October 22, 2012

Star Wars

Naomi Oreskes: Merchants of Doubt

[The Strategic Defense Initiative triggered a] backlash among the very scientists Reagan would need to build it. …
By May 1986, sixty-five hundred academic scientists had signed a pledge not to solicit or accept funds from the missile defense research program …
Scientists had never before refused to build a weapons system when the government had asked.
(p 43)

[In the 1950s] radioactive strontium had been detected in the baby teeth of children in St Louis.
Scientific work showed that it came from the US weapons testing site in Nevada, but for a long time the official position was to blame Soviet fallout.
(p 80)

Contents


B Team

Star Wars

Invisible Cats

Sons of the Cold War


NAOMI ORESKES (1958)


Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University.

  • Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, Bloomsbury, 2010.
    Naomi Oreskes & Erik Conway.

    Strategic Defense, Phony Facts, And The Creation Of The George C Marshall Institute


    The Birth of Team B


    [The 1975 CIA National Intelligence Estimate concluded that …]
    • Soviet ICBMs … were not very accurate, so a Soviet "first strike" would leave plenty of US capability to destroy the USSR on the rebound.
    • the vast Soviet air defense system would provide little protection against low-flying American bombers [and that]
    • the Soviets were [unable] to locate American submarines.

    [Edward] Teller didn't believe it.

    [He thought assessing the threat on the basis of] likely Soviet capabilities was wrongheaded …
    [What] was needed was a bald statement of the worst-case scenario for which we had to prepare. …

    The Defense Intelligence Agency believed the USSR spent twice as much on its military as the CIA thought — about 15% of its gross national product, as compared with only 6-8% of the US GNP.
    The conservative press [used this] to suggest that the Soviet Union had embarked on a vast military expansion.
    [This was] misleading, because the two agencies agreed on the numbers of Soviet soldiers, tanks, missiles, and aircraft …
    [What] they disagreed on was how much it all cost. …

    If the Defense Intelligence Agency's analysis was correct, then the Soviet Union was a weaker adversary, not a stronger one…
    [It] took them twice as much money to achieve the same level of military preparedness.
    [Indeed, because] the United States had a vastly larger economy [they were out-spending the Soviets in absolute terms]: 6% of [US] GDP was far more than 15% of the USSR's.
    (p 40)

    [Nevertheless,] there was strong political pressure on the CIA to allow an independent analysis [based on the illusion that the US was falling behind.]

    … CIA director Bush approved the formation of three independent review panels [later] known as "Team B".
    [These were] composed entirely of foreign policy hawks who already believed that the CIA was underplaying the Soviet threat.

    Harvard historian Richard Pipes chaired the Strategic Objectives Panel [with the] assistance from Richard Perle [who later became] an architect of the second Iraq War …
    Other panelists included … Daniel O. Graham, the originator of the concept of "High Frontier," a space-based weapons program, and Paul Wolfowitz …

    On every front, the panel cast the Soviet effort in the most alarming possible light. …
    The Soviet Union is … preparing for a Third World War as if it were unavoidable
    The pace of the Soviet armament effort [is staggering.]
    [It] certainly exceeds any requirement for mutual deterrence. …
    (p 41)
    The continuing buildup of the Warsaw Pact forces bears no visible relationship to any plausible NATO threat …
    [It] can better be interpreted in terms of intimidation or conquest. …

    [Soviet leaders] probably believe that their ultimate objectives are closer to realization today than they have ever been before.
    Within the ten [years] the Soviets may well expect to achieve a degree of military superiority which would permit a dramatically more aggressive pursuit of their hegemonial objectives.
    What was the basis for these claims?
    Not much. …

    [For example,] when the panel found evidence that the Soviets had spent large sums of money on non-acoustic antisubmarine warfare systems, but no evidence that they had ever deployed a non acoustic system, they did not draw the obvious … conclusion that those systems simply hadn't worked.
    [Instead they] concluded that they had worked … the Soviets had deployed something, and [then] covered it up.
    The absence of a deployed system by this time is difficult to understand …
    The implication could be that the Soviets have, in fact, deployed some operational non-acoustic systems …
    The panel [interpreted] evidence that the Soviets had not achieved a particular capability as proof that [they] had. …
    {Such arguments are … impossible to refute.}
    CS Lewis:
    The very lack of evidence is thus treated as evidence …
    [The] absence of smoke proves that the fire [or WMDs] is very carefully hidden.
    A belief in invisible cats cannot be logically disproved …
    [Although, it does] tell us a good deal about those who hold it.
    [Team B also pushed] for new US efforts in ballistic missile defense.
    (p 41)

    [Daniel Graham] concluded — again without evidence — that the Soviets had "been conducting far more ambitious research in these areas," and it was "difficult to overestimate" the magnitude of their ABM efforts. …

    Two days after Carter defeated Ford in the November [1976], a relic of the 1950s "red scare" was resurrected: the Committee on the Present Danger.
    Four of its members came from Team B. …
    The committee spent the next four years … helping to push American foreign policy far to the right …
    [Wolfowitz and Perle] became advisors to Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign …
    Reagan's victory made them the "A Team."


