
In his book, Reed says the pipeline explosion was just one example of "cold-eyed economic warfare" against the Soviet Union at a time when the US was trying to block Western Europe from importing Soviet natural gas. The CIA slipped the flawed software to the Soviets in a way they would not detect it, according to Reed.
The book is likely to add fuel to the debate over open-source software, which many governments are examining with increasing interest. The Chinese government is one such, with Red Flag Linux gaining increasing traction in China, and proprietary software companies such as Microsoft scrambling to reassure them that the closed-source model does not pose risks.
"In order to disrupt the Soviet gas supply, its hard currency earnings from the West, and the internal Russian economy, the pipeline software that was to run the pumps, turbines, and valves was programmed to go haywire, after a decent interval, to reset pump speeds and valve settings to produce pressures far beyond those acceptable to pipeline joints and welds," Reed wrote. "The result was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space."
"While there were no physical casualties from the pipeline explosion, there was significant damage to the Soviet economy. Its ultimate bankruptcy, not a bloody battle or nuclear exchange, is what brought the Cold War to an end. In time the Soviets came to understand that they had been stealing bogus technology, but now what were they to do? By implication, every cell of the Soviet leviathan might be infected. They had no way of knowing which equipment was sound, which was bogus. All was suspect, which was the intended endgame for the operation."
The faulty software was slipped to the Russians after an agent recruited by the French and dubbed "Farewell" provided a shopping list of Soviet priorities, which focused on stealing Western technology.
Exactly one year ago, China officials announced that the country had signed a pact with Microsoft that would give them access to the highly protected Windows operating system source code. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates hinted at the time that China would be privy to all, not just part, of the source code its government wished to inspect.
The Chinese government and military have previously stated their preference for the rival Linux operating system because its source code is made publicly available.
Source code makes it easier to understand the inner workings of an operating system, and without access to the code, governments like China fear that back doors may be installed to leak out sensitive information.
China is also said to be readying its own 64-bit server chip, as part of an effort to control more of the intellectual property that the country uses.