Wednesday 18 November 2009

Glimpses of America's Man-Made Disasters (Part 13)

by Trowbridge H. Ford

The Tangshan earthquake in July 1976 was a wake-up call to the Americans and the Chinese while it was a reassuring one for the beleaguered Soviets. Washington, thanks to input by Air Force Secretary and National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) Director Thomas C. Reed, realized that it had been barking up the wrong tree with the Soviets, continuing to upgrade its missiles and their warheads under the cover of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, while it should have been involved in upgrading its satellites and developing powerful lasers for them. For Beijing, the earthquake had shown just how vulnerable its defense establishment was. Not only had Moscow left its in shambles during Khrushchev's last days but now showing that what was left of it above ground was vulnerable to attacks by more earthquakes. For the Soviets, the Tangshan earthquake - whose cause was unexpectedly successful - induced the Ministry of Defence despite its bloated status to go full speed ahead at its immense Semipalatinsk facility with the Fon-1 program to develop a variety of similar technologies for its new missiles.

Mao's hand-picked successor, Hua Guofen, went to the Tangshan disaster site, and managed the rescue effort while the infamous 'Gang of Four', especially Mao's wife Jian Qing, avoided it for fear of exposing the regime's weakness during a most serious challenge. "Anecdotal evidence suggests that the socio-political and cultural dynamics put into motion at the time of catastrophic 'natural' disasters," Mark Pelling and Kathleen Dill wrote in " 'Natural' disasters as catalysts of political action" to mark the 30th anniversary of the tragedy, "create the conditions for potential political change - often at the hands of a discontented civil society." Of course, by not identifying why they thought that the Tangshan earthquake, like Hurricane Katrina, might well not have been a natural one, they conveniently left Moscow out of the equation, and apparently out of fear of raising the hackles of colleagues more than the international power players involved. Professionals do not look kindly upon their kind who raise damaging questions about who they are, and what they are up to. The grievances that Hua's men, particularly Deng Xiaoping, exploited were the fallout from Mao's similarly dying Cultural Revolution. Mao's interregnum had left a power vacuum which they exploited after the earthquake struck.

Rather than treating the Tangshan earthquake as the source which triggered the maladaption of socio-environmental relations throughout the Chinese political system, as Pelling and Dill had, Reed just acted as if it was a natural phenomenon irrelevant to the ongoing power struggle. Reed had been a most creative designer of thermonuclear weapon warheads, especially MIRVed ones which were multiple independently targeted, during the 1960s when Livermore was engaged in its massive overkill in alleged deterrence, even gaining Edward Teller's approval for his performance. Hua's and Deng's more pragmatic policies simply triumphed over those of Mao's followers who wanted to continue the revolutionary struggle for a more communist world. If Qing's associates had won, there certainly would have been a military showdown with Moscow whose outcome no one can imagine with any kind of clarity or certainty. "Within a month of Mao's death," Reed wrote, "Hua arrarnged for her arrest and imprisonment along with her key associates." (p. 162) Then the Chinese constitution was changed to suit the needs and expectations of the rebels. "Those shifts would give rise to a booming economy, but they also brought to power a man who had decided to proliferate nuclear weapons into the Third World."

In doing so, Reed took an unexpected great leap forward, acting as if the Chinese already had a fully developed nuclear industry which they could use to help supply friendly countries like Pakistan with tested nuclear weapons. Actually, Reed had only touched on the nuclear weapons industry northeast of Chengdu and Mianyang, acting as if the sum and substance of it was essentially located around Zitong, where the Chinese built their new Research and Design Academy of Nuclear Weapons to get further away from the Soviets. It was spread out all over the place, "...with facilities strung down narrow valleys." (p. 104) While this made for difficult travel between facilities, they were all sitting ducks, being above ground, if the Soviets decided that Beijing needed more 'natural' disasters as catalysts for more agreeable political change. More disasters could open the current Chinese political leadership to further scrutiny that even it might not be able to contain.

