Quotable

"The moral cost of nuclear armament is that it makes of all of us underwriters of the slaughter of hundreds of millions of people and of the cancellation of future generations." -Jonathan Schell


Friday, May 29, 2009

Free Vanunu!!!

Friends,

On April 21, 2009, restrictions on Israeli nuclear whistle blower, Mordechai Vanunu, preventing him from leaving Israel and speaking to non-Israelis expired. And yet the Israeli government still will not allow Vanunu his freedom. Mordechai Vanunu has spent over a quarter of his life in prison for exposing Israel's violation of international [nuclear] arms control agreements.

Mordechai Vanunu was a technician in Israel's Negev Nuclear Research Center, south of Dimona, where Israel manufactures its nuclear weapons. Israel neither acknowledges nor denies that it posesses nuclear weapons. Vanunu was laid off in 1985, and in 1986 went to London and, as an act of conscience, revealed his knowledge (with photographs) of Israel's nuclear weapons activities to The Sunday Times of London (he was not paid for the information he provided to The Times).
After being lured to Italy - the Israelis had an agreement not to conduct operations in Britain - by an American Mossad agent who had begun an affair with him, Vanunu was drugged, abducted and taken back to Israel by Mossad agents. Shortly after his abduction, on October 5, The Times ran the article based on the information provided by Vanunu, and in it estimated Israel's nuclear arsenal to contain at least 100 warheads (and as many as 200). In a secret trial Vanunu was charged with treason and espionage, and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Even after his release in 2004, Vanunu has been hounded by the Israeli government, has had severe restrictions placed on his travel and contacts, and has been arrested multiple times. Finally, on April 21, 2009, the travel and contact restrictions were to expire. The date passed quietly and nothing has changed. Why will the Israelis not set Vanunu free??? What have they to fear? Mordecahi Vanunu showed great courage in bringing to the world the truth about Israel's nuclear arsenal. Do the Israelis fear truth?

We can advocate for Mordechai Vanunu. Check out The U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu (ended in 2005, but still full of good information). In the U.S. you can contact President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton and ask them to press the Israeli government to release Vanunu without conditions.

Here is a poem written by Vanunu during his 11 years of solitary confinement in Ashkelon Prison.

'I AM YOUR SPY' - Ashkelon Prison, 1987

I am the clerk, the technician,
the mechanic, the driver.
They said, Do this, do that,
don't look left or right,
don't read the text.
Don't look at the whole machine.
You are only responsible for this one bolt.
For this one rubber-stamp.
This is your only concern.
Don't bother with what is above you.
Don't try to think for us. Go on, drive.
Keep going. On, on.

So they thought, the big ones, the smart ones,
the futurologists.
There is nothing to fear.
Not to worry.
Everything's ticking just fine.
Our little clerk is a diligent worker.
He's a simple mechanic.
He's a little man.
Little men's ears don't hear, their eyes don't see.
We have heads, they don't.

Answer them, said he to himself,
said the little man, the man with a head of his own.
Who is in charge?
Who knows where this train is going?
Where is their head? I too have a head.
Why do I see the whole engine,
Why do I see the precipice-- is there a driver on this train?

The clerk driver technician mechanic looked up.
He stepped back and saw -- what a monster.
Can't believe it.
Rubbed his eyes and -- yes, it's there all right.
I'm all right. I do see the monster.
I'm part of the system.
I signed this form.
Only now I am reading the rest of it.

This bolt is part of a bomb.
This bolt is me.
How did I fail to see,
and how do the others go on fitting bolts.
Who else knows?
Who has seen?
Who has heard? -- The emperor really is naked.
I see him.
Why me?
It's not for me.
It's too big.

Rise and cry out.
Rise and tell the people.
You can.
I, the bolt, the technician, mechanic? -- Yes, you.
You are the secret agent of the people.
You are the eyes of the nation.
Agent-spy, tell us what you've seen.
Tell us what the insiders, the clever ones,
have hidden from us.
Without you, there is only the precipice.
Only catastrophe.

