Secrecy and democracy

Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Secrecy and democracy& Nuclear power05 Sep 2012 05:28 pm

by Jackie Cabasso

On August 27, the Oakland Police Department issued a community notice to make the public and media aware of an aerial survey that would be taking place over portions of San Francisco, Pacifica and Oakland through September 1, ostensibly to measure “naturally-occurring background radiation.” According to the notice, the flyovers are part of a joint research project between the Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) and the National Nuclear Security Administration. The only explanation offered: “The background data will be used by DNDO and NNSA to improve aerial radiation measurement capabilities used by local, state and federal entities.” The Oakland Police notice refers its readers to the DNDO and NNSA Public Affairs offices for additional information.

On August 30, annoyed by the low-flying helicopter buzzing around our office in downtown Oakland, I followed the Oakland Police Department’s advice and wrote to DNDO and NNSA. After pointing out the fallacious characterization of current radiation levels being “naturally-occurring” (noting that prior to July 16, 1945 it would have been possible to measure naturally occurring levels of background radiation, but this has not been the case for 67 years), I posed the following questions, and requested a reply:

1) What is the significance of the timing of this data collection?

2) What criteria was used in selecting the areas for the flyovers?

3) What will the data be used for?

4) Will a report on the findings be released to the public? If so, when?

5) Are additional flyovers planned for the future? Is so, when and where?

Based on the letters, I also submitted an op-ed to the San Francisco Chronicle and the Contra Costa Times. Both the Chronicle and the Times had published “news” stories recycling the NNSA press release. As of this writing, I have not heard back from the DNDO, the NNSA. Nor have I heard back from either of the newspapers regarding the op eds. I’ll let you know when I do. In the meantime, I’ve posted my op-ed below. (more…)

U.S. military& Military budget& Secrecy and democracy& Strategic weapons and space& Divine Strake29 Jul 2012 09:40 pm

by Andrew Lichterman

Back in 2006, I wrote a series of posts about the “Divine Strake” test, a very large conventional high explosive test slated to be conducted at the Nevada Test Site (now dubbed/sanitized to the “Nevada Nuclear Security Site”), intended to simulate the effects of low-yield nuclear weapons. That test was later canceled as a result of opposition both from disarmament groups and from regional opponents concerned about potential environmental effects. Along the way, I found budget documents showing that the U.S. military also was developing a very large, earth penetrating conventional bomb called the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. (see the latter part of my post titled The ‘Divine Strake’ low-yield nuclear weapons simulation: government denials and responses).

At that time, Defense Threat Reduction Agency Director James Tegnelia was quoted in an American Forces Press Service piece, denying that the Defense Department’s Hard Target Defeat program manifested anything more than a theoretical interest in developing a large conventional earth penetrator:

“One weapon Tegnelia commented on is the HTD program’s Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a multi-ton bomb. He stressed that it’s a defensive, not offensive, weapon. He told AFPS that the MOP is a test article meant to understand the design principles on which a country might build a weapon to counter hard targets. ‘We are not in the process to convince anybody to field a large earth penetrator,’ he said.” Steven Donald Smith, “U.S. Agency Works to Reduce WMD Threat,” American Forces Press Service, April 3, 2006 (emphasis added).

Tegnalia made this statement despite budget request documents filed earlier, in February 2006, listing among the FY2005 accomplishments of the “CP operational warfighter support” program the following:

Analyzed effectiveness of massive ordnance penetration against hard and deeply buried targets and completed preliminary design.
Refined Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) concept and began detailed weapon development and testing. Planned statically- emplaced Proof-of Principle test of effectiveness of Massive Ordnance payloads. Planned demonstration of massive ordnance airblast lethality against a full-scale tunnel target. Exhibit R-2a, RDT&E Defense-Wide/Applied Research - BA2 , 0602716BR Project BF - CP Operational Warfighter Support February 2006

On July 25, 2012, the Air Force Times quoted Air Force Secretary Michael Donley stating that the Massive Ordnance Penetrator is ready for use. (h/t to Common Dreams for its coverage of the issue). The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, more likely admitting the truth rather than retroactively revising it, states on its web site that

Flight tests have been successfully conducted at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. MOP integration activities for initial weapon delivery are also complete. Final system refinement, design and test will be complete in 2012 with additional weapon deliveries in 2013. The Air Force is managing and funding the program at this time, with Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) providing support.
Early tests of MOP were conducted by DTRA under the MOP Technology Demonstration effort. These tests began in 2004 with DTRA partnering with the Air Force Research Laboratory. DTRA conducted flight tests from 2008 to 2010. Defense Threat Reduction Agency, “Massive Ordnance Penetrator.”