It was only in November 1979 that the Chinese leadership finally admitted the 240,000 killed in the Tangshan earthquake - an alleged natural disaster - to stem more damaging speculation about the numbers dead and why. Since it had occurred, as CHINA.ORG.CN recounted in "Tangshan Earthquake - 30 Years' Sorrow," it had been "...surrounded by speculation, guesswork and rumors because no official information about what had actually happened or casualties sustained was made available." The biggest source of the speculation was that many precursors of an earthquake had occurred, and geophysical and geochemical anomalies detected, but no one had put them all together in a prediction, especially since there were no foreshocks. The Chinese authorities had established stations to check for such precursors in Hsingtai County in 1968 to warn Beijing of a likely quake, and one in Aksu, Sinkiang - right next to the nuclear test site at Lop Nur - in 1971, but had not gotten round to establishing one at Tangshan near the North Korean border. "It was not a man-made disaster," Xu Xuejiang, the reporter for the Xinhua New Agency belatedly wrote, "and the deaths have no direct relation with the government."

Of course, the placing of these test stations - particularly to record animal reactions to possible earth tremors - showed that the government was most concerned about their occurring in the capital and at its major testing center in the desert. The facilities were not just a few shacks, like what the Americans had in Nevada, but a vast complex on the sand which would have been shaken to pieces by any serious earthquake, natural or man-made. "Co-author Stillman had the opportunity to visit there a quarter century later. The dimensions were overpowering. The Chinese Nuclear Weapons Test Base," Reed recounted, "is seven times the size of the equivalent U.S. facility in Nevada." (p. 108) More important, the site had all kinds of underground equipment for recording the results of a test from its inception. Moreover, the Chinese, according to Reed and Stillman, were most vigilant in proecting its secrets, unlike the Nevada test site where American protesters were given pretty much the run of the place whenever they felt like it. (Hugh Gusterson, Nuclear Rites: A Weapons Laboratory at the End of the Cold War, p. 178ff.)

During the early 'eighties, after Deng had consolidated power as chairman of the Central Military Commission, he built a whole complex of underground nuclear facilities around Dujiangyan - the epicenter of China's export of nuclear and ballistic missile technology to Muslim and communist states - a place only alluded to in The New Express. Reed explained how Stillman opened up the country's whole nuclear industry for US inspection, starting in June 1988. That's when five, unknown Chinese experts attended a meeting of the American Physical Society, along with fellow Chinese Professor Yang Fujia, director of the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear Research. Stillman decided to ask him some probing questions about China's nuclear arms industry, starting with: did China possess a prompt burst reactor - a device to test laser design. When Fujia said it did, Stillman asked where it was, and "...much to his surprise, Professor Yang pointed to a location off in the mountains, a considerable distance west of the known Chinese nuclear weapons facilities." (p. 221) This turned out to be Dujiangyan which they personally visited the following year.

This was not the first bit of ignorance that the USA had about what was going on in China. As the Soviet Union was heating up the area around Tangshan with its laser satellites, James W. Plummer, the fifth Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), suddenly retired in June 1976, apparently having learned that there was much more to the satellite business than just creating Corona ones for meteorlogical, communications, and reconnaissance purposes. Their spotting what Moscow was cooking up over China shook the NRO to its very foundations, and Reed was hastily called in to replace him by the collapsing Ford administration in the hope of somehow stopping the rot. Jimmy Carter, Ford's obvious replacement, was on record that he wanted to negotiate a comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT) if elected. NRO Director Reed, it seems, got the national laboratories to oppose any test ban treaty because they allegedly needed tests to assure the reliability of their nuclear weapons while, in fact, they just wanted loads more money to catch up in the Star Wars game.

The need for testing was totally belied by the fact that despite all the money for it, the labs only tested, on average, one stockpiled weapon per year. Then there were disagreements about why Carter, once President, gave up on the idea. The directors of the two national laboratories, Harold Agnew at Los Alamos and Roger Batzel at Livermore, claimed that they talked him out of it by stressing the reliability concern. Herb York, a previous director at Livermore, and a proponent of CTBT, claimed that it was because of Soviet and Iranian behavior against American interests that the negotiations failed. Whatever the cause of Carter changing his mind, there was no doubt about why the scientists at the labs opposed it, as insider opponent at Livermore Hugh Dewitt explained. "The laboratories oppose a comprehensive test ban because they want to continue their nuclear weapons development - to refine existing designs and do research in exciting new areas such as the X-ray laser." (Quoted from Gusterson, p. 147.)

