Thursday 22 October 2009

Glimpses of America's Man-Made Disasters (Part 11)

by Trowbridge H. Ford

In researching the most secret covert operations - like the plots to eliminate Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution or the campaign by the West during the 1980s to get rid of the Soviet Union without Armageddon by provoking it with air and sea intrusions - there are almost always aspects which get overlooked somehow, whether it be when and how the process actually started, unforeseen cockups along the way, unexpected blowback from seemingly unsuspecting adversaries, and the like, and looking into America's use of underground and space weapons, especially laser satellites, for strategic purposes has proven no exception. The whole build-up of the process has largely escaped my notice up until now.because it was connected, almost from the outset, by the United States and the United Kingdom with their efforts to gain a nuclear monopoly over the rest of the world.

When Washington and London were finally persuaded that an atomic bomb could and should be built by early 1943, the conventional fear was that the communists would somehow steal it - given their support in the United States and Britain - and, of course, they did, as we well know. For example, David Holloway has written in Stalin and the Bomb that intelligence materials the NKVD supplied Moscow from Britain in February, what the still ultra-secret spy 'K' provided, convinced Igor Kurchatov, head of the Soviets' atomic project, that an atomic bomb could indeed be made, resulting in the USSR going for broke to attain one. The possibility of this occurring had completely escaped the attention of the British and American intelligence services because they had little information about the Manhattan Project's existence, much less what it was all about. Their counter espionage agents were so busy catching domestic communists, and engaged in inter-service rivalry that they had no idea of what Moscow was up to.

By almost all accounts, Hoover's FBI and Britain's MI5 had a terrible time during WWII while dealing with the Soviets, much more interested in flushing out alleged
domestic spies like Under Srecetary of State Dean Acheson, Vice President Henry Wallace, John J. McCloy who presided over the Nuremberg trials et al. whose purpose was allegedly "obtaining all information possible with reference to atomic energy" (Curt Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover, p.350n), while the Security Service was involved in proving that British Ambassador to Moscow Sir Stafford Cripps, Professor J. B.S. Haldane, and Daily Worker reporter Ivor Montagu were more general Moscow spies. While William Donovan of the OSS had provided without Roosevelt's permission the NKVD with all kinds of equipment and intelligence for all kinds of spying, especially in the United States, the Soviets had all the agents they needed for spying in the UK. Little wonder after a decade of such unappreciated activities by Moscow, as Richard J. Aldrich has written in The Hidden Hand, "... the shock of the Soviet atomic bomb test in August 1949 was intense." (p. 219)

London and Washington had not been sleeping while all this had been going on, though, they had just been looking in the wrong direction - China. Ever since the Japanese had commenced their assault in 1937 on the country proper, the British had become increasingly concerned where it would all end. At first, they allowed the Japanese so any liberties in conducting their hostilities that Joseph Needham - a notable, left-wing Cambridge academic - "...was apoplectic." (Simon Winchester, The Man Who Loved China, p. 48) When conditions in China became worse, a meeting in North Oxford in November 1939, led by the young Chinese philosopher Luo Zhongshu, who later wrote the Fortress Besieged, urged that Needham lead a mission to determine the effects it was having upon its universities, apparently in fear that the Japanese were obtaining valuable information for the construction of atomic weapons. By the time the Anglo-Americans were on the road to constructing their own, in February 1943, they sent Needham there in a Douglas C-47 Skytrain over the Hump to Chungking aka Chongqing to assess its conditions - now that the West had repudiated almost all controls over its affairs - and to gather up all materials relating to its potential.

Needham, a rather naive ideologue, owed his appointment to the recommendation of Sir George Sansom, Britain's former Ambassador to Japan, and a current member of the Far East War Council in Singapore which determined how it should conduct the war East of Suez. Sansom knew first-hand that Japan had bitten off more than it could chew, especially because of its failure to mobilize completely for the massive task, by attacking America, ultimately writing Japan's Fatal Blunder - what would make China the force to be reckoned with in the Far East, especially when it came to reining in the rising Soviets. While Needham was officially given the assignment of finding out what the Chinese needed, his more important task was to work with the Sino-British Scientific Cooperation Office (SBSC). Winchester has claimed that its function was to inform Chinese universities that "...they needed to begin their own research all over again," (p. 79)

The real purpose of the SBSC - much like William Steveson's British Security Coordination before America joined the war - was to mobilize as much suuport for Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government in Chungking now that Japan had nearly shot its bolt, and Needham - the Chinese speaking, rabid supporter of the underdog, especially in China - was the ideal spy to work his way upon the troubled land while, apparently innocently, supplying his spy masters all they wanted to know. The trips by Needham were carried out by truck, displaying the names of the SBSC in both English and Chinese, and they displayed both the Union Jack and the Nationalist flags - what Winchester has conveniently explained away by stating that it would have been imprudent and contrary to diplomatic protocol to be flying "...any hammers, sickles or red stars." (p. 102) This seems most counter-productive given the alleged purpose of the mission was to mobilize everything within "free China", especially since the communists' biggest army, the Eighth, was also headquartered in Chungking.