I have no choice.
I'm a little man, a citizen, one of the people,
but I'll do what I have to.
I've heard the voice of my conscience
and there's nowhere to hide.
The world is small, small for Big Brother.
I'm on your mission.
I'm doing my duty.
Take it from me.

Come and see for yourselves.
Lighten my burden.
Stop the train.
Get off the train.
The next stop -- nuclear disaster.
The next book, the next machine.
No. There is no such thing.

Peace,

Leonard

Mordecai Vanunu's Web site: http://www.vanunu.com

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

North Korea Goes Nuclear! Let's Not!

Friends,

Right now from D.C. to Seoul, politicians and diplomats are scurrying about trying to figure out how to react to North Korea's most recent nuclear antics. And that is the problem - REACTION. This just another shot across the bow by the North Koreans, flexing their (still forming) nuclear muscles. I will leave the technical analysis for the experts (see The Bulletin below), but it is safe to say that much of the the world is (over)reacting .

U.S. President Obama made a brief statement on the day of the test that was a succinct and measured response. We can only hope that President Obama will not employ the sketchy rhetoric of his predecessor. He is, however, under tremendous pressure to show "strength"; no matter what he says, the North Koreans will be unimpressed at best.

The most important thing that President Obama can do right now is to continue focusing serious attention on a number of issues, among them:

  • Keeping the momentum on the recent START negotiations, ensuring ratification.
  • Ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
  • Re-energizing the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (but never hiring anyone remotely resembling the likes of Paul Wolfowitz again!)
  • De-alerting all nuclear weapons (unilaterally), and challenging President Medvedev to do the same.
  • Pursue U.S. support for the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty
  • Demonstrate that the U.S. is serious about creating a truly binding Treaty On The Non-Proliferation Of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) with time frames

The best thing that everyone can do at the moment is to take a deep breath, and then get back to work on current efforts at disarmament and non-proliferation.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the people who brought you that icon of the Nuclear Age, the DOOMSDAY CLOCK, have put together a special Web edition all about the most recent North Korean nuclear test. CLICK HERE to read it and find out everything you want to know (and a few things you might not, but need to). As one of the articles in The Bulletin notes, "some analysts will use Pyongyang's nuclear test to question the feasibility of a nuclear-weapon-free world. But they're missing the point--a world full of nuclear weapons hasn't deterred North Korea either." Ain't that the truth!

I also recommend David Krieger's article, North Korea's Bomb Test Message, in which reminds us that, "North Korea’s nuclear testing is a manifestation of a deeper problem in the international system, that of continuing to have a small group of countries possess and implicitly threaten the use of nuclear weapons for deterrence or any other reason."

This is not the time to let Pyongyang throw disarmament efforts off track; everyone needs to stay focused.

Peace,

Leonard

Cartoon Credit: The political cartoon portraying the nuclear powers (and the former U.S. president) so appropriately is by Steve Bell of the Guardian, C2008, source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/cartoons/stevebell/0,,1891803,00.html

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Droning On, And On, And On...

Friends,

Let's face it; drones (or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles as the Pentagon likes to call them) are the hottest thing to hit the skies since the U.S. Army first showed interest in the Wright Brothers. With their popularity so high with just about everyone in the U.S. military (and, it seems, The White House) perhaps the Pentagon will just sack the F-22 and F-35 and order more drones. They're a whole lot cheaper, they stay in the air a whole lot longer, and pilots don't run the risk of getting shot down.

And now, the "investigative" television newsmagazine, CBS 60 Minutes has produced a cheerleading segment on drones (you can watch the entire segment below) that might as well have been produced by the public relations crew at the Defense Department. Watching the segment gave me the distinct impression that the Pentagon is trying to put the happy face on the Reaper and Predator, which have been doing both recently as they have taken out way more civilians than "terrorists" (depending on whose news you believe).