Reed, of course, had long left the position by then, having left the NRO shortly after Carter's inauguration, for more productive pastures in the private sector. It can be safely assumed that he was working behind the scenes with officials like Stillman, the manager of the Los Alamos intelligence program, to insure that the nation's weapons laboratories were gearing up for what a Reagan administraion required. Reed had long worked as a key supporter of the California governor, becoming a member of his cabinet, and had only turned to more important policy possibilities when his election seemed assured, thanks to the infamous 'October surprise' regarding the release of the American diplomatic hostages in Tehran. Reed became Special Assistant for National Security Policy in Reagan's National Security Council. For more on this, see these links:

Before anything could be done regarding space weapons, Reed had to stop the rabid campaign over the MX missiles - how many MIRVed ones to have, and where to place them. The least dangerous, expensive option seemed to be what the former President had proposed - the MX/MPS plan of having 200 MX missiles, and shuttling tham back and forth among 4,600 shelters in the Utah and Nevada deserts - but, of course, the Reagonites wanted nothing to do with anything the former Georgia peanut farmer proposed about MX for closing the alleged window of vulnerability. To make a long, mind-blogging story short, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger persuaded Reagan to go along with placing a few dozen MX missiles in existing Minutemen and Titan ICBM silos, freeing up vast funds for the so-called Strategic Defense Initiative.. "The proposal," Lou Cannon wrote in President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime, "astonished military planners and was opposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But it had a virtue that overwhelmed its technological deficiencies: it had not been proposed by Jimmy Carter." (p. 137)

With the MX missile issue finally off the table, the Reagan administration was then able to do what Reed really wanted - the Star Wars program. On March 23, 1983, Reagan announced: "I am directing a comprehensive and intensive effort to define a long-term research and development program to begin to achieve our ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles. This could pave the way for arms control measures to eliminate the weapons themselves." The proposed system would have high-energy lasers, sensors to locate missiles in preparation for launch or in flight, and command and control centers to direct the lasers to destroy them. To quiet the potential critics, the whole idea was presented as an "anti-weapon weapon", and "...even a small laser system - despite its ineffectiveness as a defence - would create profound instabilities," Daniel Kaplan explained in an article, "Lasers for missile defence," in the May 1983 issue of the Bullentin of the Atomic Scientists, "in the strategic balance between the United States and the Soviet Uniion." (p. 5)

While doubting scienists debated all kinds of alleged problems with the proposed system - e. g., disguising the five-megawatt power of the hydrogen flouride lasers while still managing to get the massive machines in the sky, possible use of battle stations in the sky, need of 200 satellites to direct the missiles if the Soviets fired all 2,000 of theirs, would require possibly 14,000 shuttle flights to get the whole system in the sky, etc. - the Reagan administration got the necessary funding to start work, starting with $50 million additional funding in 1982 alone, on the massive program despute claims that even a small system of lasers could be seen by the Soviets as offensive, and "such a huge system of lasers is certainly not practical." (p. 6) Lockheed Martin Missiles has already "...unveilled a model of a space-based laser weapon, though, it seems to have more publicity than technical value." (p. 8)

As I have already discussed in the first article of this series, Washington was technically able to put such a Keyhole-11 satellite in the sky in 1984, though it later failed while there, and a similar one in the Kennan series failed the following August, resulting in the rush job to put up yet another one in the Space Shuttle Challenger - what resulted in the famous disaster which most of us witnessed on television at the end of January 1986. What I did overlook in the article is that the KH-ll satellites' first task was to knock of the Soviet ICBMs if Moscow prepared to launch its liquid-fuelled rockets in reaction to the surprise assassination of Sweden's statsminister Olof Palme - what was intended to kickoff a non-nuclear conclusion to the Cold War. The missiles would be sitting ducks for the laser-powered satellite overhead - what Moscow was to believe were merely imagery ones - once the container of sensors that Toshiba shipped across the Soviet Union alerted Washinton about what was possibly afoot. It was the spying by Rick Ames, Robert Hanssen et al. which ruined Washington's well-disguised plan, and apparently saved all our necks in the process.

