Trapdoor

Bernard J. O'Keefe, Editor Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $17.95 (324p) ISBN 978-0-395-48353-4
The author of two nonfiction books about the threat of nuclear annihilation, Nuclear Hostages and Shooting Ourselves in the Foot , proves here that he can write a suspenseful techno-thriller, although he has not yet mastered the art of characterization. While elements of the plot may sound familiarterrorists steal an atomic weapon with which they blackmail the superpowersO'Keefe has thought up a new wrinkle: instead of threatening to blow up the world by firing the device and thus triggering a U.S.-U.S.S.R. armageddon, the terrorists threaten to induce disaster through a non-event. In a fit of security over-kill, the U.S. has equipped its 25,000 nuclear devices with so-called ``permissive action links,'' designed to forestall their accidental firing unless the president transmits a special coded signal based on ``trapdoor function'' cryptography. The ``trapdoors,'' however, have proven too complex for the real security of the US fail-safe system. June Malik, a Lebanese-American computer programmer sympathetic to the PLO, has inserted a ``virus'' into the U.S. warhead software, which on a certain date will make all our nuclear armaments inoperative. Israel's enemies threaten to tip off the Soviets that we've become a toothless tiger unless we agree to force the Israelis to abandon the West Bank. But the Soviets are already aware of the situation, and disaster looms. In an afterword, O'Keefe says he wrote this book to warn the U.S. against vulnerable computer-driven defense systems. Though his message outweighs his writing abilities, O'Keefe's sense of urgency comes through loud and clear. (September)
Reviewed on: 10/01/1988
Release date: 10/01/1988
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