Tuesday 12 May 2009

Glimpses of America's Man-Made Disasters (Part 3)

by Trowbridge H. Ford

While researchers might think that America's ousting by overt and covert means Slobodan Milosevic, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein from power, smashing their regimes, and punishing countries like Iran, Turkey, Russia and North Korea which had tried to help them or exploit their difficulties would be the sum total of what was available to it, they would be wrong. Washington used not only land and space weapons against them but also undersea ones to make the terrible earthquake on December 26, 2004 which caused the deadly tsumanis which devastated the Muslim countries, lying around the Indian Ocean, in the hope of preventing them in any way from joining radical Islam in its growing fight against the West.

The origin of the new weapons was the result of continuing inter-service rivalry plaguing the Pentagon, especially that between the National Reconnaissance Office's satellities and the US Navy, particularly its attack submarines - what just continued to rise despite the end of the Cold War with the Soviets. While all the services had had to reduce their numbers, close bases, settle for less money, find more effective weapons systems, and seek more relevant missions, the bloated Navy - thanks particularly to Reagan Navy Secretary John Lehman, Jr.'s wild amibition to control the seas by a 600-ship fleet - had the hardest time adjusting to the new situation since the new threats were based on land, and were only using the skies to spread their alleged missions. The US Navy seemed to be without a serious mission, now that freedom of the seas had been secured.

It was in this context that Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Vernon Clark took control of the service in July 2000, setting a task force on the dangerous mission of trailing the Kursk to show Secretary of Defense William Cohen that the Navy was still able to take it to the enemy - what resulted in the USS Toledo sinking the Soviet sub when the USS Memphis crashed into it from behind. While the disaster cost the USA dearly - President Clinton having to forget about the $10 billion debt that Putin's Russian owed Washington - it was still seen by the gung-ho sailors as a great victory, though commanding officers of ships were increasingly screwing up in other missions, resulting in their losing it, because of the strain.

In the Toledo's case, the crew boasted about its achievement in cryptic ways despite the risks it took in doing so. The sub's seaman claimed that it was the best attack submarine in the Atlantic fleet though it had only arrived in 1985, and failed to be even mentioned in Sherry Sontag's and Christopher Drew's Blind Man'a Bluff: The Untold Story of American Espionage. In scanning their Appendix C, dealing with submarine awards from 1958 through 1998 (pp. 415-35), there is no mention of the USS Toledo.

Torpedo man Todd Grace aka Toredo still boasted about being the last on board during the "Northern Run" which, it seems, caused the disaster. Toredoes are shipworms noted for their ability to sink unsuspecting wooden ships, and Grace, along with his boss, sorely missed "Big Al", had done the same to its steel counterparts with the latest version of the MK-48 torpedo when the Toledo thought that the Kursk was going to sink the Memphis after it collided with the Russian monster.

Actually, the USS Parche - the most rewarded attack submarine in the Atlantic Fleet - had won yet another Presidential Unit Citation (PUC) in the last year of the listing. It won eight in all, plus other lesser awards. The Parche - in Operation Ivy Bells at the beginning of March 1986 for which it received its fifth PUC - had bugged the same Soviet naval base in anticipation of Moscow being caught completely by surprise by the assassassination of Sweden's statsminister Olof Palme. It was because of the spying for the Soviets by the Agency's Aldrich 'Rick' Ames, the Bureau's Robert Hanssen and others that its bugging, and the growing presence of a horde of other American attack submarines came as no surprise to the Soviets.

Even the USS Memphis - which was badly damaged when the Kursk was sunk - received the Navy Unit Citation in 1981, and the Meritorious Unit Commendation three years later, and it must have gotten some recognition for its trouble with the Kursk, though, of course, nothing that the Navy could officially acknowledge.