In the wake of the disaster, it was now Stillman's responsibility to figure out what to do with the laser satellites remaining as the Cold War collapsed, as Reed had been forced to resign right after the program seriously got started because of alleged insider trading with his father's import-export business which netted him a significant fortune.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Glimpses of America's Man-Made Disasters (Part 12)

by Trowbridge H. Ford

The defining moment for the use of nuclear weapons came when the Chinese exploded their first one in the atmosphere at Lop Nur in Xinjiang province on October 16, 1964, though almost no one realized it at the time. Ever since 1950, the United States had been at war, or on the brink of it with China. "Four of the five crises in which American Presidents seriously considered the use of nuclear weapons," Richard J. Aldrich has written in The Hidden Hand, "occurred in Asia." (p. 293) Most recently, in August 1958, the Air Force had recommended bombing the Chinese mainland with a dozen or so kiloton nuclear bombs if they went ahead with their plans of blockading the Taiwan Strait, but Eisenhower had rejected the proposal. Now with LBJ as President - thanks to the Dallas assassination of JFK after the world's narrow escape during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the heating up of the Vietnam War in August 1964 by the manufactured Tonkin Gulf incidents, - it seemed just a matter of time before a nuclear showdown with Beijing would happen. The newly-elected British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, refused to back the massive introduction of American troops into Vietnam for fear that it would be dragged into a nuclear Armageddon.

Soon, more sober views prevailed, as LBJ even learned that the use of atomic weapons would bring total disaster - what the invasion of North Vietnam or the bombing of China would trigger. As a result, the obtaining of a nuclear capability by China had helped stabilize the explosive situation, contrary to what the so-called nuclear
realists of international affairs had assumed - rather than led to all-out war. Of course, as the previous article showed, the Anglo-Americans had helped tremendously in bringing this about by supplying Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists with the scientists, know-how, and many materials for making such weapons - what fell to Mao's communists when the Generalissimo proved not up to the job - but there was no mournful confessions from either London or Washington about what had transpired because of unexpected nuclear proliferation. Mao, despite all his pronouncements about what he would do with the bomb, once he got it, proved to be just engaging in empty rhetoric. If Beijing had not had the bomb, Washington would have certainly used it by the time the 1968 presidential campaign rolled around.

Still, the Chinese staged the test in a way so as to thumb their nose at the USA, especially the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. From the very first, China had worked hard to minimize nuclear fallout by conducting tests in the atmosphere. "...there were no surface bursts at Lop Nur," Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman have written in The Nuclear Express, "sucking up great clouids of radioactive debris." (p. 128) This is a far cry from how the Americans staged tests, conducting them either on the surface of land or in the sea, and the agencies responsible more at war with themselves than keeping up with the communists. The hostility started, according to Hugh Gusterson in Nuclear Rites: A Weapons Laboratory at the End of the Cold War, when Livermore instead of Los Alamos got media credit for conducting the first successful test of a hydrogen bomb, and intensified when its first real test only bent the tower which was supposed to be vaporized by the blast, leading Los Alamos's scientists to crack all kinds of jokes about the use of the damaged tower. (p. 24) It was not until the March 1955 Tesla and Turk tests that Liverpool finally got off the mark in the business, but they were still surface bursts, contaminating the Nevada Desert.

More important, Lawrence Liverpool's design, testing, and manufacture of nuclear weapons - what some physicists, especially Robert Oppenheimer, the alleged "Father of the Atomic Bomb", had denounced after the first ones were used on Japan - increasingly haunted its membership. These scientists - headed by Albert Einstein and Hungarian émigré Leo Szilard who had been most instrumental in getting FDR to adopt the Manhattan Project - led the Pugwash Conferences, warning of the dangers of the nuclear arms race, and calling for international control of atomic energy - what Oppenheimer assisted as best he could as head of America's Atomic Energy Commission until he lost his security clearance in 1954 because of the Red Scare. Thereafter, though, Oppenheimer became what Michel Foucault labelled in Power/Knowledge the prototype of the "strategists of life and death" whose pronouncements determined the "regime of truth" - how the whole issue of nuclear weapons, and what to do about them was determined by these experts of "technostrategic discourse".

