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. 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 sources.
"Most Americans don't realize that each PlayStation unit contains a 32-bit 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."
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 aircraft." Iraq has been working on development of UAVs for several years as a possible platform for delivering chemical weapons, say intelligence experts.
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.
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.