In Pakistan, where the CIA has been droning away, the "collateral damage" (according to the Pakistani government) may be as high as 50 civilians for every militant killed by a drone strike. All that for roughly "14 terrorist leaders in three years?" Do the math; it's not looking good. And if you don't believe the numbers claimed by the Pakistanis, the Times/UK quoted David Kilcullen, Condoleezza Rice's former chief counter-terrorism advisor saying that the use of drones should be stopped. "Since 2006 we've killed 14 senior al-Qaeda leaders using drone strikes; in the same time period we've killed 700 Pakistani civilians in the same area. The drone strikes are highly unpopular." he said. "The current path that we are on is leading us to the loss of Pakistani Government control over its own population."

Whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan, the drones are not making many (or is that "any") allies. I don't think one can underestimate the number of enemies we create for every innocent human being killed in a drone attack, what the military refers to as collateral damage. Of course, listening to the 60 Minutes story is enough to make one think that the U.S. couldn't possibly make mistakes. While showing the reporter how they killed an enemy sniper using a drone, the pilot was asked, "What if you get it wrong? " "We don't," he replied.



With drones flying in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and pilots flying them from places like Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, the signals going back and forth are relayed by military satellites. So much for keeping space for peace, eh? Yes, the U.S. is waging war from space in a very real sense, and this is a primary reason for the U.S. military to be working so hard to maintain dominance in space.

Of course, drones are merely bit players in the arms race in space (yes, even though the weapon itself is not in space, space is an integral part of the weapons system), but represent the hubris of a nation that wants to dominate not only the land, sea and air, but also the final (or at least next) frontier - SPACE. Check out the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space where you can learn more about this issue and how you can get involved in the International Week of Protest to Stop the Militarization of Space, October 3–10, 2009. Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network also writes a worthy blog called Organizing Notes in which he offers (to quote Bruce) "his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire."

Keep Space for Peace,

Leonard


References and Resources:
CBS News, 60 Minutes, Drones: America's New Air Force, May 10. 2009
The New York Times, Death From Above, Outrage From Below, Op-Ed, May 16, 2009
Times Online (UK), Concern mounts over US Predator covert killings, May 23, 2009
Website: Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space
Bruce Gagnon's Organizing Notes Blog post on CBS's propaganda piece on UAV's

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The $60 Million Terrorist

Dear Friends,

"The U.S. Navy in August plans to conduct a flight test of Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile technologies modified for conventional strike operations..." Does this news ring any bells? Back in the bad old days of the Bush administration, someone came up with the wacky idea to outfit Trident D-5 missiles with conventional warheads in order to quickly take out long distance targets virtually anywhere in the world on short notice. Just what is a "long distance target", and what are these folks up to???

It's your Global War on Terror combined with Prompt Global Strike. Here is the one minute tutorial. Good guys patrol the seas in Trident nuclear subs loaded with Trident D-5 missiles, at least some (or all) of them armed with conventional (rather than nuclear) warheads. Intelligence report shows leader of bad guys in ultra-remote camp deep in the Hindu-Kush Mountains (Afghanistan). With not a moment to lose, coordinates sent to Trident sub commander with instructions to take out target. Conventionally armed Trident missile (or missiles) fired, and within minutes, hits target. Oops! Missed the bad guy's leader; he went out to lunch. That's okay; Lockheed Martin will gladly build replacements.
Good Trident test launch

This scenario is essentially what the Pentagon would like to be able to do with our Trident submarines. After all, they are out on patrol for months at a time, and never get to do just what these submarines were designed for - launching missiles! Besides breaking the boredom of long patrols, this is a missile maker's (Lockheed Martin's) dream almost come true! It's the ultimate expendable item. Just think; it's the $60 million terrorist! That's the cost of one Trident D-5 missile, and that's not counting all the other costs of operating a Trident submarine. This prospect must have the execs. at Lockheed Martin absolutely salivating.

But let's back up a minute. Why is the U.S. Navy planning to conduct tests of conventionally armed Tridents when the Congress explicitly warned the Defense Department in 2008 not to develop such weapons, and even cancelled proposed funding for this project in the 2009 budget. Why did Congress go ballistic over conventionally armed Tridents? They had the good sense to realize that any Trident missile launched from a submarine (even with conventional warheads) could be mistaken (by Moscow) for a nuclear armed missile, launching a nuclear war.