Clark's navy was more forthcoming about the Toledo's efforts - its famous "Northern Run" which took on almost mythic proportions when its crewmen alluded to it in scuttlebutt and on the internet - after the furore over the sinking of the Kursk had passed, and the completion of Operation Iraqi Freedom had been accomplished. The Navy's Rear Admiral Joseph Walsh presented the Toledo's Commander Michael Poirier the Bronze Star for the deed at a ceremony at Groton's Dealey Center Theater before a crowd of 1,400 spectators on October 20, 2003. Poirier was also a hot-shot thinker of the new Navy, having written "Sea Control and Regional Warfare" for the July 1993 issue of U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings. In it, the Lt. Commander had recommended that the Navy improve its power projection capability rather than establish battle space dominance in the world's littorals - what he had still had to employ at the drop-of-a-hat when the Memphis collided with the Kursk off the Kola Peninsula littoral.

The shocking thing about the award was that the Navy acted as if Poirier received it for the Toledo's actions in the ouster of Saddam Hussein when the submarine was apparently not involved in the removal, and tried to cover it up by giving the award to four other submarine commanders who were - those who captained the Augusta, San Juan, Providence, and Pittsburgh. Poirier was recognied as the former commander of the Toledo twice in the official press report, and while the other four commanders spoke about their subs' efforts in the Persian Gulf during the operation, he said nothing. In short, it was apparently a clever ruse on the public for what the Toledo's commander did, but could never be publicly acknowledged. Moreover, if the Toledo was such a big player in Saddam's ouster, why hasn't its crew members made mention of it too in their scuttlebutt and internet chatter?

The belated award to Poirier was also recognition that the Navy was already in the process of implementing his ideas, among others, about improving it power projection capability, though Poirier himself, for understandable reasons, was put in moth balls, last commanding the Newport Naval Station where training facilities and decommissioned ships are kept.

In justifying the Defense Department's $15.3 billion increase for FY2004 over the previous year's, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz sounded just like Poirier when he called for the increases across the board. "Indeed, in an era of proliferation and asymmetric threats," Wolfowitz told the House Budget Committee, "we must have the ability to confront a potentially wide range of threats." Washington must transform its military, he added, while fighting wars on various fronts. Another 9/11 attack, if the terrorists had WMD, could be catastrophic.

The Deputy Secretary said that the new increases were to build upon what had been laid out in the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review. "Transformation," he explained, "is about new ways of thinking, fighting and managing the Department's scarce resourses." During the next five years, $80 billion would be shifted from doing things in the old way to new ways of unconventional thinking, giving people freedom to take risks and try new things, fostering a more entreprenuerial approach to the development of military capabilities, and anticipating new threats before they emerge. "The new way of thinking," Wolfowitz concluded, "is now being implemented in visionary war-fighting, operational concepts, a restructured unified command plan, and transformational military capabilities such as unmammed aerial vehicles and new generations of satellite communications."

Right at this time, the Navy was finally putting together its visionary concepts in preventive war-fighting, thanks to the scientific community developing equipment which was capable of determining where the most likely, serious seismic activity was apt to occur, machinery which could trigger earthquakes of any strength, and how it could be employed in the new Seawolf class submarine. The first was accomplished by OBS light-weight machines which could plumb the bottom to the oceans to determine where the most fragile junctions of the earth's plates existed below all the sediment. The second was achieved primarily through air guns - machines which could fire increasing cominbations of compressed air into the water to determine just where the fissures in the earth existed through small earthquakes. And the new Seawolf stealth sub is the USS Jimmy Carter - what the specially honored ex-President would never suspect was being used for such purposes.

For the development of the equipment and experiments, especially in the Los Angeles area when the Navy was still deciding what it wanted the Jimmy Carter to do, see this link:


Of course, Carter, an ex-submariner, was pleased as punch about the naming of the new sub, stating that he much preferred becoming its name rather than for Washington's former National Airport - what was named after President Reagan instead. It was to be built by General Dynamics Electric Boat Division, and its keel was laid at the end of 1998 with expectations that it would be in service by late 2001. In June 2004, the submarine was finally chistened by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter who became its sponsor. All the while, the Navy encouraged all sorts of speculation about the sub's mission, essentially that it would be some kind of laboratory about the oceans', combatants' and submarines' potential.

