Hush-hush 'Doomsday' plan finally dumped as outdated

April 18, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The federal government, citing the end of the Cold War, is abandoning an 11-year-old, $8 billion project on ways to keep the government running after a nuclear attack, according to military officials familiar with the program.

The "Doomsday Project," as it is known, will officially end on Oct. 1.

The project sought to create an unbreakable chain of command for military and civilian leaders that would withstand a six-month nuclear war, which was regarded as a plausible length for a controlled conflict.

"That was the requirement: six months," says Bruce Blair, a former Strategic Air Command officer assigned to analyze nuclear war plans in the early 1980s. "And at the end we had to have a cohesive chain of command, with control over our remaining nuclear forces, that would give us leverage over the Soviets."

Like many other Cold War programs, its details remain top secret. And from accounts given anonymously by Army officers and government officials, it is clear that this secrecy itself was a major stumbling block -- in some ways as great a challenge as the technological hurdles.

A Pentagon agency, the Defense Mobilization Systems Planning Activity, was given the task of making plans to glue together a shattered government. But the planners found it impossible, even in peacetime, to coordinate the White House, the Pentagon, the CIA, the State Department and other agencies.

For the project was an amalgam of more than 20 "black programs" -- so highly classified that only a handful of military and civilian personnel knew of them.

"That raised the bureaucratic nightmare to the nth power," Mr. Blair says. "No one knew what anyone else was doing. It was hard to find out even the technical characteristics of some of the plans. You had all the difficulties of creating command-and-control networks cutting across bureaucratic lines, combined with the secrecy of black programs -- even the bureaucrats running it were handicapped."

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