The Wizards of Armageddon

Year Zero

by Fred Kaplan

Stanford University Press, 1983


pages 9 - 11

The whole conception of modern warfare, the nature of international relations, the question of world order, the function of weaponry, had to be thought through again. Nobody knew the answers; initially, not many had even the right questions. From these ashes an entire intellectual community would create itself, a new elite that would eventually emerge as a power elite, and whose power would come not from wealth or family or brass stripes, but from their having conceived and elaborated a set of ideas. It was , at the outset, a small and exceptionally inbred collection of men - mostly econmists and mathematicians, a few political scientists - who devoted nearly every moment of their workaday thoughts to thining about the bomb: how to prevent nuclear war, how to fight nuclear war if it cannot be deterred.


In the first months following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Yale University would become a prime mover on the thinking about how to live with the bomb, and Bernard Brodie was at the center of that movement. When the Yale group started to split up around the end of 1950, Brodie spent a few months near the heart of the war machine, in the Air Staff of the United States Air Force, where he examined the nation's war plans, the targets inside enemy Russia that the US would incinerate in the event of another war. From there, Brodie moved to Southern California, the the RAND Corporation.


RAND was where the ideas came together. It was an Air Force creation, independent in title but contracted to do research for the Air Force. The Army and Navy had their bands of hired intellectuals too, but through the 1950s American military policy and defense budgeting emphasized nuclear power, and the Air Force had the big bomb. The Air Force was where the money was funneled and the thinking was concentrated; RAND was where the thinkers coalesced.


They were rational analysts, and they would attempt to impose a rational order on something that many thought inherently irrational - nuclear war. They would invent a whole new language and vocabulary in their quest for rationality, and would thus condition an entire generation of political and military leaders to think about the bomb the way that the intellectual leaders of RAND thought about it.


The themes of such classic films of the nuclear age as Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe, the catch phrases of the popularized strategic debates of the 1960s and 1970s - "counterforce", "first strike / second strike", "nuclear war-fighting", "systems analysis", "thinking about the unthinkable", "shot across the bow", "limited nuclear options" - would all have as their source the strategists of the RAND Corporation in the 1950s.


In the '60s, with the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy and the appointment of Robert S. McNamara as Decretary of Defense, the new "defense intellectuals" would move into positions of power, either as administration officials or as influential consultants. One British journalist would describe them in the London Times Literary Supplement as men who "move freely through the corridors of the Pentagpn and the State Department rather as the Jesuits through the courts of Madrid and Vienna three centuries ago, when we in Europe were having our own little local difficulties".


By the 1970s and especially into the '80s, the ideas of these thermonuclear Jesuits would have so thoroughly percolated through the corridors of power - and through their annexes in academia - that, at least among fellow members of the congregation, their wisdom would be taken almost for granted, their assumptions worshiped as gospel truth, their insight elevated to an almost mystical level and accepted as dogma.


Throughout this period, most of the defense intellectuals - with a few notable exceptions - would stay out of the limelight, preferring the relative anonymity of the consultant, the special assistant. Yet this small group of theorists would devise and help implement a set of ideas that would change the shape of American defense policy, that could someday mean the difference between peace and total war. Though virtually unheard of by most of even the very well read among the general population, they knew they would make their mark - for they were the men who pondered mass destruction, who thought about the unthinkable, who invented nuclear strategy.


From 1958 to 1970 Daniel Ellsberg was part of this environment.


Daniel Ellsberg on the creation of nuclear doomsday machines,
the institutional insanity that maintains them,
and a practical plan for dismantling them.

By Robert Wiblin and Keiran Harris

September 24th, 2018

(in cache)


Enrico Fermi ... and Isidor Rabi said in 1949 we should not be the first to test this stuff [the hydrogen bomb], and we should try to achieve a test ban. But no, we wanted it even at the cost of their [the Russians] getting it, and that meant we wanted an improved capability to destroy them -when we already had 10 times over the capability to destroy them- at the cost of our moving from being invulnerable to being vulnerable, and that was the choice that was made. And it was just a lot better for Boeing and Lockheed and Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics to go that way than not to have them. Then they wouldn’t be selling the weapons.

And, by the way, what I’ve learned just recently by books like … a guy named [Frank] Kofsky wrote a book called "Harry Truman And The War Scare of 1948". [It] reveals that at the end of the war, Ford and GM who had made most of our bombers went back to making cars very profitably. But Boeing and Lockheed didn’t make products for the commercial market, only for commercial air except there wasn’t a big enough market to keep them from bankruptcy. They had suddenly lost their vast orders for military planes in mid 1945. The only way they could avoid bankruptcy was to sell a lot of planes to the government, military planes. But against who? Not Germany. We were occupying Germany. Not Japan, we were occupying Japan. Who was our enemy that you needed a lot of planes against. Well Russia had been our ally during the war, but Russia had enough targets to justify. So they had to be an enemy and they had to be the enemy, and we went off from there.