All of this illustrates once again that on most matters, there is little reason to believe that any official of the United States Government is telling the truth when speaking for public consumption.

Disarmament& Secrecy and democracy& Nuclear power16 Mar 2011 07:43 am

John Burroughs

The Fukushima nuclear disaster is catalyzing a reassessment of the risks of reliance on nuclear power for energy generation, as illustrated by this IPS story about the United States. The results will be increased regulatory oversight and higher costs, as investors shy away. The already oversold ‘nuclear renaissance’ is definitely over.

What understandably is not currently receiving attention is the close link between production of electricity by means of nuclear reactors and the capability to produce nuclear weapons. Every nuclear reactor produces spent fuel containing plutonium, which with chemical processing can be used in weapons. And with some adjustment, as the world has learned in monitoring the Iran situation, the same facilities used to produce low-enriched uranium fuel for power reactors can produce high-enriched uranium suitable for use in nuclear weapons.

The linkage has been known from the beginning of the nuclear age. In 1946, the Acheson-Lilienthal report stated that “the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes and the development of atomic energy for bombs are in much of their course interchangeable and interdependent.” The weapons-nuclear power connection must be part of the reassessment of nuclear power. In the view of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, while the global elimination of nuclear weapons must not be made dependent on a prior ending of reliance on nuclear power, a nuclear weapons-free world will be best sustained by the phase-out of nuclear power.

The nuclear disaster also should cause reflection on the hazards of reliance on advanced technology. US and Russian nuclear forces still are configured for quick launch, within minutes of an order to do so, in large, society-destroying, numbers. It should not be assumed that such a risky posture will forever not be subject to human error, technical malfunction, or sabotage.

Undoubtedly the disaster will give rise to renewed demands for truth-telling by the nuclear power industry and its regulators. That same demand should be extended to nuclear weapons establishments in the nine countries that possess nuclear arsenals and the many countries in nuclear-weapon alliances.

In the 1970s and 1980s, opposition to nuclear power was a generation’s entry point into opposing nuclear weapons. The same spillover effect can be expected now.

Secrecy and democracy& Social movements and protest& civil liberties07 Jul 2006 06:57 pm


Air Force personnel filming protesters, Vandenberg Air Force Base, May 2005

Andrew Lichterman

This week brought another in the long line of disclosures of government spying on Americans in the name of “security.” This time it was the California Office of Homeland Security, revealed by the Los Angeles Times to have compiled information about peaceful antiwar protests. These events included several discussed in previous entries here, such as the Walnut Creek, California demonstration on the third anniversary of the Iraq invasion and a demonstration supporting MacGregor Eddy, arrested protesting the many activities at Vandenberg Air Force Base in support of U.S. aggressive war making.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the California Office of Homeland Security intelligence reports on political demonstrations were prepared by a private contractor, SRA International Inc. The media coverage hasn’t told us much about SRA International, but a quick internet search reveals that they are a large information services company that has many contracts with the federal government. Among their services are “data and text mining,” and among their clients are a number of Defense Department organizations and “various intelligence agencies.” As SRA International’s web site notes, “text mining” for “Homeland Security and Intelligence” applications can include “Surveillance of the Web, e-mails, or chat rooms.” SRA International claims its text-mining techniques allow extraction “from free-text document entities such as persons, organizations, places, artifacts, and other concepts of interest, as well as key links between, and events involving, these entities.”

Although the Times reported claims by the California officials that the monitoring of peaceful protests was done in error, the story really raises more questions than it answers. How did this “mistake” happen? If, as state officials assert, there is no ongoing monitoring program that would sweep up the activities of peaceful protesters in its data-gathering net, what is a high powered (and undoubtedly high-priced) contractor that provides such services as “data and text mining” being paid to do? What kinds of precautions, if any, has the state taken to insure that monitoring that encompasses peaceful protest will cease? Was SRA International involved in the collection of raw data, or only in the analysis of data collected by public agencies? If the former, has SRA been told to stop gathering data on peaceful political protests, or only to stop including such information in its reports to the state? If the latter, who was collecting raw “intelligence” in a manner that swept up information about peaceful protests? It’s not enough simply to tell the contractor not to report information they collect on peaceful protesters (which is all the state appears to have done so far).

The Schwarznegger administration’s first response to getting caught with its hand in the civil liberties cookie jar (again) has been to allow the press (and the press alone) to review redacted copies of the series of reports in question, but apparently not to copy them. This response manifests another casualty of the current “security” frenzy, which is government openness. The California Public Records Act does not permit the state to release documents only to the press; once records have been released any claimed exemptions to public access are waived. Further, I know of no provision in the act allowing the state to release records for inspection without allowing them to be copied. Despite the statutory presumption in favor of releasing records, California officials (like most officials) are trying to get away with as little openness as they can probably with the hope of making this story as difficult for the press to cover as possible short of outright stonewalling. The ACLU has, however, filed a comprehensive public records act request for relevant documents, including SRA International’s contract with the state.


Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Secrecy and democracy03 Feb 2006 12:21 am

Andrew Lichterman

Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, a leading analyst of U.S. nuclear weapons programs and policies, has discovered that the Pentagon has withdrawn its draft revised doctrine for use of nuclear weapons, and the existing doctrine documents as well:

The Pentagon has formally cancelled a controversial revision of Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations after the doctrine was exposed last year in an article in Arms Control Today in September 2005 and the Washington Post. The revised draft included for the first time descriptions of preemptive use of US nuclear weapons, and caused the Senate Armed Services Committee to ask for a briefing, and 16 lawmakers to protest to President Bush. (See Kristensen’s full account of the cancellation of these documents)

The draft document and that which it was slated to replace, along with other U.S. nuclear weapons doctrine statements (some now also “cancelled,”) are archived on the Western States Legal Foundation web site.

As Kristensen notes, although the documents that caused the controversy may have been withdrawn, there is no indication that U.S. nuclear weapons use policy has been changed. The episode says more about this government’s penchant for secrecy than it does about any reevaluation of nuclear weapons policies. Like the NSA spying scandal, the government response is not to engage in a real debate about policy, but to deny that they are doing whatever caused the controversy, while removing evidence that they might be from conspicuous public view. The United States remains prepared to use its fearsome nuclear arsenal in a variety of circumstances beyond retaliating for nuclear attack, from destroying the chemical and biological weapons of an adversary before they can be used to nuclear weapons use against conventional forces that threaten to overwhelm U.S. troops. Other public documents from the Department of Defense and the military services that have not yet been ‘cancelled’ say many of the same things as the documents that attracted public notice, and then were withdrawn. (more…)

U.S. military& Military budget& Secrecy and democracy01 Feb 2006 11:29 am

Andrew Lichterman

“Our own generation is in a long war against a determined enemy - a war that will be fought by Presidents of both parties, who will need steady bipartisan support from the Congress.” George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, January 31, 2006.

Every four years, the U.S. Department of Defense issues its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), a broad outline of U.S. military policy and the types of programs that the Department wants to implement it. The next (2005) version is due out in February, but has published 42 pages of the draft QDR (subscription required). Resources and commentary on current and past QDR’s can be found at the Project for Defense Alternatives.

“Orwellian” is a term that is overused, but both the language and the content of the 2005 QDR, echoed by George Bush in his State of the Union speech, evoke resonances of “1984,” Orwell’s tale of dictatorship sustained by eternal war. Several locutions that recur throughout the QDR manifest a vision of war without end, fought increasingly by forces that are both less visible and less accountable. Over and over the QDR authors tell us that we are fighting what they now call “the long war” — an even more open-ended term than the “war on terror,” since it can be fought against anyone, anywhere, anytime. Bush used the same phrase in his State of the Union Address to underscore his favorite theme: he is a War President, and must be allowed to do whatever he alone deems necessary. The draft QDR puts a bit more meat on the State of the Union’s rhetorical bones, giving us some idea of how those in power plan to use this “long war” as a justification for more war and less democracy. (more…)