PAPER IS THE NEW SILICON
The Titan Missile Museum is located about 20 miles south of Tucson,
Arizona, a physical manifestation of the ultimate in Cold War high-tech
ingenuity. Last week, my father and I visited the museum, which is the
only intercontinental ballistic missile site in the country that is open
to the public. There, an unused Titan II sits on a launching platform in
its silo, preserved pretty much exactly as the rocket had stood at the
ready in silos all over the southwest from 1963 to 1986.
The facility was built in 28 months, after the Cuban missile crisis and
at a time when Sputnik, which demonstrated to the world that the Soviet
Union was probably capable of shooting nuclear-weapon-tipped rockets
into the United States, was fresh in America's memory.
This particular site was decommissioned in 1982, and the Titan program
abandoned in 1987. Today, large cement blocks prevent the silo door from
fully opening over the missile, and provide physical evidence that the
site is nonoperational, as required by international arms treaties.
The Titan program was an essential part of the United States' policy of
"peace through deterrence." Each missile was equipped with a nuclear
warhead hundreds of times more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima
and Nagasaki. Basically, the plan was to assure the Soviets that if they
fired nuclear weapons at us, we were sure as hell going to bomb them
into oblivion. Mutually assured destruction, or MAD, doesn't sound much
like "peace," but it was what we had during the Cold War. With all due
credit to Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop
Worrying and Love the Bomb, the United States and the U.S.S.R. never
attacked one another.
Revisiting the strange geopolitical logic of the Cold War is one
fascination at the museum. For MAD to work, the enemy had to be 100
percent certain that we would bomb them, even if they blew us to
smithereens first. Therefore, the Titan silos are built to operate even
when under nuclear attack.
For robustness, the underground control room is built on springs to
absorb the shock waves from a bombing campaign. There are multiple
antennas of various ranges and frequencies, to ensure that the
president's order to fire would reach the control room. The control room
has two clocks. One operates on electricity, but the other is
spring-wound. The electrical clock is the "lunch clock," the spring
clock the "launch clock." In a nuclear attack, you can't trust electricity.
All the way through the 1980s, the missile targets were programmed using
paper punch tape. When I was writing my college thesis on a Macintosh
SE, and around the time that Intel released the 80386 processor, the
United States was programming one-megaton nuclear weapons with paper
tape. As our guide, retired Army man Jim McMillan explained to our tour
group, paper can't be erased, demagnetized or easily tampered with.
In the mid-1980s, U.S. democracy depended on mechanical technology like
springs and paper rather than electromagnetic technology. The same is
In last month's Rolling Stone, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. argues that the
2004 election was stolen from the Democrats, in no small part because of
faulty voting machines. People who used electronic voting machines found
them plagued with errors. The machines had no voter-verified paper
ballot that could be recounted in the case of questions, and the paper
ballots (punch cards) that did exist were not recounted even when
questions arose and irregularities surfaced.
Regardless of your view on what happened in 2004, any voting system is
subject to tampering or failure, and electronic voting is particularly
susceptible because the data can be altered or erased without a trace.
That's why we, like the Titan missile program, need to rely on paper.
Our voting machines need to create a paper ballot that voters can check
to make sure it conforms to their choices. The ballot is then retained
at the polling place so a mechanical, not digital, recount can be
conducted if need be.
About half of the states are in the process of implementing voting paper
trails, but a piecemeal solution will not stop another Florida 2000 or
Ohio 2004. Rep. Rush Holt (D-New Jersey) has introduced legislation
(.pdf) that would ensure voter-verified paper balloting nationwide.
Some question whether the bill is strong enough, but the principle is
fundamentally sound. No matter how high tech we get, democracy still
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Jennifer Granick is executive director of the Stanford Law School Center
for Internet and Society, and teaches the Cyberlaw Clinic.
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