“Most of the species killed are in no biological danger their populations are stable.” What hogwash! Killing always risks reducing genetic diversity!
— Mike Vandaman
Shot and Gassed:
Thousands of Protected Birds Killed Annually Rachael Bale and Tom Knudson / Reveal @ The Center for Investigative Reporting
(May 13, 2015) — Every spring, bird-watchers from across America gather in Nebraska for one of the continent’s great avian spectacles — the mass migration of sandhill cranes through an hourglass-like passage along the Platte River.
The birds rarely disappoint: With enormous wingspans, they circle like hang gliders over the river valley, filling the air with raucous revelry. And according to fossil records, they’ve been carrying on like that for quite some time: 9 million years, in fact, making them North America’s oldest bird species.
But some several hundred miles northeast in Wisconsin and Michigan, sandhill cranes are met with a different reception: They are shot dead by farmers or their hired guns under a little-known federal program that allows for the killing of birds protected by one of this nation’s bedrock conservation laws, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
What happens to those cranes may seem surprising. But it is not out of the ordinary.
Reveal has obtained never-before-released data from the US Fish and Wildlife Service showing more than 300 species of migratory birds — from red-tailed hawks to American kestrels, turkey vultures to mallard ducks — have been killed legally across the United States since 2011 to protect a wide range of business activities and public facilities under what’s called the “depredation permit” program.
Even in the best of times, migratory birds lead perilous lives. Today, with climate change and habitat loss adding to the danger, wildlife advocates say the government-sanctioned killing is a taxpayer-funded threat that the birds should not have to face, one that is hidden from the public and often puts the needs of commerce ahead of conservation.
The birds are dispatched to protect farm fields, vineyards, air traffic, golf courses, pistachio orchards, landfills, fish farms, zoos and aquariums. Some birds are killed for environmental reasons, such as protecting rare Western snowy plovers.
For their part, most of the sandhill cranes usually were killed for eating farmers’ potatoes and corn.
Most of the species killed are in no biological danger — their populations are stable. But many are beloved by a broad swath of American society, including great blue herons, white and brown pelicans, cedar waxwings, robins, belted kingfishers and mourning doves.
And some are struggling to cope with habitat loss, climate change and other threats and are classified by the government as “birds of conservation concern.” These include upland sandpipers, lesser yellowlegs, roseate spoonbills and red-throated loons, who, because of declining populations, could be on their way to the endangered species list.
Agency policy says killing birds is meant to be a temporary fix. Yet its own data show lethal removal often is the default option. Eighty-nine of the 100 businesses and agencies responsible for the most mortalities received permission from the service to kill the same species of birds at least three years in a row, the permit data show.
Even the service’s top permitting official is concerned. George Allen, head of the migratory bird division’s permits and regulation office, said he’d want to address that issue if he had time to revisit the agency’s rules.
“It’s just not one we’ve worked on,” he said.
The total body count for a recent three-year period came to 1.6 million, including more than 4,600 sandhill cranes. Four populous species — brown-headed cowbirds, red-winged blackbirds, common grackles and Canada geese — accounted for two-thirds of the mortalities.
But many less common birds were killed, too, including 875 upland sandpipers, 479 barn owls, 79 wood ducks, 55 lesser yellowlegs, 46 snowy owls, 12 roseate spoonbills, three curlew sandpipers, two red-throated loons and one western bluebird.
Birds were killed from coast to coast, but certain places were more deadly than others.
The most lethal state was Louisiana, where nearly 600,000 brown-headed cowbirds were killed in part to protect rice farms.
The second deadliest was California, where American coots were killed by the thousands to protect golf course greens and fairways. Usually the birds are shot, but sometimes they’re fed bait laced with a chemical that makes them fall asleep. Then they’re rounded up and killed in portable carbon dioxide chambers in the backs of pickup trucks. In California, some robins also were killed to protect vineyards.
No. 3 was Arkansas, where more than 22,000 double-breasted cormorants and thousands of other fish-eating birds were killed at fish hatcheries and aquaculture facilities.
Most of the killing is carried out without public notice. Even many conservationists are unaware of it. But those who are familiar with the permit program mostly don’t like it. They say that nonlethal options — such as scaring birds away or making the landscape less bird-friendly — are not given enough consideration and that lethal action is too often the default option.
“Nonlethal methods should always be given preference in these kinds of situations,” said Mike Daulton, vice president of government relations for the National Audubon Society, one of the nation’s oldest and most powerful conservation organizations.
“The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is one of America’s most important wildlife conservation laws, and it should be strongly and reasonably enforced to maintain healthy wild populations of America’s native birds.”
Allen at the Fish and Wildlife Service said allowing the killing of nuisance birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act isn’t antithetical to the service’s mission of conserving wildlife populations.