Not-so-good Trident test launch

No worries; the pentagon had it covered. They would notify the Russians, Chinese, and anyone else (ahead of time) who might get a bit jumpy about Tridents popping out of the water. Of course, the whole idea is to launch as soon as intelligence is confirmed. What if they got a busy signal? Then there is a historical precedent. In 2005 a rocket launch from Norway almost caused World War III. It seems that although someone in Russia was notified about the launch ahead of time, that person didn't pass the message along to the people who needed to know (sounds like the situation at my house), creating a few tense minutes until someone figured out that it was not a nuclear attack.

As for the Navy planning the August test despite Congress' explicit opposition, it seems that they never stopped working on this project, and have used every loophole and interpretation in the book to keep this idea alive. As for the Defense Department culture that perpetuates such stealth planning, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition John Young summed things up back in 2008 when he expressed concerns about Bush administration plans for "prompt global strike" weapons.

Though Congress has attempted to kill the so-called Conventional Trident Modification program, Young said he would never consider any initiative truly "dead" because industry or service advocates would continue to push for them. "My experience in the Pentagon is ideas never die, they just get new labels or different things like that," he said. "To the extent that there's an advocacy that has a voice, that voice will find its way as far as it can. So I wouldn't tell you it's dead." (Global Security Newswire, Nov. 26, 2008)

What Young was describing is the extraordinary power of the Military Industrial Complex. This story is a perfect example of the Pentagon thumbing its nose at the Congress; this is just one of countless examples of ideas that the Pentagon will not let die. Beyond the phenomenal waste of taxpayer dollars that such a program would squander, one must wonder how people who are supposedly well versed in military strategy would consider an idea whose risk so greatly outweighs any possible benefits. Could they think of a more expensive (or risky) way to kill a suspected terrorist??? We simply cannot trust these people.

Consider dropping a line (via email) to everyone in your Congressional delegation and ask them what they think of the Pentagon's behavior, and what they plan to do about it.

Here's to the Pentagon's (and Lockheed Martin's) $60 Million Terrorist!

Peace,

Leonard

References and Further Reading:
U.S. Navy Plans August Test for Conventional Trident-Related Technology, Global Security Newswire, May 21, 2009.
Senior U.S. Official Doubts Conventional Global Strike Value, Global Security Newswire, Nov. 26, 2008.
Navy Eyes New Weapon for Global Strike, Missile Defense, Global Security Newswire, July 17, 2008.
Conventional TRIDENT Modification, GlobalSecurity.org

Monday, May 18, 2009

Raging Grannies at GZ - The Video

Friends,

You've seen the photos (in my last post); now you can see Raging Grannies - The Video, a YouTube video by Todd Boyle. It's the next best thing to being there; much better than a reality show.

The video includes part of retired CIA officer Ray McGovern's speech to the Veterans For Peace 2006 convention. Check it out!

Peace,

Leonard


Monday, May 11, 2009

Raging Grannies Honor Mothers!

Friends,

It was a beautiful, sunny day as members and supporters of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action gathered on Mother's Day weekend to honor mothers and create hope for the children by working together to abolish nuclear weapons.

Members of the Seattle Raging Grannies entered the crosswalk at NW Trigger Avenue & Old Frontier Rd NW, blocking the entrance to Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Washington on Saturday. Using walkers and canes, and carrying signs calling for an end to nuclear weapons, they were arrested by Kitsap County Sherriff’s officers. Another group subsequently entered the roadway closer to the base entrance holding a banner reading, “Abolish Nuclear Weapons”, and was also arrested. All were charged with “attempted disorderly conduct”. Based on my observations, it seemed to be much more than a mere attempt, and was definitely very orderly. These charges won't stick!

