WarGames, famous for being the cold war / hacker geek crossover movie, was released in 1983. It glamorised hacking, gave us the War Dialer (or at least popularised the idea and suggested a great name) and also introduced us to the wonderful WOPR.

Well, the WOPR spends all its time thinking about World War III. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, it plays an endless series of 'war games', using all available information on the state of the world. The WOPR has already fought World War III, as a game, time and time again. It estimates Soviet responses to our responses to their responses and so on. Estimates damage, counts the dead, then it looks for ways to improve its score...

(WarGames 0:12'+)

The WOPR (which stands for "War Operation Plan Response" and is always pronounced 'Whopper') is, some would argue, the star of the movie. As the above quote shows, it exists to serve the US DOD in simulating World War III counter-attack simulations.

Game? a.. play.. to.. like.. you.. would.

Professor Falken nicknamed the human interface to WOPR 'Joshua' after his dead son. When David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) connects to the WOPR, he uses a synthesiser to give the machine a voice. Believe it or not, the voice we here is actually provided by John Wood, who played Falken. The director (John Badham) had originally wanted to use a child's voice to reflect the fact that the WOPR program represents Falken's son, but finally settled on using Falken's own voice, cleverly recorded and processed to sound like a voice synthesiser.

Walter F. Parks: "I had John Wood read all the dialog literally backwards into the microphone ... so that he would say each word in a flat way and then we would rearrange the words ... and synthesise it and process it to give it an electronic quality..."

(WarGames DVD - Director/Writers commentary track. 0:39'+)

In real life, in the early 80s, David would probably have some kind of cheap speech synthesiser (like a for example, a Votrax[1].) Of course, that would not have the same realism; despite Badhams' efforts to the contrary, the voice remains quite expressive.


In the Director's commentary, we also learn that the WOPR was based on rumours of a real computerised battle simulator hidden deep inside Cheyenne Mountain.

Walter F. Parks: Now the WOPR here. This is a machine that's based on something that actually existed that first came to our attention through a friend of Larry, a journalist.
Lawrence Lasker: Yeah, it was Ron Rosenbaum's article, The Underground World of the Bomb, where he talked about the SIOP 'Single Integrated Operating Procedure' which was in fact a group of scenarios that were being run by a supercomputer at NORAD.

(WarGames DVD - Director/Writers commentary track. 0:13'+)

The team go on to use the word "SIOP" throughout the rest of the commentary to refer to the real-life WOPR. They even talk about the discussions during filming regarding the choice between fictitious and cheesy sounding "WOPR" and the 'real' name, SIOP.

So the WOPR really existed? To research this matter further I clearly needed to go to the source: Rosenbaum's article. It turns out that Lasker should be ashamed. The article was not called 'The Underground World of the Bomb' at all. It was called 'The Subterranean World of the Bomb' [2]. You can find it, as I did, in a collection of Rosenbaum's work entitled The Secret Parts of Fortune: Three Decades of Intense Investigations and Edgy Enthusiasms. It is a great book, with nearly 800 pages of American history broken into three sections; "The Seventies", "The Eighties" and "The Nineties and After". It is the 70s section, which also includes a classic essay on Captain Crunch and other "original hackers" and phreakers, called Secrets of the Little Blue Box, that is host to my treasure.

Part of the problem with getting to the bottom of the true story of the WOPR is the use of the same acronym by different people to mean slightly different things. As the SIOP node will tell you, 'Single Integrated Operations Plan' is the name of the war plan which described what the US military would do in different situations. Ron Rosenbaum explains this early in his essay,

SIOP, I should explain, stands for "Single Integrated Operating Plan". It is the basic nuclear war plan for all U.S. forces and details exactly which missiles and which bombers will blow up which targets in case of nuclear attack

Although Rosenbaum is obviously talking about what most people would think of as the SIOP, he says 'Operating' rather than 'Operations'. Which is right? A Navy security manual, complete with multiple choice questions to test you understood it, confirms that the official term is "Single Integrated Operational Plan" [3] Incidently, here are Google hit counts for different terms, incorporating results for the same query restricted by appending "site:.mil" to the query.

                  query                | all results |  .mil only
  "Single Integrated * Plan"           | about 2350  |  about 641 
  "Single Integrated Operational Plan" | about 1540  |  about 443 
  "Single Integrated Operations Plan"  | about  305  |  about 113 
  "Single Integrated Operation Plan"   | about  231  |  about  80 
  "Single Integrated Operating Plan"   | about   83  |  exacly  5 
(bear in mind * matches any word, so not all those hits will even conform to the acronym)

While these results indicate a popular acknowledgement of "Operational" as the correct term they also support my findings from reading around; there is a lack of consensus on exactly what SIOP stands for even within the military community. It is clear that the correct meaning of the SIOP acronym is not well remembered. Hence, perhaps, its inclusion in the security manual test.

In any case, when talking about the computer simulator, which Lawrence Lasker turned into WarGames' WOPR, Rosenbaum is careful to keep the SIOP plan distinct from the computer that simulates its execution. He does this by consistently calling it the "SIOP machine" or "SIOP computer"
The SIOP machine is a vast computer complex in a subbasement of the Underground Command Post that generates the Emergency War Orders for transmittal to each element of the SIOP attack.
It is also clear that Lasker recycled one of the best lines in the essay when writing his film...
Inside the SIOP machine are not only the secret war plans of our esoteric strategy but, in addition, a wide array of targeting options based on computerized war-gaming of possible Soviet responses to our responses to their responses.