It was not the first time that the Navy had fooled the world, especially the former President. In the spring of 1978, the Navy had persuaded Carter, a believer in the role of its boomers in the Cold War, to allow it to go ahead with planning missions for tapping the Soviet underwater cables in the Barents Sea to learn what it was planning in any emergency (Operation Ivy Bells) - what the Navy activated in 1979 by sending the Parche there to make sure that the Soviets did not know of its presence in their territorial waters, and to make sure they were honoring the terms of the just signed SALT II Treaty.

When the most secret and dangerous mission was accomplished safely, Carter gave the unit the Presidential Unit Citation, and each member of the crew a certificate with the presidential seal at the top, and his signature at the bottom. (For more, see Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, Blind Man's Bluff, p.295ff.)

With Carter again coopted in the Navy's project, the sub had its mission changed. In December 1999, Electric Boat was awarded a new contract, worth almost a billion dollars, to change its capabilities. The most important addition would be a 30-meter long Multi-Mission Platform (MMP) aka a plug which could store all kinds of equipment, like Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), and additional forces, like Navy SEALs. The preferred explanation of the MMP was that it might be needed space for examining underwater fiber optic cables after they had been recovered from the sea floor to establish where best to splice it for tapping. The submarine would also have special maneurvering devices, both fore and aft, to allow it to remain stationary over targets with strong currents.

While it all sounded, as usual, most benign, it became less so if one thought about air guns or some big, new sound laser, designed to create shattering sounds, operating from some sea floor, thanks to some ROV. There are now lasers which can make big bangs underwater, as a recent issue of Science Daily acknowledged. "These lasers travel through air and water to generate an underwater explosion of sound at a remote location without the need of extra hardware." What if the Navy decided to operate powerful air guns from the Carter located over some fragile bit of the earth's shell on the ocean's floor, used a sound laser in its MMP to expose and desiccate some unstable fissure in some remote part of the earth's oceans, etc.?

If this was not the case, why would the commanding officer of the Carter's Pre-Commissioned Unit, Commander David Bartholomew, Jr., have himself relieved of command on January 24, 2004 because of "loss of confidence" in such prestigious and apparently sought after position? While Bartholomew was threatened with administrative or disciplinary punishment, it seems as if he was simply retired, at the rank of Captain. It sounds as if he had simply refused to follow dangerous orders in preparing the sub for action - what he alluded to recently after reading Don Ulmer's Silent Battleground: "His wardroom scenes are so realistic that I found myself there. Don shows us a scenario that very nearly happened. In doing so, he not only gives us a view of professional Navy officers, but opens a rare glimpse into the war-fighters personal lives - on both sides of a conflict we hope never happens."

The book is about professional submariners who prevent nuclear annihilation, sought by ambitious politicians.

The strangeness of Bartholonew's removal is compounded by the fact that it took over two years for the Navy to find a permanent replacement, Commander David Honabach. Seems as if it had a very special mission which few submarine officers were either willing or qualified to take. During the interim, Captain Robert Kelso, deputy chief of staff of Submarine Development Squadron 12 at New London's Naval Subarmine Base, took command of the sub which he was the most involved officer in its development. Kelso was in charge during its alpha sea trials, completed on November 19, 2004, and after Electric Boat delivered it officially to the Navy three days before Christmas. It was commissioned on February 10, 2005 at New London's Naval Submarine Base (NSB).

This sounds like official obfuscation, like when the Parche was on its circuitous course to the Barents back in 1979 to keep everyone, even President Carter, in the dark about what it was up to. About its trip, Sontag and Drew wrote, "She'd travel a route that had probably never been taken before, the one path that would bypass all of the Soviet choke points, just about the most difficult and dangerous way possible." (p. 302) While the Carter did not have the USSR to worry about, it had to arrive at the target area without anyone else knowing it was already involved in secret operations before Electric Boat officially delivered it, and without an inkling, like with the Parche's most secret missions, where it might be - somewhere in the Pacific, near the Antarctic Circle, south of New Zealand, via probably the Cape of Good Hope.

