Russia’s minister of atomic energy, Viktor Mikhailov, created a stir in Washington last January when he revealed that his agency had bought two American-built supercomputers despite a U.S. government ruling that such high-performance machines could not be exported to Russia. Mikhailov wanted the computers for the nuclear weapons laboratory at Sarov (Arzamas-16). In February, another MINATOM official revealed that the ministry had also purchased an IBM-6000 computer through a series of European middlemen. (St. Petersburg Times, February 22-29) Now it turns out that the lab at Sarov secretly picked up 16 IBM-6000 computers instead of just one. According to a story in yesterday’s New York Times, a federal grand jury in Washington is looking at IBM’s role in this transaction, since the U.S. government had turned down its request to sell such computers to the Russian lab.
Mikhailov has accused the U.S. of reneging on an agreement made during the negotiations for a comprehensive nuclear test ban. The Russians say that the U.S. promised them high-speed computer technology so that they could verify the safety and reliability of their nuclear weapons stockpile once they stopped nuclear testing. U.S. officials deny that there was any such deal. The account published yesterday indicates that the Russians went to some lengths to disguise the ultimate destination of the 16 computers. They were built at IBM plants in Germany, flown to Amsterdam, and then transported overland to Russia — supposedly to a Russian software company. While the IBM-6000 could hardly be called a supercomputer, U.S. officials are now worried that the lab at Sarov could link them together to form one machine with enormous potential. (New York Times, October 27)
In Moscow, meanwhile, a spokesman for Russia’s Atomic Energy Ministry (MINATOM) said yesterday that the ministry has asked the U.S. to sell it some supercomputers to model nuclear explosions. Georgy Kaurov repeated the claim that such testing was provided for under the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTB), which Russia has signed but not ratified. An unnamed parliamentary source indicated that Russia might not ratify the treaty should the U.S. refuse MINATOM’s request. (Russian sources, February 24)
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