Local computer firm gets a jump on Soviet news Workers watch coup via electronic mail THE SOVIET CRISIS

August 22, 1991|By Leslie Cauley

While the eyes of the world stayed glued to television sets and newspapers to keep up with unfolding events in the Soviet Union over the past 48 hours, employees at a local computer firm only had to turn to their computer screens for updates.

Using electronic mail, or "E-mail" -- the computer equivalent of sending letters back and forth -- representatives of Intelligent Resources International Inc. said that they were able to maintain nearly constant communication with Soviet citizens for updates on events as they happened half a world away.

"We were in communication constantly," said Vincent Licoppe of IRI, a Baltimore-based computer company that does business in the Soviet Union. "We were receiving messages minute to minute."

Julia Stalfort, an IRI spokeswoman, said that the company's partners in Leningrad remained on-line with the Baltimore company almost constantly throughout the coup attempt, providing minute-to-minute updates.

According to Ms. Stalfort, news of the fighting near Boris N. Yeltsin's Moscow stronghold, dubbed the "White House," reached IRI within 30 minutes after it began.

An example of one communication, breathless in tone and sometimes inaccurate:

"For you to know the truth -- I'm sure they don't check. 2 tanks of troops burn, troops broke the 1 line of the defence. 1 armoured car burning, 2 civil people killed, 80 tanks attacked. Inside WH [the White House] shooting, 3 killed, no light inside, Moscow city council captured by troops, 10 wounded. No phone connection with WH. . . . New detachments arrive to Moscow. They change troops. There are some killed & wounded. WH without lights. NTC Prepaired for defence. Last chance. Troops shooted for 5 minutes, 2 killed. . . . I'll continue later. Bye."

While some of the information in the bulletins proved to be incorrect, they offered IRI employees first-hand impressions of the events as they unfolded.

Electronic bulletins were sent by IRI contacts in Leningrad, Moscowand the Crimea, where Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev was being held, said Mr. Licoppe, a summer intern from Belgium.

Mr. Licoppe said that IRI contacts included business representatives across the Soviet Union and a university professor.

As events reached a new flash point Tuesday, Mr. Licoppe said that IRI employees stayed tuned to their computer screens until long past midnight. Employees started to drift home as it became apparent the tide was turning against the masterminds of the coup.

Confirmation of the turnaround reached IRI yesterday with this electronic communique: "Gorby is free at Foros, Crimea. No guard. . . . He is OK."

Ms. Stalfort said that E-mail messages over the past two days have been intermingled with business reports, giving IRI an early tips on the fate of some existing business deals. She said that one communication relayed what world markets later found out: that hard currency accounts had been frozen. Another suggested the interruption to business deals would be short-lived, a week at most.

"Our last communication said business will be back to normal in two days," Ms. Stalfort said.

Yesterday, with Mr. Gorbachev restored to power and the immediate crisis past, IRI said that it was continuing to monitor its stack of E-mail -- and looking to the future for other Soviet business deals.

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