Many American kids may be disappointed on Christmas morning because
the Sony PlayStation 2 they wanted wound up in Iraq.
Both the U.S. Customs Service and the FBI are investigating the
apparent transfer of large numbers of Sony PlayStation 2s to Iraq,
according to military intelligence sources.
A secret Defense Intelligence Agency report states that as many as
4,000 of the popular video game units have been purchased in the United
States and shipped to Iraq in the last two to three months.
What gives? Does Saddam Hussein have an extraordinarily long
Christmas shopping list? And why would U.S. military and intelligence
officials be concerned about such a transfer?
Two government agencies are investigating the purchases because the
PlayStations can be bundled together into a sort of crude super-computer
and used for a variety of military applications, say intelligence
“Most Americans don’t realize that each PlayStation
unit contains a CPU — every bit as powerful as
the processor found in most desktop and laptop
computers,” said one military intelligence officer who
declined to be identified. “Beyond that, the graphics
capabilities of a PlayStation are staggering — five
times more powerful than that of a typical graphics
workstation, and roughly 15 times more powerful
than the graphics cards found in most PCs.”
A single PlayStation can generate up to 75 million polygons per
second. Polygons, as noted in the DIA report, are the basic units used
to generate the surface of 3-D models — extremely useful in military
design and modeling applications.
“When I first saw this report, I was highly skeptical,” said an
intelligence source. “So, I did some checking with computer experts I
know within the Department of Defense. From what they tell me, bundling
these video game units is very feasible.”
Additionally, Sony will make the process even easier with planned
upgrades to the system. Beginning early next year, you can purchase a
plug-in, 3.5 gig hard drive for the PlayStation, along with interface
units that allow integration into the World Wide Web. If the Iraqis have
trouble developing military software for the PlayStation computer
system, they can probably find needed assistance on the Internet, say
U.S. intelligence sources.
What could Iraq do with such a primitive super-computer constructed
with Sony PlayStation 2s?
“Applications for this system are potentially frightening,” said an
intelligence source. “One expert I spoke with estimated that an
integrated bundle of 12-15 PlayStations could provide enough computer
power to control an Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV — a pilotless
Iraq has been working on development of UAVs for several years as a
possible platform for delivering chemical weapons, say intelligence
Bundled PlayStation computers could also be used to calculate
ballistic data for long-range missiles, or in the design of nuclear
weapons, they add. Iraq has long had difficulty calculating the
potential yield of nuclear devices — a critical requirement in
designing such weapons. Networking these computers might provide a
method for correcting this deficiency, said one intelligence source.
So, why doesn’t Saddam Hussein simply buy computers or workstations
from friendly nations or on the black market? While this is a
possibility, current United Nations sanctions prohibit the sale or
transfer of virtually all types of computer hardware and technology to
Iraq. However, computer-based video game systems — like the PlayStation
2 — are not included in the ban. Iraq’s scientists and engineers have
apparently found a convenient loophole in the U.N. sanctions.
Defense experts say it is also relatively easy to smuggle
PlayStations into Iraq, since customs inspectors don’t view toys as
potential military weapons. Jordanian and Turkish inspectors rarely
examine “small” shipments under 100 pounds, making it possible to send
large numbers of PlayStations into Iraq without arousing suspicion.
The Sony PlayStation 2 is one of the most popular all-in-one home
entertainment systems of its kind. At just over 4 pounds, it contains a
300 MHz-driven, 128-bit CPU. In addition to a plethora of new games
designed to utilize PlayStation 2’s hardware, it can play games from
the original PlayStation’s library, audio compact discs and DVD movies.
Not only has Saddam Hussein apparently found a creative way around
the computer embargo, he has helped to exacerbate the Sony PlayStation
2 shortage reported in many parts of the United States.
eToys.com and other e-tailers are sold out of the units and not expecting any more shipments in time for Christmas.