Little wonder that the establishment experts, especially those at Lawrence Liverpool, became apopletic when Oppenheimer in increasingly emotional terms opposed their alleged rationality in doing such things. At Los Alamos, there was a stronger contingent of liberal physicists to question what was going on there, especially when Truman revived up its work to suit the demands of another Hungarian émigré, Edward Teller, but they soon saw themselves besieged by deriding cartoons on their doors, practical jokes at their expense, and so much censorship that they had no hope of gauging where things were going. As Oppenheimer explained about his continued presence there, and doing what he really opposed: "For the last four years I have had only classified thoughts." (Quoted from Sissela Bok, Secrets: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation, p. 199.) Still, long after Oppenheimer left, there were the deadly "blue flashes" of radiation emissions which nuclear weapons workers so fear, the naming of the results of ongoing tests as his babies, and his becoming the original and ultimate victim of speaking out against the whole process. (Gusterson, p.269n20).

Gusterson better illustrated the effect at Livermore when he discussed how George, an anonymous nuclear weapons designer, reacted to an above ground test, apparently in the Nevada desert - what led him to resign shortly thereafter from the laboratory: "And then there is this incredible flash of light, and you always go back to thinking how Oppenheimer describes this incredible flash of light. He described it as brighter than a thousand suns. Just incredibly intense. And it's very frightening. Just terrifying. Just absolutely terrifying. I was crouched over. I'm sure I urinated in my pants at the time as a result..." (Quoted from ibid., p. 128) "I encourtered no one," Alex Forman, co-founder of the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, added to Gusterson's text after his inquiries during the Reagan years at the lab, "with the humanistic sensitivity of an Oppenheimer or a Szilard in those publicly representing Livermore." (p. 238)

Under the circumstances, it was hardly surprising that Reed and Stillman picked on Oppenheimer as a convenient Soviet spy throughout this whole period, though without naming him, and he left Los Alamos at the end of the war. "The Venona transcripts," they declared, "and supplementary sources" - Gordon Lonsdale courier Lona Cohen's alleged deathbed confession to her first KGB handler Anatoly Yatsov, and confirmed by several investigators of Soviet spying - "make it clear that another agent lay hidden deep within the Los Alamos fence, under the code name PERSEUS." (p. 30) Actually, this is an attempt to blame Oppenheimer for the fear, paranoia and isolation which pervade the nation's national laboratories without actually saying so - what was actually done by the still unidentified Soviet atomic spy 'K', apparently MI5's former Assistant Director Peter Wright, and others who provided the Cohens, later part of Lonsdale's spy ring as the Krogers, the means, especially microdots, for convening what they were able to collect through their book-selling business in Ruislip for Moscow.

For more on what Wright, Londale aka Vilyam Fisher, Rudolf Abel and Konon Molody, and the Cohens accomplished, see these links:

When one looks for the supporting evidence of Reed's and Stillman's claims about the long time spy at Los Alamos, there is nothing in Nigel West's Venona and John Haynes' and Harvey Klehr's Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America to support them, though West in another book, The Crown Jewels, acknowledged that the most important atomic spy 'K' - the communist sympathizer also known as SCOTT who had previously helped recruit spies for Moscow in Whitehall until the Non-Aggression Pact with the Nazis, and British disinformers recently tried to make out was Wright's own choice for the role, Arthur Wynn (Spy Catcher, p. 265) - did exist. (p. 231ff.) The recent claim that SCOTT was Wynn is based upon a July 1941 memo that NKVD counterintelligence chief Pavel Fitin wrote to chief Vsevolod Merkulov to give the most important Oxford recruiter which Wynn never attended new cover in case anyone suspected that he was Wright. For more on the misinformation, see this link:

For continuing spin about who 'K' might be, Christopher Andrew, as expected, does all he can to keep him from being identified. "In December 1942," he wrote in The Sword and the Shield, "the London residency received a detailed report on atomic research in Britain and the United States from a Communist scientist codenamed 'K'. Vladimir Barkovsky, head of scientific and technical intelligence (S&T) at the residency, later reported that 'K' 'works for us with enthusiasm, but...turns down the slightest hint of financial reward'." (pp. 114-5) But then he goes on about Barkovsky so helping him, even supplying a key to open 'K' own safe rather than the other way round, that 'K' is even identified as Barkovsky in the Index.(p. 689) For good measure, Andrew then acted as if 'K' was essentially Melita Norwood by atttributing his contribution to her without mentioning him (p. 127) while making it in the Index cited. This is junk research, intended to keep the lid on what British spies, especially Wright, did for Moscow.

The most intriguing thing about what Andrew wrote about 'K' is that Reed and Stillman, either ignorantly or more like deliberately, read it to mean that he was a U.S.communist scientist, especially when they wrote this which I earlier quoted: "We are of the view that PERSEUS was a real communist sympathizer/agent; he joined the Los Alamost Scientific Laboratory at its inception and remained there for decades until his retirement." (p. 38) To keep the convenient myth going, they take most seriously the alleged spying by Arhur Fielding - the name the dying Lona Cohen provided Yatsov aka Anatoli Yatskov. After the Red Scare passed, according to them, Fielding turned his spying " the new frontier of thermonunclear physics" (p. 39) - just what was driving Oppenheimmer et al. to despair. "Fielding was deeply involved in the hunt for ideas within the thermonuclear program. He exchanged memoranda and held discussions with Edward Teller, Stanislaus Ulam, Lab Director Norris Bradburgy, and other heavy hitters of the thermonuclear world as those ideas took shape." (ibid.) Prior to the Mike test of the first thermonuclear bomb, Fielding was appointed to a senior Las Alamos position from which he observed everything for years to come for the Soviets and the Chinese. (p. 40ff.)

"In the mid-1990s," Reed and Stillman concluded, "Stillman reported his suspicions as to the identity of PERSEUS to the FBI's special agent in charge of its Santa Fe office. Stillman reviewed the files and the supporting evidence with the Bureau's counterintelligence expert, but within weeks that agent was reassigned to the Wen Ho Lee case, and then became ill and was transferred to another state. Both the PERSEUS and Wen Ho Lee investigations died, botched beyond recognition, until the latter case returned to public scrutiny." (p.38) Of course, instead of identifying the man, especially since he has since died according to them - and Peter Wright died in 1995 in Tasmania - they provided a most unconvincing case about any such spy, though conveniently connecting Fielding to Los Alamos when Oppenheimer was its administrator. (p. 39)

The main purpose of all this disinformation is to explain away Chinese thermonuclear achievements to Fielding's alleged spying - what they had done earlier with Fuchs's when it came to their Fat Man atomic bomb. In doing so, they completely overlooked the achievements of Chinese scientists who continued to be trained in the West in the hope that they would work for the Nationals, and had returned to China, for one reason or another, to work in various areas for the communists, persons I had earlier partly identified. (p. 88) Chen Nengkuan, who became the Chairman of the Ninth Academy's department of nuclear weapons diagnostics in the city of Haiyan in Qinghai Province, obtained a Ph.D. in physics in 1950 from Yale. An associate of his, Deng Jiaxian, became Chairman of the Ninth Academy's nuclear weapons theoretical design department after he received his doctorate at Purdue in 1950. Guo Yonghuai became "Father of China's Space Program" Qian Xuesen's assistant after he got his Ph.D. at Caltech, and left in 1956. Zhu Guangya, a protégé of Peng Huanwu - the designer of the first fission and thermonuclear weapons - received his physics doctorate at the University of Michigan in 1950. The earlier mentioned Wang Gangchang, the manager of the nuclear weapons program, was deliberately brought back to Caltech after the war by the Americans, though he did not participate in classified research, only to return to China just before the communist takeover.