WOPR v2.0

Ronald Reagan's infamous SDI (the Strategic Defense Initiative, or 'Star Wars') was announced in 1984, just a year after the release of WarGames. It was an ambitious and expensive project, and it clearly needed a computer simulator. The SDI Panel on Computing in Support of Battle Management submitted its report (the Eastport Study). The panel recommended "the establishment of a non-centralized National Test Bed to provide the simulation support that would be necessary to solve the problems of battle management". [4]

Sounds like a job for the WOPR? The old SIOP machine, of which Rosenbaum is so fond, just couldn't cut it in a new role in the SDI. They needed something new, something big and something expensive. A 1988 edition of the 'Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility' newsletter, written while the SDI's National Test Bed was still being planned and designed teaches us that

The NTB ... will be the world's largest simulation network, spread across the entire United States and eventually overseas as well. It is intended to model and simulate the environment in which the deployed SDI is meant to work, the kinds of threats the SDI is expected to counter, and the weapons and overall system design that will be most effective for ballistic missile defense. [5]
If the National Test Bed seems like just a new WOPR, its implementation sounds quite different from the way Rosenbaum describes the SIOP machine. Rather than being a complex hidden in an underground bunker, the National Test Bed was to be sprawling system, distributed across Colorado, Alabama, Washington, LA and New Mexico. The article lists the exact sites. It also lists some of the hardware involved, including a "a Cray 2, a Cray XMP/48, two IBM 3090 mainframes, and several parallel machines, including an experimental IBM RP3"[5]. In the 1980s, that was some cutting edge stuff. Having been disclosed in 1985, the RP3 boasted between 1 and 2 gigabytes of storage (!) and, between it's 512 processors, 800 megaflops of processing power. [6]

The maker?

A Google search for the phrase Lasker incorrectly quotes ("Single Integrated Operating Procedure") turns up 8 hits (and none from .mil). Interestingly, they are multiple instances of the same article which quotes Rev. Curt Tomlin, who claims to have created the SIOP computer in 1963. Written when Bill Clinton was still president, it suggests that Clinton was using SIOP to pick terrorist targets. It also portrays him as a "spastic individual" who is likely to attack without properly consulting his military commanders.

"With SIOP, Clinton can sit at his private computer and play war games until he finds the situation he likes best. He can literally type in various attacks around the world and the SIOP computer will tell him what will be the likely results of such an attack. With the push of a button he can turn the computer simulation he likes best into reality." [7]
The result of such an action, according to Tomlin, would be a an unpredictable retaliatory terror attack. He goes on to warn that "when you drop a very small amount of biological or chemical agents into the water supply of a large city of Dallas or Houston, my friend, we have a problem in that area". Since retiring, the Rev. Curt Tomlin has gone on to become president of the Christian Alert Network and uses the internet to voice his views about threats to your freedom.
It's important to keep in mind that the particular microchip implant we are talking about in this paper is the chip (PPID) the government wants to (and is) implanting in our children. It's also important to keep in mind the fact that this particular chip can be reprogrammed via satellite, to influence the behavior of the person into which it is implanted and this is the capability the government really does not want to publicize. [8]
The suggestion that by the mid-1990s the SIOP machine might been extended for use in analysing terrorist threats is an interesting one. Generally, however, Reverand Tomlin's particular brand of crazed paranoia makes him very difficult to revere and very easy to ignore.


World of the                                SDI                   
   Bomb                                   launched                     
   1978                                     1984                    


  1. Votrax SC-01 Data Sheet - http://www.franweb.com/electronics/votrax.htm
  2. Ron Rosenbaum, The Subterranean World of the Bomb Harper's, March 1978, pp. 85-105 (or see the collection: The Secret Parts of Fortune, HarperCollins, 2000)
  3. Department of the Navy Personnel Security Program Regulation, Chapter 6-9.1.c http://www.cpf.navy.mil/yntrain/YN_DATA/SECURITY_MANUAL/551030A/Chap6/6-9/text.html
  4. Missile Defense Agency, Missile Defense Milestones http://www.acq.osd.mil/bmdo/bmdolink/html/milstone.html
  5. Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility newsletter, The SDI's National Test Bed, An Appraisal http://www.cpsr.org/publications/newsletters/old/1980s/Spring1988.txt
  6. Abstracts of Computer Architecture Papers, The Research Parallel Processor Prototype (RP3): Introduction and Architecture http://www.research.ibm.com/compsci/arch/abs.html
  7. WorldNetDaily, Clinton's Secret War Games www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=16726
  8. http://www.angelfire.com/la/kaylee/trans.html (also http://www.christianparents.com/unplan01.html)

Background reading

  • Missile Defense Agency, Statement of Lieutenant General Malcolm R. O'Neill, USA, Director, Ballistic Missile Defense Organization before the Committee on National Security, House of Representatives, April 4, 1995 http://www.acq.osd.mil/bmdo/bmdolink/html/oneilltest.html

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