To determine where Chinese physics was starting from - what the West had last learned of when the famous nuclear physicist Niels Bohr, the Danish physicist who modeled the the atom's nucleus as a drop of water, held together by surface tension, visited China in 1937 - Needham first went to Chengdu, where he picked up his driver and assistant Huang, and then on his way back he stopped at Loushan, the temporary home of the University of Wuhan, where a thorough inspection was made of its facilities. (p. 85ff.) He found nothing faintly ressembling a modern physics laboratory, only a great ability to improvise - what Cambridge physicist Ernest Rutherford had done in establishing the half-life of radioactive elements, and following the tracks of alpha and beta particles in determining the structure of the atom. If Rutherford and his boys, as Richard Reeves has written in A Force of Nature, could achieve such breakthoroughs with merely their minds and hands (p. 177), why couldn't their Chinese counterparts do the same, once the rubble from the war had been cleared away.

Needham's report of his travels was so successful that his superiors in London saw to the allotment of space for material every week over the Hump to satisfy the growing needs of China's scientists. While all kinds of things were supplied, the most important items regarding the development of nuclear weapons were the weekly issues of the prestigious magazine, Nature, laboratory equipment, reference books, and other scientific journals. The articles that come to mind are James Chadwick's 1932 one on the "Possible existence of a neutron," the 1939 one by Lisa Meitner and O. R. Frish on a new kind of nuclear reaction through the disintegration of uranium by neutrons, and another one the same year by Enrico Fermi on why beta ray decay could result in either negatively charged electrons or positively charged positrons - what recalled Zen Buddhists solving koans, and Bohr and Werner Heisenberg laboring over questions whether Nature seemed to be absurd. (Frijof Capra, The Tao of Physics, pp. 48-50)

The potential of the Chinese physicists who had been trained in the West was already being demonstrated. Qian Xuesen, the father of its space program, gained an M.S. at MIT in 1936, and went on to get his Ph.D. at Caltech, working along side its famous nuclear and rocket designer Charles Lauritsen, three years later. Qian Sanqiang, the father of its atomic bomb program, attended the Curie Institute in Paris in 1937, and went on to get his doctorate there in physics during the war. Peng Huanwu, the designer of its first fission and thermonuclear weapons, received his Ph.D. at Edinburgh in 1945 after studying the subject there for a decade under the tutledge of Max Born, who most belatedly got the Nobel Prize in physics in 1954 because Paul Dirac plagiarized his work back in the early '30s to get it then. Wang Gangchang, the manager of China's nuclear weapons program, had received his doctorate degree at Berlin in 1934 where Heisenberg had recently received the Nobel Prize in physics. The great risk of this training with them and others was that they would learn the greatest secrets of making an atomic bomb while conducting experiments, and consulting with colleagues despite the fact that the scientific community was engaged in self-censorship when it came to publications, even in Nature.

While Needham completed eleven full-fledged, spying expeditions during his stay in China - bringing good cheer to the outposts of its scientific community, boosting its morale by supplying it with everything it could, e. g., electric motors, large tubes of rare gases, cases of optical glass for lenses of all kinds of microscopes, a cathode ray oscilloscope, rubber tubing, etc., and displaying continually the Union Jack for diplomatic purposes while taking advantage of his left-wing entry with the Chinese Communit leadership (Winchester, pp.98-9) - he did continue the spying left off by Sir Marc Aurel Stein, and Aussie Rewi Alley. They had tracked the movements of Buddhist monks who had spread the word of the Budda, finding ultimately Cave 17 whose contents Stein ultimately provided to the British Museum, most important the scrolls of star charts and the fifteen-foot long, printed one, now known as the Diamond Sutra. While Winchester has crowed about its being the first printed manuscript, the sutra, as Capra has repeatedly demonstrated, showed that the ancient Eastern mystics through their intuition had developed a world view similar to that of the new Physics.

The sutra, sounding so much like Einstein's theories, is best known for statements like this:

"Form is emptiness and emptiness is indeed form. Emptiness is not different from form, and form is not different from emptiness. What is form is emptiness, what is emptiness that is form." (Quoted from Capra, p. 215.)