For more on this Anglo-American training of Chinese physicists - what made any spying superfluous - see John Wilson Lewis, and Litan Xue, China Builds the Bomb.

It was then Moscow's turn in the summer of 1969 to ask Washington for permission to attack Chinese nuclear facilities with nuclear weapons - what JFK had sought from the Soviets six years earlier but without success - but Nixon's White House refused (Henry Kissinger, The White House Years, p. 56), knowing full well that Beijing's response on the American forces involved in the Vietnam war would be devastating since the Chinese had two years before successfully tested a thermonuclear bomb, with a yield of 3.3 megatons. There could be no showdown by either the Soviets or the West with Beijing until Mao - who had regained power in May 1966, and had instituted the Cultural Revolution to put the country on a wartime basis - had departed, and some less obvious means of destruction had been found. In 1976, Prime Minister Zhou Enlai died In January, and the dying Chairman Mao confirmed in writing in April the unknown Hua Guofeng as his replacement

This lesson was particularly not lost upon the Soviets after they lost the race to the moon with the Americans, and managed to achieve détente with the Nixon administration as they became more and more embroiled in dísputes with China, thanks to Mao's return to power with his go-for-broke Cultural Revolution. The Soviets had hoped to put up a space station from which to launch their flight to the moon, but were never able to build the big rocket, N1, to manage it, losing out to NASA's space shuttles where Moscow was decidedly inferior because of its inadequate technical base. The best hope that the Soviets had - while the American weapons labs were creating more efficient ones for more sophisticated missiles despite the treaties signed with the White House, thanks to continuing underground testing - was to more than match the National Reconnaissance Office's KH-11 digital imaging satellites with first the Yantar-6KS ones, but they were cancelled in May 1977 because its project weight was beyond the power of the Soyuz booster, leaving the assignment to the Zenit-4MK ones which Dmitri Kozlov designed, and went into service in 1972. To go along with it were the first Tselina-O satellites which were first launched in 1970, and went into service a few years later because of the delays caused by weight growth and payload development.

About the Zenit-4MK and Tselina-O combination, Soviet Space History stated: "It not only localised and classified radio emitters but also characterized their functional regimes. This allowed it to identify command traffic from the military units, allowing the targeting of those units by photo reconnaissance satellites. Constant improvement resulted in Tselina-O being abandoned in 1984 and all systems being put on Tselina-D." To go into these satellites, the Soviets installed various high energy lasers, electro-magnetic rail guns, and novel warhead technologies of a space war nature - experiments which were planned to see if Moscow should really go ahead with a whole development program aka Fon-1 of such new weapons. For more about this, see this link about Sary Shagan weapons center in Kazachstan, near the Chinese western border:

When China was in its greatest disarray because of Zhou's death, and the interregnum caused by Mao's slow demise, the Soviets, it seems, started heating up the territory around Tangshan, causing precursors of an impeding earthquake - clouds to rise, abnormal animal behavior, repeated boiling over of water and oil wells, "three belts of glittering flashes", etc. - just before it struck on July 28, 1976, killing around 240,000 people, and destroying about 90% of the surface buildings. The strangest fact about the earthquake - if it were a powerful one, caused by deep underground clashes of the earth's plates - is that no underground miners in all the region's mines were killed, none were even injured. The earthquake was caused by airborne beams, and the only ones who had them were the Soviets. For more on the earthquake, see this link:

It was because of this earthquake that Professor Shou Zhonghao went on to make a career of predicting similar man-made earthquakes.

There were few Americans who had any idea of what had happened, but one of them was this same Thomas C Reed, the Secretary of the Air Force, and Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) during the Ford and Carter Administrations - something he prefers to ignore while others, like Edward Teller aka 'Doctor Strangelove' prefer to talk about his work in designing thermonuclear devices at Livermore during the 1960s. As NRO Director, Reed's Keyhole-11 satellites discovered what the Soviet laser ones had done, and he took advantage of it, especially the safety of underground man-made structures like mines, when détente with the Soviets was scrapped, and a showdown with China loomed.