UK Intelligence dismisses PS2 missile fears

Is it more likely that 4,000 PS2s have been imported as gifts for Iraqi children than for military hardware?

UK intelligence sources dismissed on Tuesday suggestions that Iraq intends to build military hardware out of PlayStation2 games consoles.

Iraq has imported around 4,000 of Sony PlayStation2 (PS2) consoles, and may be planning to construct military weapons by linking 12 or 15 consoles together, according to Internet news site World Net Daily. American military and intelligence organisations are reportedly concerned that Iraq is circumventing UN sanctions which prohibit the supply of computers to Iraq.

They are reportedly worried that that a supercomputer made from linking PS2s could be used to control a chemical missile. Sources in UK intelligence said the reports were "nonsense". World Net Daily claims that both the FBI and the US Customs Service are investigating the transfer of thousands of consoles to Iraq.

According to a secret Defence Intelligence Agency report, 4,000 PS2s had been bought in the US and shipped to Iraq in the last few months. Some US military experts believe that several PS2s could be linked together to form a "supercomputer", which could control a missile or an unmanned aircraft. They fear that the console, which contains a 128-bit CPU, could provide the power for Iraq to launch chemical weapons at its enemies.

A source close to Government Intelligence services in the UK said: "This is complete cobblers. For a start, the suggestion that there's a shortage of standard PC hardware in Iraq is silly. PCs are commodities like cars and washing machines, and they can get as many PIII and P4 PCs as they like, sanctions or no sanctions".

It's also very unlikely that bundling any number of PS2s together would actually work, as it would be extremely complicated to have a number of processors accessing shared memory and splitting up the computation. The complex software required would take years to develop.

Sony refused to say whether it was possible to link PS2s together to form a supercomputer, explaining that it did not comment on speculative stories. The company recently faced criticism for reducing the number of PS2s in the first shipment sent to the UK to 165,000, down from an initial figure of 200,000.

In Japan, where the console was first launched in April 2000, the PS2 was classified as a military weapon and subject to strict export control. However, there were suggestions that this was to Sony's advantage as it increased demand in parts of the world where the PS2 had not yet been launched.

Guy Kewney contributed to this report


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