I would say that - having read that book and a few others I could say, I now see since my book was written 9 months ago, that the Cold War was a marketing campaign for selling war planes to the government and to our allies. It was a marketing campaign for annual subsidies to the aerospace industry, and the electronics industry. And also the basis for a protection racket for Europe, that kept us as a major European power. Strictly speaking we’re not a European power. But we are in effect because we provide their protection against Russia, the super enemy with nuclear weapons, and for that purpose it’s better for the Russians to have ICBM, and missiles, and H-bombs, as an enemy we can prepare against. It’s the preparations that are profitable. All wars have been very profitable for the arms manufacturers, nuclear war will not be, but preparation for it is very profitable, and therefore we have to be prepared.


In YouTube window set Quality to 480p. This video has no sound.

Cold War Radar System a Trillion Dollar Fraud – Lester Earnest on RAI (1/5)

December 24, 2018

(in cache)



LESTER EARNEST: ...  I started looking around for alternatives, and found a Navy program for which I was perfectly suited. You had to have an engineering degree, which I had just received, and poor eyesight. If you had good eyesight you were not qualified for being a restricted line officer. So I went in, became an aviation electronics officer, and ended up in a computer research lab doing simulations of manned aircraft and missiles with computers.


PAUL JAY: This is 1953-1954?


LESTER EARNEST: I got to the lab in ʻ54, continued through ʻ56. And the people I were working with were all mathematicians, no electrical engineers, so they didnʼt know how to deal with a computer. I rewired it, making it much more efficient, and had a good time playing with it in various ways. I ran various experiments. Then [finally] got out of the Navy. And in the process I had learned of advanced computer work going on at MIT that had been supported by the Navy. But then they pulled the plug, and the faculty members at MIT were scratching their heads how they were going to continue with no funding.


So they put together a bunch of alternative proposals, some of which made sense, like they proposed building an automated air traffic control system. And they could have done that, but that part of the government wasnʼt buying. They did manage to sell to the Air Defense Command the idea of a manned bomber defense. And at that time in the Cold War, our country was undergoing strong paranoia about the possibility of an attack by the Soviet Union.


PAUL JAY: Which later turned out to be a crock, but a lot of people believed it.


LESTER EARNEST: Yeah. Well, they sold this idea to the Congress, who then-


PAUL JAY: Them being MIT sold this ...


LESTER EARNEST: Well, it was more Wall Street. The companies that were going to make a lot of money together with MIT convinced them that they should fund this. And the-


PAUL JAY: Again, this being a system of what, missiles that would shoot down airplanes?


LESTER EARNEST: No. Well, it was, it was a series of radars all across North America that could supposedly track bombers. And then both manned interceptors of various kinds, like Lockheed and [Convair] aircraft. Boeing had a ground-to-air missile system called the Bomarc. And the idea was to then shoot down any incoming bombers.


PAUL JAY: So it was essentially a radar system, is what was being created at MIT.


LESTER EARNEST: Correct.


PAUL JAY: And you get hired to be part of this.


LESTER EARNEST: Yes. They hired me specifically to design the guidance and control system for the manned interceptors and missiles that were going to shoot at the bombers. However, on my first day there, I was assigned to share an office with a fellow who was already working there. This was in MITʼs so-called Lincoln Laboratory in suburban Boston. And I asked him what he did. His name was Paul [Senase]. He said, in a Boston accent, “I work on rada datar.” Dropped the R from ʻradarʼ and added it to ʻdataʼ. Which I found amusing. So I said, what do you do about radar jamming? He said, we donʼt do that. I thought he was kidding, because if you canʼt deal with radar jamming, since all bombers since World War II do it, youʼre out of business as an air defense system.


Well, it turns out he was not kidding, as I confirmed shortly. And I kept bringing this up to people in higher levels, and they started holding big conferences trying to figure out a way around this problem, with no success. The problem is that with radar jamming you get lots of radar data coming in; more than a computer can deal with. So it would just jam up and fail. 


Well, they carefully avoided this problem. They were giving demonstrations of this system over time, in which they never—they always used bombers that did not use jamming. And of course the Russian spies who were observing all of this with instrumentation would know that this was a fake system. But they kept it going for 25 years.


PAUL JAY: This fraud for 25 years.


LESTER EARNEST: Total fraud for 25 years.


PAUL JAY: Because they were spending billions on it. In todayʼs dollars, anyway.


LESTER EARNEST: Yes. Or maybe even trillions, when you do the money escalation. So-


PAUL JAY: So this is–MITʼs in on this.


LESTER EARNEST: Well-


PAUL JAY: But the military must have known, too; the people that were buying this stuff. I mean, theyʼre spending the money on it.


LESTER EARNEST: Yeah, but they don't care. The important thing to them is to have a good life; that is, to have a lot of money to do things with.


PAUL JAY: And it also helps justify their existence, that they are developing this wonderful defense system that will protect everyone from a threat that they maybe know isnʼt coming.


LESTER EARNEST: Yeah. And they put out propaganda films showing interceptors intercepting bombers, just like people today are putting out films showing anti-ballistic missile systems taking down missiles, which are also bogus. But thatʼs another story.


PAUL JAY: While youʼre there, youʼre asked to design how to put a nuclear warhead on a Bomarc missile, which is supposed to shoot down-


LESTER EARNEST: That was a followup. We first just had to put both the missiles and the interceptors in the right position to shoot at a bomber to kill it. But then they came up with the idea of adding nuclear warheads to the missile, which was a really stupid idea. But I was assigned the task of convincing the federal government that they should allow it.


PAUL JAY: What year are we in?


LESTER EARNEST: That was 1960. Or maybe ʻ59.


PAUL JAY: And who do you talk to to persuade to put a nuclear warhead on a missile thatʼs going to blow a plane up over the United States?


LESTER EARNEST: Yeah. And if the plane happened to be flying at low altitude it would kill everybody on the ground underneath, which is part of why it was a really stupid idea. But that was what they wanted.


PAUL JAY: And you did it.


LESTER EARNEST: I did it. I convinced them-


PAUL JAY: And what does this do to your own belief system? You believed, had faith in this whole hierarchy and system.


LESTER EARNEST: Well, I knew that I was on the wrong track. However, it was, I was being paid well, as were all of the contractors. This was a giant scam. It was very successful. And incidentally, while studying the situation for getting the nuclear warheads approved, we discovered an awkward business. The land lines going from the central computer to the missile launch sites were duplexed. That is, there was a main line and a backup line in case this one went bad. And at the end there was a little black box that listened and could tell when a line went bad, and then it would switch to the backup. But what they didnʼt think about was what if the backup goes bad, too? And so in our analysis of the safety of all of this, we discovered that if the backup line is also malfunctioning, it would produce random noise, and then the computer would be listening. And so we calculated on the average, how long would it be before it would see a fire command? And the answer was about two and a half minutes.


PAUL JAY: The computer thatʼs going to tell the missile to get ready to fire-


LESTER EARNEST: Right.


PAUL JAY: -interprets noise on a telephone line in two minutes as a command to get ready to fire?


LESTER EARNEST: Correct.


PAUL JAY: And the thing stands up in the air and gets ready for a ...


LESTER EARNEST: Thatʼs right. The missile would erect. But we also were able to prove that it had to get a full set of commands before it would launch; altitude, direction, speed, all that stuff. And we were able to prove that the probability of getting all of that from the noise was negligible. So the effect of all this would be the missile would erect and abort. So I published a classified report about that titled Inadvertent Erection of the IM-99A.


PAUL JAY: Sounds like a viagra commercial [inaudible]


LESTER EARNEST: Right. And as luck would have it, it happened in New Jersey two weeks after I published that. So then I was put in charge of fixing it, which was pretty easy, to prevent the inadvertent erection.


PAUL JAY: But it shows the lack of working these things through. And thereʼs already missiles there. I mean, the irrationality of the whole thing.


LESTER EARNEST: Yeah. Well, it was even deeper than that. When we first got a hold of the design of the missile control system, we observe—one of the guys in my group observed that ... You first of all had to do testing of the electronics periodically to make sure itʼs working. So you could put a given site into test mode, and then spray a bunch of commands at the missile guidance system, and you could verify that they were received correctly. And when you finished, you could throw the switch back from test to operate.


However, if you gave the missiles a bunch of commands, and then without clearing them you switched from test to operate, they would all erect and fire. That was in the design. So we pointed that out, and they fixed it in a hurry.


The MIT administration figured out that this thing was a fraud, and backed out in 1958 by pushing all of us who were working on it out the door and into a new nonprofit corporation called Mitre.


PAUL JAY: Which continued this work, and goes on for 25 years.


LESTER EARNEST: Which continued to work for 25 years. And other frauds, as well.




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