Supporters lined NW Trigger Ave holding a variety of signs and banners calling for an end to nuclear weapons. Members of Women in Black held signs saying, “We Stand for Peace”. The approximately 50 participants were honoring the intent of Julia Ward Howe’s 1870 Mother’s Day Proclamation, a passionate call for disarmament and peace; the theme of GZ’s action was “Mom Says, Use Words Not Weapons. Abolish Trident."

Moving the cursor over the image below allows you to control the slideshow. Double click to watch the full screen version.



The ten people arrested were Shirley Morrison, 86, of Seattle WA, Joy Goldstein, 73, of Vashon WA, Susan Kay, 63, of Seattle WA, Laurie Rostholder, 64, Seattle WA, Anne Hall, 63, of Seattle WA, Rosy Betz-Zall, 58, of Seattle WA, Jackie Hudson, 74, of Bremerton WA, Jessica Arteaga, 23, of Tacoma WA, Larry Kerschner, 62, Centralia WA, and Denny Moore, 64, of Bainbridge WA.

On the Clear Creek Rd NW overcrossing (at NW Trigger Ave) a group of Ground Zero Supporters held a banner: "Mom says, Use words, not weapons. Abolish Trident". Even after the demise of the evil Shrub empire, the U.S. is still relying far too much on weapons and not enough on words (Can you say DIPLOMACY?). President Obama IS trying to move more towards diplomacy, but will need to feel the heat to continue moving in that direction. After all, it was WORDS between Kennedy and Kruschev that prevented a nuclear holocaust during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor is home to the U.S. Navy's West Coast Trident nuclear submarine fleet. "The warheads assigned to the ballistic missile submarines stationed at Bangor and at Kings Bay, Ga., now constitute more than half of the U.S. strategic weapons force" (source: Seattle Times). Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action is committed to nonviolent resistance to Trident and the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

Ground Zero’s next scheduled event will be August 8th -10th, commemorating the anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hope to see you there!

Peace,

Leonard

P.S. - You can read the latest (April 2009) newsletter from Ground Zero by clicking here.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Out of the FOGBANK

Friends,

Here is an article I wrote for Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action's April 2009 newsletter, Volume 14, Issue 2. Check out the entire April newsletter by clicking here.

Peace,
.
Leonard

***************

Out of the Fog (Bank): How the Pentagon Temporarily Forgot How to Make Trident Warheads

Over the past year, we’ve heard about nuclear tipped Cruise missiles mistakenly loaded and flown across the U.S. on a B52 bomber, nuclear missile fuses mistakenly shipped to Taiwan (they thought they were sending helicopter batteries, and found out their error 18 months later), 80 computers unaccounted for at Los Alamos National Laboratory (13 stolen and 6 missing). Where will it all end?

Now we have a new bit of news - plans gone missing! Have you ever forgotten where something was, and no matter how much you looked or thought about it, you just couldn't figure out where you had left it? Or perhaps when you were in college you scribbled down lots of notes in a really important class, and then tried to refer to them to write a term paper and couldn’t figure out what any of it meant? Well, something like one (or both) of these scenarios played out at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). According to a U.S. Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) report, the NNSA "lost knowledge" of how to manufacture a rather obscure and "very hazardous material, codenamed Fogbank" (1).

It would seem that the NNSA was in the fog about the plans (or formula) for Fogbank, and this set the "joint American-British plans to upgrade the Trident nuclear weapons" back by a year and cost taxpayers an additional $69 million. What is really amazing is that (according to the GAO report) the NNSA "kept few records of the process when the material was made in the 1980s", and most of the people involved are now gone. So much for scientific method or good recordkeeping, eh? Perhaps an obsessive concern over information security got the better of them. (Remember the government’s spy obsession that culminated in the prosecution – or was it persecution - of Wen Ho Lee in the late 1990s?)

Back to Fogbank in a moment. For now, consider that the U.S. government has a program, the W76 Life Extension Program, to refurbish certain nuclear weapons, including the W76 warhead that tops off many of the Trident nuclear missiles. The refurbishing process is not unlike that which is used to refurbish a used computer or household appliance, except that is a nuclear weapon with a 100 kiloton yield. Replacement parts are designed at one of the nation’s three nuclear weapons design laboratories. Warheads are shipped to one of the production plants where they are disassembled, upgraded with new nuclear and non-nuclear parts, and re-assembled. Refurbished warheads are shipped (in the case of the W76) to the Navy, ready for deployment.