The only problem the Chinese scientists had with such ancient theories is that they had neither the means of proving them in the laboratory nor of taking advantage of them in war and peace.

While Needham went on to make a career of publicing the Chinese manuscripts he found, particularly the 24 volumes of Science and Civilization in China, all the assistance that he had provided its phsicists backfired when Chiang and his Nationalists proved to be no match for Mao and his communists. The Generalissimo never was able to put their act together, ending up as an enigna who no one fully understands. (See Jonathan Spence's review of Jay Taylor's biography in the latest issue of the NYRB, pp. 32-4.) As for the Chinese Communists, their victory on the mainland in 1949 came as big a shock to the West as the Soviets denoting their atomic bomb five weeks earlier, thanks in part to its prejudice against the country, and its rabid anti-communism against its leadership. This only compounded the problems, though, by making gifted physicists, especially Peng and Sanqiang, return home from Britain, joined by those who fled the States, particularly Qian Xuesen, because of McCarthyism, inspired by all the hysteria about spying caused by Moscow's success.

Needless to say, with all this talent given the circumstances, China soon embarked on a go-for-broke campaign to have its own atomic weapons - what most Western observers and historians attribute to Soviet assistance, and Sino spying, but this is just a result of, as they say, closing the barn door after the cows have escaped. The Korean War had shown that the Americans would not use nuclear weapons to solve their most dire circumstances This meant that even the Soviet bear would not resort to their use even if their difficulties with Beijing, especially territorial disputes, resulted in military conflict. In 1955, the Chinese Secretariat, at Mao's direction, agreed to the development of nuclear weapons. Once the Soviets started dragging their feet about providing nuclear assistnace to the Chinese program - apparently because they intended to use them, once they had them - China had to rely on its own resources to complete the job, testing its first nuclear weapon in October 1964 at Lop Nur in the far Northwest.

Under these circumstances, it is simply ludicrous for Thomas C. Reed and Danny B. Stillman to contend in The Nuclear Express that the result was essentially
achieved by Chinese intelligence, especially the direct spying by Klaus Fuchs, and PERSEUS apparently Robert J. Oppenheimer throughout for the communist regime. Fuchs had been out of the loop for years, having been exposed in 1950 during the McCarthy era, and sentenced to fourteen years in prison. He was released on June 23, 1959 from Wakefield Prison, and then made his way to East Germany. In July, Fuchs was visited by Qian Sanqiang, according to Reed's Los Alamos associate H. Terry Hawkins, and gave him "...information that greatly assisted the Chinese program." (p. 102n.) Hawkins' source is some unclassied publication that he cannot recall, and Fuchs allegedly gave Qian the design and operation of the Hiroshima bomb, Fat Man! This is exactly a decade after the Soviets had tested their first nuclear weapon, RDS-1, internally an exact replica of America's Fat Man bomb in eastern Kazakhstan.

An even more bizarre tale by Reed and Stillman is their implication that Oppenheimer was PERSEUS, the crucial Soviet spy, it seems, who hung around long enough to even help out the Chinese. After isolating Oppenheimer from the whole process - making out that he only arrived as the administrator of Los Alamos after the key spying had started - they weave a tale about some American spy known as Arthur Fielding who the Cohens recruited and controlled in 1942, and Lona conveniently spilled the beans about on her deathbed to KGB operative Anatoly Yatsov aka Anatoli Yatskov: "We are of the view that PERSEUS was a real communist sympathizer/agent; he joined the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory at its inception and remained there for decades until his retirement." (p. 38) Reed and Stillman also claimed that the Venona transcripts, and the Mitrokhin Archives indicated Fielding's existence, though there is apprently no mention of PERSEUS aka Arthur Fielding in either John Earl Haynes & Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America or Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokin, The Sword and The Shield.

The only sense that I can make of this rigmarole is to tar Oppenheimer without saying so. It seems that Oppenheimer, a communist sympathizer like Needham, was forced to spy for the Soviets because while he was working with Max Born, he inadvertantly provided a paper of Born's which Paul Dirac plagiarized to win the Phsyics Prize in 1933. As a result, Oppenheimer was quite willing to overlook the communist background of almost anyone, especially Fuchs. While Born belatedly got the prize in 1954, the anger of other scientists in-the-know about the matter were unabating, particularly when Oppenheimer himself was awarded the Fermi prize by JFK.
As for who PERSEUS really was, I suspect the atomic spy 'K' - apparently aka Peter Wright, ultimately MI5's Assistant Director who Vladimir Barkovsky recruited during the war - and a few other still undisclosed spies.

These were only the first of many deceptions that Reed and Stillman engaged in, as we shall see.