Ronald Reagan’s Viewing of 80’s Movie Classic ‘Wargames’ Set Basis for NSA Spying

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WarGames is an ’80s classic and, for most of us, our first introduction to the world of computer hacking. The movie stars  Matthew Broderick,Dabney Coleman, John Wood, and Ally Sheedy. It was released in 1983 written by Screenshot 2016-02-22 at 9.37.02 PMLawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes and directed by John BadhamMatthew Broderick plays a young hacker who thinks he’s found the raddest war simulation game ever, but instead he is, in fact, talking to a NORAD supercomputer that controls nuke missile launchers. Broderick’s character, David, nearly starts World War III with his meddling. The film was success at the box office, costing a measly $12 million to make, and grossing $79,567,667 after five months in the US and Canada. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards.

Believe it or not, it actually played a part in changing how the government approaches, identifies and attends to cyber security.

When Ronald Reagan saw it in a Joint Chiefs meeting, he asked chairman John Vessey to investigate whether it was Hollywood magic, or if American military systems could really be compromised by an industrious kid or a Soviet initiative. Vessey relayed his findings to President Reagan a week later: Not only was it possible, it was, in fact, becoming increasingly probable.

Part of the reason Vessey knew this was, of course, because the United States was actively breaching the computer systems of the Soviet Union and other countries to gather intelligence, and there were very public instances of hackers cracking passwords and invading systems in the United States. And WarGames reflected the concerns of a group of computer scientists and intelligence officials whose job it was to worry about security, including, possibly most importantly, Willis Ware.

Despite the respect Ware deserves for his role in pioneering computer security, he couldn’t get anyone to take his looming concerns seriously. That is, until Reagan saw the movie. It was Reagan who decided that the NSA should be responsible for securing American computer systems, a decision that Congress acted against because it specifically violated NSA mandate. Of course, this didn’t stop the NSA from spying, laying the groundwork for programs Edward Snowden would reveal and setting the stage for a larger argument between security and privacy. So, if you’ve ever wondered why the NSA is collecting your nude selfies, you’ve got Matthew Broderick and Ronald Reagan to thank.

Here is a clip from the famous 80’s hacker movie that gave so many young techies hope for the future!