    Star Wars: The Strategic Defense Initiative

    Ronald Reagan [March 1983]:
    [I call upon] the scientific community in this country, who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents to the cause of mankind and world peace; to give us the means of rendering these weapons impotent and obsolete.
    (p 42)

    [SDI] was not just the result of Reagan's desire to achieve world peace …
    [It] was also a direct response to the nuclear freeze movement, which had crystallized in opposition to the Reagan administration's bellicose rhetoric.
    Movement leaders had asked both the United States and the Soviet Union to cease building, testing, and modifying nuclear weapons …
    Since nuclear weapon cores decay over time … any agreement to stop building new ones was, in effect, an agreement to disarm. …

    By the end of 1981, twenty thousand nuclear freeze activists were working in forty-three US states.
    The proposal was endorsed by major religious denominations and many local and state governments …
    [Many of Reagan's] own advisers opposed [it.]
    • [Some] because they judged it technically infeasible …
    • [Some] because it would be seen as provocative by both the Soviets and domestic critics of the arms race …
    • [And] still others because it would increase the risk of nuclear war.
      (If one side had an effective shield, it might be tempted to launch a first strike.)
    Reagan believed that SDI was technically possible and morally just.
    Like Team B, he thought [mutual assured destruction was a repugnant] suicide pact. …
    (p 43)

    [No technological system] is ever perfect …
    If strategic defense is 90% effective, then 10% of the warheads still get through.
    [This creates an] incentive to build still more weapons, just to be sure [enough would get through.]
    … SDI would fuel the arms race, not stop it.
    [On the other hand,] if the Soviets believed that SDI might actually work [the rationality of "use it or lose it" might drive them] to attack before the system [became operational.]

    SDI was also untestable. …
    [To be really test whether a satellite defense system would actually work] we'd have to shoot a substantial fraction of our own missile inventory at ourselves.
    (p 44)

    Robert Jastrow … was the founder of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies [and a longtime associate of Fred Seitz.] …

    … Democratic senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan — a Team B supporter [—] imagined a counterfactual history in which the United States had engaged in an unlimited arms buildup during the 1970s, in order to spend the USSR into ruin.
    Daniel Moynihan [New Yorker, 1979]:
    [Within months the Soviet Union will] have the capacity to destroy the Minutemen, our landbased deterrent. …

    Jastrow [believed the] the USSR was in a position of strategic superiority from which it could dictate US policy.
    It could … invade Persian Gulf oil fields with impunity.
    It could absorb Western Europe without a fight. …
    [This] was because while the US nuclear arsenal was sufficient to destroy the world twice over, the Soviet arsenal could destroy it three times.
    (p 46)

    [As it turns out] Team B, Jastrow, and Moynihan had all overestimated Soviet capabilities, and greatly exaggerated the certainty of their claims.
    [Nevertheless their alarmism] had the desired effect …
    The Strategic Defense Initiative and its successor, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, were approved by Congress, at a cost of more than $60 billion.
    (p 47)


    The George C Marshall Institute


    During [the 1960's and 1970's] the Johnson and Nixon administrations … started deployment of a defensive system, allegedly against Chinese ballistic missiles …
    … China did not obtain intercontinental ballistic missiles until 1981 …

    This Sentinel system used two layers of ground-based interceptors,
    • long-range Spartan missiles for area defense, and
    • shorter-range Sprint missiles to destroy warheads that the Spartans missed.
    Both missiles used nuclear warheads …

    [Richard Garwin (Thomas J. Watson Research Center, IBM) and Hans] Bethe had argued that Sentinel would be [easily outsmarted by] inexpensive dummy warheads, and the high-altitude nuclear explosions produced by the Spartan missiles would blind the radars guiding the shorter-range missiles, rendering them useless. …
    [Bethe's activism helped spawn] the Union of Concerned Scientists [in 1969]. …

    By 1977, the United States had no ballistic missile defenses.

    [In 1983 they] argued that … the space-based “layer" [of SDI would require] twenty-four hundred laser battle stations, weighing fifty to one hundred tons and costing around a billion dollars — each.
    Even then, it wasn't clear it would work.
    A very powerful computer would be necessary to control the network, and nobody knew how to test the system that would be required. …

    An earlier analysis produced at the Los Alamos National Laboratory had [suggested that] ninety battle stations would be [sufficient.]
    [The] Office of Technology Assessment … said merely hundreds.
    (p 55)

    [In September 1984,] Jastrow decided that it was time for a more organized response to the UCS …
    [Frederick Seitz,] chairman of the official SDI Advisory Board, was [invited] to be the founding chairman of the board.
    … William Nierenberg, the recently retired director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography [was also invited] to join them.
    Nierenberg had known Seitz for decades, and they had served on Reagan's transition team together. …
    … Nierenberg and Jastrow had [attended the same high school, and both had] received their PhD's in physics at Columbia in the 1940s.
    [They were] all physicists …
    [All] retired or semiretired …
    [All] political hawks …
    [And] all sons of the Cold War.