While the plot, Wolfowitz's, was now coming into play, the world, especially the media, was unaware of anything untoward being in the works, thanks to its being obsessed by President's Bush's seeking re-election. Even bloggers who knew about Bartholomew's ouster, only attributed it to the continuing problems that the partially out-of-control, demoralized service was having with commanding officers - i. e., incompetent, illegal, immoral leadership.

A month after Bartholonew's replacement, Rumsfeld still gave a glimpse of what might well happen before a Defense Transformation conference, especially with converted Tridents or subs with the Multi-Mission Platforms: "...allows Naval Special Forces to think about using submarines in ways that weren't conceiveable in the past." The use of converted attack submarines to carry Navy SEALs and submersibles were old hat for the Navy. After Bush was safely re-elected, and the Carter was getting into position, the SOD told a November 8th press conference: "The focus today is on speed, it's on precision, it's on mobility, stealth and networked forces."

The Carter's first use of its MMP apparently occurred around Thanksgiving Time, 2004, resulting in such big bangs underwater that 169 whales and dolphins were washed up on the coast of Trasmania during a three-day period. Its sound laser had apparently done the killing. The strength and low wavelength of its bangs simply drive them crazy. Australian Senator and Green Party leader Bob Brown, thanks to advice provided by Jim Cummings of the Acoustic Ecology Institute - blamed it upon "sound bombing" apparently by unknown exploration parties looking for oil as he had no idea that the Pentagon was responsible. Brown was no friend of the Bush administration having interrupted the President's speech a year earlier before the Australian Parliament. Then in early December, at least another 140 whales beached themselves around Tasmania.

With no hint that the Navy may have been responsible, the Carter was permitted, it seems, to do everything it could to cause a massive earthquake at the southern end of the Australian-Indian plate with the expectation that it would so loosen it from the Burma one at the other end that it would collapse. On December 23rd, a powerful air gun - lowered to the floor of the Pacific near the Macquarie and Auckland Islands, 800 kilometers southeast of Tasmania, and fired continuously into its sediment - caused an 8.1 earthquake, and two days later the anticipated masssive 9.2 quake occurred west of Indonesia's Sumatra, wreaking havoc with its following tsunamis upon troublesome Aceh province, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka and the Nicobar and Andaman Islands. Other Muslim hot spots, Malaysia and Myanmar, were only spared because Indonesia and Thailand respectively took the pounding intended for them.

Of course, the devastating numbers of drownings and deaths would have been far less if there had been an adequate warning system but there wasn't and still isn't one, though the Navy managed to warn its facilities, as far away its base at Diego Garcia, of the impending disaster. The tsumanis were the latest weapons in the Pentagon's arsenal, it seems, killing nearly 300,000 potential Islamic troublemakers - what was always Wolfowitz's aim since the ouster of Indonesia's General Suharto. Washington promised a puny $35 million when the disasters occurred, and raised its aid ten fold when they appeared to be having the desired effect upon the populations concerned, especially in war-torn Aceh.

As for the Carter, it kept a low profile after it was officially commissioned. It just sat on its hands for seven months at New London's NSB until taking off for its new homeport at Bangor Annex of the Kitsap, Washington Naval Base. In doing so, it showed off that its capability to cause surprises had been a much higher priority than its seaworthiness, as it damaged its conning tower while running on the surface when it contacted unexpected high waves in Long Island Sound on October 14th while leaving New London.

Once the submarine had bedded down there, and had finally gotten a permanent captain, Commander Honabach, the following June, it was finally in a position to be rewarded. The Carter received a coveted "Battle E" aka Battle Efficiency Award for its performance during 2007 - like Commander Michael Poirier's belated Bronze Star. The Navy always recognizes its most deserving personnel, no matter what the mission, its consequences, and the necessary wait

The Pentagon, though, was nowhere near over its preventive wars with America's enemies, especially Muslims and their potential supporters, as we shall see.