Monday 7 December 2009

Glimpses of America's Man-Made Disasters (Part 15)

by Trowbridge H. Ford

If the United States hoped to keep its warfare state essenitally in tack, once the USSR actually collapsed, it would have to create a suitable replacement - what only seemed possible by stirring up the various Muslims in the Middle East. There was still a possibility as late as 1990 that the Soviets would still, somehow hang on, and just the right mixture of American force - laser beams from satellites, military action on the ground, and inaction elsewhere - could be used in Iraq, Iran, and Syria to do the trick. At least, Washington got off on the right foot by apparently causing the massive earthquake in northwestern Iran on June 20, 1990 - the damage of which guaranteed that the mullahs in Iran would not be helping Saddam in any way, once the shooting started in Iraq. Then the 'green light' that American Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie gave the Iraqi dictator in Baghdad a month later assured that he would bite off more than he could chew, once other Muslim leaders learned that he was retaking all of Kuwatt, not just its oil fields. Of course, the besting of Saddam could not include his acutal disappearance as that would open the floodgate to Iran's Shiites, explaining why the Iraqi dictator was able to give them a bloody nose after he had gotten his.

To stoke up panic in Washington against any serious reduction of its war-making capacity, Danny B. Stillman, Director of Los Alamos' Technical Intelligence Division, made a second trip to China in the autumn to report on the state of its nuclear weapons facilities. A trip could also determine Chinese reaction to what had happened in Iran. America's ambassador to Tehran had been former DCI Richard Helms who had been given the position as some kind of consolation for being one of the scapegoats in Watergate. While Helms was thought to be a trusted supporter of officials he served, especially the Shah, and China's moderates, more and more was coming out about his betrayals, especially of JFK. While in Tehran, William Shawcross wrote in the recently published The Shah's Last Ride, "...Helms was an enthusiastic supporter of the Shah's plans for rapid development and radical transformation of Iran." (p. 266) Then Helms had been connected to assassinations, attempted and successful, of Presidents Saddam Hussein, Kennedy, Castro and others. All of this became most relevant when the Tabas eathquake acted as the catalyst which triggered the Shah's downfall.

What could have especially concerned Beijing now were the cables that Jack Anderson, the controverisal Washington columnist, had published in 1979 from Ambassador Helms about the operations of Iran's feared secret police aka SAVAK at home and abroad. On November 7, 1976, Helms wired Henry Kissinger, President Ford's Secretary of State and NSA, that any American action against its agents in the States would be retaliated by Iranian officials against American ones in Iran. Soon after Jimmy Carter had been elected President, Helms cabled Washington that Tehran was most anxious to maintain its special relationship with the USA, and that no SAVAK agents were operating there. In early January 1977, the Shah warned Carter through Helms that any action against his agents in America would be reciprocated in kind by his agents in Iran. Under the circumstances, Carter decided to keep the risky relationship with SAVAK, explaining that "the intelligence which we received, particularly from our listening stations focused on the Soviet Union, was of such importance that we should continue the collaboration." (Quoted from ibid., p. 273)

Then, of course, the question would have been: why were there no warings of the Tabes earthquake and its probable consequences? Had the Carter administration consciously colluded in what the Soviets were doing to rid the Middle East of the Shah's Great Civilization? The U.S. State Department had remained complacent about even KGB warnings by Victor Kazakhov in the spring of 1978 during the Qom riots that there would be an uprising in Iran, and once it occurred with the capture of the bloated staff at its embassy in Tehran, the Carter administration was committed to simply washing its hands of any traces of the Shah. It all seemed to give support to suspicions of American betrayal when the President gave that too fulsome and most unexpected praise of the Shah during that New Year's Eve banquet for 1978 in Tehran. (For more, see Shawcross, p. 129ff.)

Little wonder Stillman described his second visit to China in the most alarming terms. About his meeting with Yu Min, the "father of the Chinese H-bomb", while acknowledging that he was an extremely talented scientist who did design its first thermonuclear bomb, Stillman still maintained that Yu just used the ideas of others, most from the West, concluding thus: "However, we believe he (Yu) did so with the assistance of key ideas from Fuchs, an incredible domestic computational capability, indicators from other nations' tests, access to an enormous library of Western publications, and the support of a vast array of intellectual talent, much of it trained in the West." (Reed and Stillman, The Nuclear Express, p. 128) This was certainly a tribute to China's ability to vacuum clean up all kinds of intelligence from others rather than of Yu himself.

When in 1999 the Chinese finally learned of how they had been spied upon by Stillman et al., and bitterly complained, Reed replied: "That is more bunk. During his ten visits to China, Stillman encourtered a vast vacuum cleaner, sucking up American technology and spying on its citizens to a degree that boggles the mind." (p. 233) During the trips to various sites, Chinese authorities allegedly spied on Stillman and his associates constantly and to the nth degreee. "While Stillman and his deputy were in Beijing," Reed recounted, "the Chinese made efforts to separate them from one of their traveling companions (Los Alamos Assocaite Director John C. Hopkins). It was a blatant attempt to discuss weapon design in private with a knowledgeable American. It is not likely those efforts succeeded." (p. 229) The Chinese, it seems, were so consumed with spying on the American visitors that they threw all social niceties to the winds. And if the Chinese were only such great thieves, especially of American technology, how were they so far ahead of America?

As for what Beijing had allegedly achieved through its spying, it was simply mind boggling. Stillman's party had only agreed to return to China a second time, it seems, if it was allowed to see the crown jewels of its nuclear achievements - its nuclear test site, the nuclear test diagnostics facility, and the prompt-burst reactor. When it visited Xian's Northwest Institute of Nuclear Technology, noted for its Stalinist architecture and condition, Reed recalled, "...all of these inconveniences were forgotten upon the visitors' arrival at the most sophisticated flash X-ray equipment they had ever seen: instrumentation to support implosion diagnostics and/or radiation-hardening tests."(p. 225) After seeing the FBR-2 reactor - what had allegedly superceded the FBR-l reactor fourteen years previously, and could blow up the whole lab if if left to its own devices - "the Americans were given a complete tour; at the end of the day, older and wiser, they moved on, over the same nearly impassabe roads, to their accomodations at Science City." (p. 227) China was a third world country when it came to its infrastructure, but the world's showcase when it came to its nuclear capability.

Thanks to alleged Chinese spying on the Americans' conversations in their hotel rooms aka wall talk - contending "no test site tour, no remaining in China" (p. 226) -
the party was finally taken to the nuclear test site at Lop Nur and Malan. Reed contended that the Chinese hosts worked around the clock, setting up meetings at night to gain intelligence bits from their American guests while working by day to translate U.S. scientific publications into Mandarin so that the new information could be used by scientists at the site. They, unlike other nuclear proliferants, pushed having gigantic test sites because they knew the need of conducting giant experiments to become a first-rate nuclear power. "In contrast," Reed concluded, "the instrumentation of even the first Chinese nuclear test was sophisticated in the extreme. (p. 109) The whole time, Chinese counterintelligence, it seems, had been following them everywhere, and going over everything they had touched in the hope of finding intelligence-related drops to contacts in China. For good measure, the Chinese Ministry of State Security just happened to publish a new handbook for professional spying, Sources and Techniques of Obtaining National Defense Science and Technology Intelligence, and the American party were the "first lab rats..." (p. 232)

In explaining this most fullsome disclosure of Chinese nuclear secrets, Reed advanced all kind of ideas about why except the real one - i. e., their naiveté - why Beijing was not most suspicious about what was going on, especially the source of the recent Iranian earthquake. Certainly, Gorbachev's crumbling USSR was in no position to have done it despite the appearance that it served Moscow's interests. In February 1990, the Central Committee of the CPSU had announced the end of one party rule, and counterparts in the Baltics soon followed suit. Gorbachev, instead of ordering KGB Director Vladimir Kryuchkov to suppress the dissent, directed that it cooperate with Anglo-American agencies, and seek ways of boosting his foreign policy ambitions. Instead of the USSR seeking to oust the mullahs, it seemed much more likely that the Red Army marshals were going to overthrow their leader.

The Chinese communists had always underestimated American hostility to their regime's very existence, going all the way back to the Korean War. When Truman prevented a nuclear war by removing General MacArthur from command in Korea, and JFK allowed Beijing to settle its border disputes with India by force during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Chinese got the impression that Washington was becoming resigned to its existence, and even the recovery of Taiwan only seemed a matter of time - what was only strengthened by Washington's refusal to attack China in any way during the Vietnam War. Nixon's opening to Beijing was hopefully just a temporary expedient to help isolate the USSR by Chinese support of countries like Iran and Cambodia until the communist regime in Moscow was gone. With the end of the Cold War, China was now in the hot seat, as the devastating earthquake in Iran's northwest in June 1990 demonstrated. Instead of seeing this for what it was, China saw the period's benign neglect by Washington as signs of acceptance rather than just postponement of its fate.

Reed explained China's vast disclosure of its national security secrets to Stillman's party as the result of pride, deterence, an intelligence trick, and/or international confidence. Like Soviet scientists, according to Reed, Chinese ones felt underappreciated for their efforts, and wanted to show them off to the visiting Americans: "In their lives behind the iron or the bamboo curtains, those scientists recieved no recognition from their countrymen or from the international scientific community. (p. 221)
Then it could have been just to deter Americans from doing anything provocative - what a nuclear-armed Iran, North Korea, or Pakistan could exploit, thanks to Beijing's assistance, " long as that calamity was not directly attributable to Beijing." (p. 4) It could also have been to provoke American reaction to what they were shown in the hope of determining what it meant: "A raised eyebrow or a sudden scowl could confirm or discount a year's work." (p. 221) Reed concluded menacingly. "Maybe Chinese nuclear technology was no longer top secret," implying that Beijing was well-advanced in its replacement, especially space weapons, particularly lasers.

Stillman's reports about his two visits to China had the desired effect upon American policy-makers, especially President George H. W. Bush. He, as Reagan's Vice President, had been cranking up Washington's bureaucracies for this moment. Shortly after Reagan was re-elected, Bush was appointed chairman of the cabinet-level Task Force on Combating Terrorism. Its mandate was to make covert operations against America's enemies at home and abroad as secret as possible by preventing Congress, the media, whistleblowers, and interested citizens from learning much about them while appearing to be behaving as transparently as possible. It was an effort to re-establish covert operations to where they had been before Nixon's Plumbers ruined conditions with Watergate, especially the passage of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which put it on a collision course with the National Security Act. According to Angus Mackenzie in Secrets: The CIA's War at Home, the task force was to use alleged domestic terrorism - what was virtually non-existent - to justify essentially muzzling the whole country.

As Mackenzie explained, this required making it harder to get serious information from the government, getting the Bureau to pursue wholesale spying on peace groups like the Physicians for Social Responsibility, having the FBI largely exempted from disclosing secret counterintelligence and international terrorist files to public scrutiny and judicial review, tightening up secrecy contracts of government employees by having them sign various government forms and swearing to some secrecy oath, instructing federal employees to ignore laws that Congress had passed to the contrary, exempting agencies like the National Security Council (NSC) and the National Security Agency (NSA) from the purview of the FOIA, and the like. The prosecution of Samuel Loring Morison - what I discussed in the first article as essential for setting up Moscow for the non-nuclear conclusion to the Cold War, what the Palme assassination was intended to trigger - "...laid the foundation for successful prosecution of U.S. journalists who have, in the opinion of the government, gone too far." (Quoted from Michael Pillsbury, former Reagan Assistant Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Planning, p. 180.)

More important, Mackenzie made it quite clear that CIA's Robert M. Gates, the Deputy Director for Counter Intelligence, was the leading light in this whole hypocritical process. Of course, this was when all kinds of agencies - e.g., the CIA, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the national labs at Los Alamos and Livermore - were dreading serious cutbacks in their budgets. In May 1991, Gates was nominated to replace Judge William Webster as DCI. Gates had already failed to become DCI after William Casey fell ill back in 1987 because of the questions raised about his knowledge of the covert network that the NSC's Oliver North had developed for providing the catalyst, Palme's assassination, to the non-nuclear showdown with the Soviets. To still critics like Mel Goodman, the former division head of Soviet foreign policy, this time, Gates put on the hair shirt, as they say, for past failures, promising to do better this time, if confirmed. Gates was like former DCI Richard Helms, Mark Riebling explained in Wedge: The Secret War between the FBI and CIA, a "chameleon", willing to adapt to whatever his bosses required, whether they be hawks or pragmatic decision-makers. (pp. 411-2) This time a pragmatic hawk was required, given the growing uncertainly of the world situation, and how to proceed forward.

Gates's first serious act as DCI was to appoint a CIA Openness Task Force, headed by Joseph DeTrani, the Agency's Director of Public Affairs. "DeTrani was ordered to explore how the CIA could improve 'openness' and 'accessibility' through the use of the news media and by expanding relations with unviersities." (p. 184) The real purpose was to entice and/or entrap key players at the universties, in Congress, and in the news business from doing their jobs under the false impression that by taking them into its confidence, they were really helping in the war against terror - what would improve both their budgets and those of the American intelligence community. To help them in disinforming the public, the Agency would declassify information, especially for filmmakers seeking "accuracy" and "authenticity", to help inform the public about its successes, and to put failure in a better light. All of this was intended to make intelligence gathering more "...visible and understandable rather than strive for openness on specific substantive issues."(ibid.)

While this was going on, Stillman and Nerses Krikorian, a physicist at Los Alamos interested in stopping nuclear proliferation, paid a surprise visit to Russia in December 1991 - after the coup against Gorbachev had been successfully crushed the previous August, thanks particularly to NSA help about where the plotters, led by sidelined KBG Chief Vladimir Kryuchkov, were, and what they were doing - to discover alleged substance to kick start DeTrani's campaign. To set the Moscow scene properly for the disinformation-seeking Stillman, President Boris Yeltsin had Soviet Yuliy Khariton, the alleged unrecognized father of the Soviet atomic bomb, send for Stillman's services. Of course, Russia was flat on its back at the time, and Moscow was willing to say anything to gain Western support for its massive privatization program. Washington explained the trip as essential for Russia sorting out its nuclear legacy, and filling the niche left by the Soviet collapse with a new security framework that the West could live with. (Lilia Shevtsova, Russia: Lost in Transition, p.21)

Instead of achieving any kind of reasonable outcome with his Russian host, Stillman threw the book at him about its alleged ongoing spying - what certainly constituted a continuing threat to the West. Before Reed even recounted Stillman unloading on Khariton, he raised the existent of this phantom Soviet spy, PERSEUS aka Arthur Fielding, who was apparently still providing Moscow with American nuclear secrets from Los Alamos and beyond. Not only did Fielding and others supply Moscow with atomic secrets but also with everything regarding the " frontier of thermonuclear physics." (Op. cit., p. 39) While PERSEUS, as I stated earlier, is an vastly exaggerated American composite of what MI5's Peter Wright essentially did for the Soviets, it reduced the contribution of Soviets scientists, especially Igor Kurchatov and Andrei Sakarov, into essentially little more than Soviet cooks in laboratories. "We have to further conclude," Reed wrote, "that Khariton's 1991 invitation to Stillman and Krikorian was part of a campaign to mask the very extensive and continuing role of techmnical intelligence in the Soviet nuclear weapons program. The Soviet nuclear veteran wished to build a bogus wall a half-century in the past." (pp. 42-3)

Of course, this was manna from heaven for all the American scientists, media people and intelligence agencies, fearing cuts because of the end of the Cold War, as the trips showed that the cold wars had, it seems, only grown with the numbers participating, and the weapons involved. Of course, by this time SoD Gates had already put in place all of DeTrani's recommendations, except the one about him personally selling all the Agency's virtues to the public. Gates particularly wanted agency checks on key reporters and members of America's professoriate to make sure that they got out the good news without any embarrassing leaks or blowback. " 'Openness'," Mackenzie explained, "meant adopting a well-crafted publuc relations scheme aimed at the most important opinion makers in the nation." (p. 187) And Gates was certainly not disappointed when Andy Rooney, the doyen of CBS's Sixty Minutes, and exploiting Senator Daniel Moynihan's call for abolishing the CIA, wrote in an article, "A Lack of Intelligence:Fire the Spies," that its spies should be terminated, and it budget of $30 billion should be cut by 75% - what it was just trying to do, given especially input from Stillman.

Stillman's information, and that of others, had a dramatic impact upon congressional funding, so much so that it started to rise again in 1992, and has pretty much continued to do so ever since. The figure that Rooney used was highly deceptive as that amount was for essentially the whole intelligence community. The Agency only received about $3.1 billion, while the NRO received twice as much, and the NSA got $3.7 billion. The NRO had built up over $3 billion of appropriated but unspent funds, so much that it even built a huge new facility, costing $310 million out of its own pocket. More important, the NRO had the largest number of employees under Special Access Programs (SAPs) - "...supersecret program designed to minimize oversight and provide for an exotic level of secrecy." (p 196) The General Accounting Office estimated in 1985 that there were "about 5,000 to 6,000" federal employees having such contracts with private industry. If there were any Russian and Chinese spies still operating in the States, they would most likely be NRO employees.

On a much more somber note, Maczenie himself, who had been investigating such covert operations for fifteen years, came down with brain cancer about this time, dying on May 13, 1994. While it could have been naturally caused, especially given all his cell phone calls - a much suspected cause of such cancersm - in doing the research, it is also possible that it was the result of foul play. The Agency's Special Operations Group, what Helms started in 1967, and was first headed by Richard Ober, was still in business, and Gates's new program required something like this to get rid of persistent troublemakers. Mackenzie had even made the connection with its pursuit of Victor Marchetti, its campaign against Ramparts, and MHCHAOS, the domestic program for domestic spying of the highest order. "Ober confided," Mackenzie recounted, "that MHCHAOS files were going directly to John Dean at the White House, as even Dean was involved in the Watergate cover-up." (p. 55) And the Plumbers - led by 'Executive Action's William King Harvey - were connected to Dean, and all their operations, especially Arthur Bremer's assassination of former Alabama Governor George Wallace.

For more on this, see my article about Al 'Deep Throat' Haig on

In sum, the glimpses of the series are now becoming more like views, and what is seen looks more and more like a most complicated set of covert operations, as shall be seen even more clearly in due course.