    [The purpose of the George C Marshall Institute was
    to raise the level of scientific literacy of the American people in fields of science with an impact on national security and other areas of public concern. …
    [It] would promote its message through the distribution of "readable reports, books, films, etc."
    [It would] hold “training seminars" for journalists [and congressional staffers] on the fundamental technologies of Strategic Defense …
    [Jastrow busied himself] writing articles and op-ed pieces [in Commentary and the Wall Street Journal] to get their views on the radar screen and provoke debate.
    (p 56)

    [He followed this up with a] book illustrating how the Union of Concerned Scientists and OTA had distorted the “facts" of strategic defense.
    Replaying the tobacco strategy, they began urging journalists to “balance" their reports on SDI by giving equal time to the Marshall Institute's views. …

    In 1986, public television stations across the nation were preparing to air a program on SDI, which Jastrow considered "one-sided."
    [Letters were sent] across the country warning
    … these stations that by airing the UCS program they could incur obligations, under the Fairness Doctrine, to provide air time for presentation of contrasting viewpoints. …
    But does fairness require equal time for unequal views?
    After all, sixty five hundred scientists had signed the petition against SDI, [while] the Marshall Institute [at the time consisted of just] Robert Jastrow and two colleagues.

    [In any case] Jastrow's approach worked [and he was pleased to report that]
    [very] few public TV stations aired the program. …
    Over the next two years [the Institute moved] toward getting its message directly where it counted: namely, to Congress, through press briefings, reports, and seminars directly aimed at members and their staff.
    (p 57)

    [The] crucial difference between the debate over SDI and nuclear winter and the earlier debates over tobacco [was that] there was enormous evidence of tobacco links to cancer and other health problems …
    [There] were no facts to be had over strategic defense or nuclear winter. …
    No one had ever built a full-scale, functioning, orbital strategic defense …
    [No] one had ever fought a two-sided nuclear war.
    The claims and counterclaims were just projections — even useful fictions. …

    … Jastrow insisted that … the climate effects of nuclear winter would be “minor to negligible."
    (p 58)
    Robert Jastrow:
    [The] prime objectives of Soviet leaders is to convince the people of the western democracies that nuclear weapons in any numbers cannot be used without risking destruction of humanity.
    The Nuclear Winter scenario could not serve the needs of Soviet leaders better if it had been designed for that purpose.
    [Jastrow suggested privately that the scientists working on the climate effects of nuclear war were acting fraudulently and] then hired a spokesman to push the claim in public.
    (p 59)

    [Russell Seitz (Fred's younger cousin) believed there was a] permanent liberal political network at the heart of American science, corrupting the entire apparatus of American science. …

    [Despite this, political conservatives had been] able to publish, even in supposedly biased journals.
    Edward Teller … published an article in Science in January 1984 promoting the development of ABMs and [another in Nature that] accepted that nuclear “winter" might be severe enough to cause widespread crop failure …
    [His] solution was to increase food storage.
    Fred Singer published an attack on nuclear winter in Science
    Science [also] published a letter from Russell Seitz …

    [A] conservative minority, led by Edward Teller, were deeply influential in the Reagan White House.
    [Conservative] scientists were [not] excluded from power.
    (p 63)

    Many years later, the right wing continued to lambast [Carl] Sagan well after the man was dead. …

    Teller and his followers believed that America could achieve permanent military supremacy through weapons engineering …
    [Most] other scientists [including Hans] Bethe, Sagan, and Garwin — thought the arms race could only be managed (and never won), and this would be done primarily through diplomacy. …

    [Milton Friedman argued in Capitalism and Freedom that] there can be no freedom without capitalism and no capitalism without freedom.
    (p 64)

    So defense of one was the defense of the other. …

    [Science was] increasingly finding evidence that capitalism was failing … to protect the natural environment …
    [That] industrial emissions were causing widespread damage to human and ecosystem health.

    The free market was [having unintended consequences that it evidently] did not know how to solve.
    [The] potential remedy — regulation [was anathema.]

    [Not surprisingly,] Russell Seitz's broad sides against science were promoted in business-oriented journals [such as] the Wall Street Journal [which, in 1986,] published a twenty-four-hundred-word version of Seitz's attack on science — on page 1.
    If science took the side of regulation — [it would] have to be torn down. …
    (p 65)

    Would you like to know more?

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