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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pentagon Admits Flaw in Y2K Testing




WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Defense Department has admitted it erred in its approach to testing a Y2K correction for one of its key intelligence-processing computers prior to New Year's Eve.


The computer system broke down that night, interrupting the flow of spy satellite data for several hours.


Defense Department spokesman Kenneth Bacon said last week the Pentagon would have had to shut down temporarily the intelligence computer system in order to make an "end-to-end" test of its Y2K fix. Instead, the decision was to test the fix piecemeal, allowing the system to keep running, he said.


"They tested it in sections, and it turned out that it was a mistake because the sections didn't fit together - the sections of the fix," Bacon said.


He said this was the only significant Y2K breakdown among the several thousand Pentagon computer systems, which were fixed at a cost of $3.6 billion.


The computer system with the glitch is operated by the Pentagon's highly secretive National Reconnaissance Office.


Although Bacon said some aspects of the problem could not be discussed publicly because of the sensitivity of U.S. spy-satellite operations, the Chicago Tribune reported Thursday that the computer system that broke down was at a satellite ground station south of Washington. The newspaper reported that the satellite signals were redirected to a receiving station in New Mexico.


The Tribune also reported that U.S. photo reconnaissance satellites were all but blinded by the Y2K breakdown for nearly three days.


Bacon denied this. He said the outage lasted only a few hours before a backup system was in place. The backup gave the Pentagon only 50 percent of its normal capacity initially, but that rose to about 90 percent by the time the regular system was fully fixed late Jan. 2, he said.


"We lost a little corner of part of our total intelligence take for several hours. That's what happened," Bacon said.


The Tribune's Washington bureau chief, James Warren, said in response to Bacon's comments: "We understand that ultimately there can be honest debate about how serious this problem was, but we unequivocally stand behind what multiple sources told us."


Other Pentagon officials previously acknowledged that a portion of the satellite imagery was lost due to the computer breakdown, and they have insisted that this did not jeopardize national security.