No one (outside of anyone with a really, really high security clearance) probably knows exactly what Fogbank is, but there is some pretty sound speculation out there. Modern nuclear weapons are much more sophisticated, and much smaller, than the aptly named “Fat Man” bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. Weapons designers have done their best to design warheads that are light in weight, relatively small (to fit as many as possible onto a missile), and pack a major wallop when detonated.

A modern thermonuclear warhead is composed of essentially two separate bombs, a primary and a secondary. The primary, a fission bomb, has a core (or “pit” of plutonium 239 surrounded by explosives, which, when detonated, compress the plutonium, causing a fission explosion (that is boosted by Tritium). Massive amounts of x-rays generated by the primary fission explosion compress and heat the secondary (a fusion device) composed of Uranium 235 and Lithium Deuteride (the fusion fuel), causing both fission and fusion reactions. The proverbial icing on the cake is the layer of enriched uranium surrounding the secondary, causing a third blast.

Of course, you can’t just throw a primary and a secondary together and hope everything will work. Those x-rays have to be focused or modulated in order to create the desired effect on the secondary. This is (most likely) where Fogbank comes in. It is probably the material that makes up the interstage, the material that separates (and surrounds) the primary and secondary and, during detonation, “shapes” the flow of x-rays to compress and heat the secondary.

Fogbank is what some have referred to as an aerogel. “Aerogels are extremely low-density materials that feel like polystyrene and look like smoke or fog” (2). They have many desirable properties for a nuclear warhead, including high strength and low weight, and excellent heat insulation. Fogbank is also a material that presents some serious occupational safety and health hazards (3). The GAO report referred to “disagreements on the implementation of safety guidelines” between NNSA and the contractor, one of the issues that caused the delay and extra cost.

The GAO report found many problems with the Stockpile Life Extension Program, but this broad statement in the “Conclusions” section stood out; “All of these management issues raise significant questions about NNSA’s ability not only to complete life extension programs on time and on budget that meet all refurbishment objectives, but also its ability to manage the design and production of new weapons, such as the proposed reliable replacement warhead.” That doesn’t exactly give me great confidence in these stewards of our nuclear weapons.

Alas, for the time being it looks like the Navy will have to make do with those decrepit W76 warheads currently deployed as they anxiously await delivery of refurbished warheads. They only just took delivery of the first (overdue) refurbished warhead, which is, according to NNSA’s principal deputy administrator, “another great example of the unsurpassed expertise throughout NNSA’s national security enterprise” (4). If this is an example of “unsurpassed expertise”, I can only imagine what any effort to build the Reliable Replacement Warhead would have looked like. Perhaps the NNSA is living in a fogbank.

As for the GAO, “The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. Often called the "congressional watchdog," GAO investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars” (from the GAO Website). And if the GAO report referenced here is any indicator of their work, it is taxpayer dollars very well spent. Encore GAO!

Author’s Notes and References:
(1) Nuclear Weapons: NNSA and DOD Need to More Effectively Manage the Stockpile Life Extension Program, GAO-09-385 March 2, 2009 at http://gao.gov/products/GAO-09-385.
(2) Fogbank, Arms Control Wonk (blog), http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/1814/fogbank
(3) US forgets how to manufacture Trident missile warhead component, domain-b.com, 3/10/2009, http://www.domain-b.com/aero/mil_avi/miss_muni/20090310_trident_missile.html
(4) Refurbished W76 Warhead Enters U.S. Nuclear Weapon Stockpile, National Nuclear Security Administration press release, 2/23/2009, http://nnsa.energy.gov/2286.htm
How the US forgot how to make Trident missiles, Sunday Herald, http://www.sundayherald.com/news/heraldnews/display.var.2494129.0.how_the_us_forgot_how_to_make_trident_missiles.php