“Promoting populations is good,” he said. “But without offering people an option to control what are obvious problems, we’re not doing our job, either.”
Birds Killed under Depredation Permits in the US
(First 10 of 336 Entries)
Reported Killed, 2011-2013
BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD 630,787
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD 260,690
COMMON GRACKLE 116,522
CANADA GOOSE 92,687
MOURNING DOVE 63,644
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT 58,640
AMERICAN COOT 46,239
RING-BILLED GULL 35,601
HERRING GULL 23,779
BLACK VULTURE 20,524
(Showing 1 to 10 of 336 entries)
Birds and humans have clashed for generations, of course. That’s why farmers put out scarecrows. But as cities and agriculture have grown, the scope of the conflicts has expanded.
Today, even green industries sometimes kill birds. The government estimates that wind farms will take the lives of 1 million birds every year by 2030. To make that legal, the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering a new permit system for the “incidental” killing of birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
That act, a cornerstone of US conservation history, grew out of an era of excess and slaughter at the turn of the 20th century. Many of North America’s migratory birds were being decimated, not for food but for feathers and other body parts that were used to make ladies’ hats, which had become signs of luxury and sophistication.
In 1916, the United States and Great Britain, on behalf of Canada, signed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It became illegal to kill or capture migratory birds, as well as to buy or sell them.
The US government, however, later made an exception. If a migratory bird is causing economic damage (such as destroying crops), posing a risk to humans (airports) or doing some other type of damage, a landowner can ask the Fish and Wildlife Service to approve the “lethal take,” or killing, of the problem birds.
In order to get a permit, applicants must explain what nonlethal measures they’ve tried and why they didn’t work. The idea is to demonstrate that killing the birds is a last resort.
The Fish and Wildlife Service generally doesn’t have the capacity to rigorously check what alternative methods each and every applicant has tried. Instead, it farms the work out to another government agency with a similar name but different mission: Wildlife Services, a branch of the US Department of Agriculture.
For generations, Wildlife Services has long specialized in killing wildlife — including migratory birds — that are considered a threat to agriculture, commerce and the public. In recent years, the agency’s practices have drawn volleys of criticism from wildlife advocates and some members of Congress, who say they are scientifically unsound, heavy-handed and inhumane.
The agency relies on traps, snares and poison that kill indiscriminately. In 2012, the Sacramento Bee reported that Wildlife Services had killed more than 50,000 animals by mistake since 2000, including federally protected bald and golden eagles; more than 1,100 dogs, including family pets; and several species considered rare or imperiled.
The investigation also noted that a growing body of science has found the agency’s killing of predators “is altering ecosystems in ways that diminish biodiversity, degrade habitat and invite disease.”
The US Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General now is conducting an audit to determine if the agency’s lethal control is justified and effective.
“Wildlife Services depends on killing predators and depredating migratory birds for its existence. When that’s what you do for a living, you tend to encourage people to adopt that solution,” said Daniel Rohlf, an environmental lawyer and professor at Lewis and Clark Law School in Oregon.
When landowners do get a permit to kill birds, Wildlife Services often is contracted to do the work. That contributes to a tendency to look to lethal control, rather than find more creative, nonlethal solutions, Rohlf said.
But many wildlife managers say killing the birds, while controversial, is an important tool in protecting property and human safety.
Stephen Vantassel is a former wildlife management operator who runs the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. People are too quick to “demonize” lethal control, he said. It’s an important element in any wildlife control plan.
Vantassel said that in some cases, killing a few birds in tandem with other methods, such as loud blasts, makes those nonlethal methods more effective since some species will come to associate the noise with death.
But the International Crane Foundation, the world’s largest crane protection organization in Baraboo, Wisconsin, says the deaths just make room for other birds to take their place in prime habitat.
The foundation’s research coordinator, Anne Lacy, was startled to hear that so many sandhill cranes were being killed. “It’s ineffective,” she said. “Shooting two or five or 10 out of a flock — five days later, another group of birds might move through.”
There are alternatives to lethal methods, from reflective tape to pyrotechnics to hanging dead birds in effigy to frighten living ones away. That’s what the Fish and Wildlife Service recommended that The Living Desert, a zoo in Palm Desert, California, do to deal with a raven problem. And it also offered some public relations advice. “It is strongly encouraged that efforts are conducted out-of-view of the public,” the permit says.
In Wisconsin, the crane foundation recommends a corn seed treatment it helped develop called Avipel that irritates the birds’ stomachs so much that they fly off to find other food.
But more and more, people are turning to old-fashioned solutions: dogs and falcons.
Specially trained border collies are hired to race around golf courses, parks and other places to chase away nuisance birds on a regular basis. New York City’s Central Park took on two collies in 2007 to keep geese away. And Portland International Airport, which has one of the lowest rates of intentional bird deaths among major metropolitan airports, also employs a collie, named Fish, to chase geese.
Falconers are hired to fly the predatory birds above vineyards, berry farms and landfills to scare — but not kill — depredating birds. Brad Felger, the president of Airstrike Bird Control, got his start decades ago as a falconry hobbyist who put his birds to use at California’s Central Coast vineyards. Now his team operates at vineyards, farms, landfills and power stations throughout California and the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s starting to be recognized as an extremely effective method,” Felger said. “It uses the predator-prey response to put the small birds into overload. It’s a little too much for them and they just move on.”
The mission of The Center for Investigative Reporting is to engage and empower the public through investigative journalism and groundbreaking storytelling in order to spark action, improve lives and protect our democracy.
CIR is among the most innovative, credible and relevant media organizations in the country. Reveal — our website, public radio program, podcast and social media platform — is where we publish our multiplatform work.
Our award-winning journalists hold the powerful accountable and reveal government fraud and waste of taxpayer funds, human rights violations, environmental degradation and threats to public safety. We consistently shine a bright light on injustice and protect the most vulnerable in our society.
From the San Francisco Bay Area epicenter of technological and creative innovation, our reporting ignites real-world change as evidenced by civil and criminal investigations, new laws and policies, the instigation of public discourse and solutions-oriented community action.
Founded in 1977, CIR is nationally respected for setting the highest journalistic standards, and for our signature approach to investigative reporting and collaboration. We partner with numerous other media organizations, prioritize impact over exclusivity, engage with the public and track results. To reach a broad and diverse audience worldwide, we publish our stories online, as well as for print, television, radio/audio, video and live events.
With PRX, CIR co-produces the nationally distributed “Reveal” radio show and podcast. “Reveal” features CIR’s reporting, as well as stories from public radio stations and a wide range of media partners, both nonprofit and commercial.
Our work has been recognized for its excellence, groundbreaking creativity and impact. Recent awards include: an Emmy Award for New Approaches to Current News Coverage, a George Foster Peabody Award, a Military Reporters and Editors Award, a Barlett & Steele Gold Award for Investigative Business Journalism, two Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Awards, a George Polk Award for Exemplary Achievement in Journalism, two IRE Awards for Multiplatform Journalism and an Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting. We were a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 and 2013 and a recipient of the 2012 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
US Fighter Jets Intercept Russian
Warplanes Near US Aircraft Carrier Justin Carissimo / The Independent
NEW YORK (October 30, 2015) — US Navy officials scrambled four fighter jets on Tuesday to intercept two Russian TU-142 Bear warplanes flying within one mile of the SS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier in the Sea of Japan, Stars and Stripes first reported.
Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told Reuters on Thursday afternoon that the incident was considered safe. “There was nothing to indicate they were posing a direct threat,” he said. At the time, US Navy officials were carrying out training exercises with South Korean ships.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that the US previously voiced concern over unprofessional conduct by Russian aircraft in recent weeks. “This was a little bit different than that. These are international waters,” he said, according to Reuters.
Navy Commander William Marks echoed Mr Earnest’s comments during an interview with Fox News. “We would characterize this as still at a safe distance. This kind of interaction is not unprecedented,” he said.
Still, the US fighter jets escorted the Russian warplanes from the area.
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan (October 29, 2015) â€“ The USS Ronald Reagan scrambled its fighter jets earlier this week after two Russian naval reconnaissance aircraft flew within one nautical mile of the US aircraft carrier as it sailed in international waters east of the Korean Peninsula, according to 7th Fleet officials.
In the latest in a series of incidents involving Russian aircraft, two Tupolev Tu-142 Bear aircraft flew as low as 500 feet Tuesday morning near the Reagan, which has been conducting scheduled maneuvers with South Korean navy ships. Four F/A-18 Super Hornets took off from the Reagan’s flight deck in response to the Russian advance, 7th Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Lauren Cole said Thursday.
Ronald Reagan monitored the Russian planes while communicating with South Korean and Japanese forces and launched its fighters well before the Russians made their closest approach, Cole said.
US officials attempted to contact the Russian aircraft but received no radio response. A US ship escorting the Ronald Reagan followed the Russian aircraft as they withdrew, Navy officials said. Press officials at the Russian Embassy in Seoul were not immediately available for comment Thursday.
On multiple occasions in the past year, Russian aircraft have tested international boundaries by either violating other countries’ airspace or engaging in what Pentagon officials have called “provocative” actions toward US and NATO ships.
In April 2014, a Russian SU-24 fighter jet made 12 “close-range, low-altitude” passes near the USS Donald Cook while the ship was in international waters in the western Black Sea near Romania, the Pentagon has said. