Inside the rickety, vulnerable systems that run just about every power plant
In 1982, at the height of the Cold War, a vast explosion, visible from space, lit up Siberia. NORAD and others in the U.S. defense establishment worried: was this a nuclear test, or a missile being launched from a region where nobody had suspected that missies were stored? But no: it turns out the explosion, one of the largest non-nuclear blasts ever created, came from a remote area of the new Trans-Siberian Pipeline. And according to Thomas C. Reed, a U.S. National Security Advisor at the time, it was an audacious act of sabotage by U.S. intelligence.
The operation, according to Reed, went like this: a Soviet double agent told the Americans what technology the Soviets were trying to acquire from the west to build and operate their pipeline. The CIA made sure that the software they ended up with had built-in flaws, causing the pumps and valves on the pipeline to “go haywire,” eventually causing the explosion. It was a deftly executed move, and it remained a secret until decades later. But to those in the know, it dramatically demonstrated something that had been in the realm of science fiction: that an attack implemented in software could have dramatic and damaging impact on the real, physical world.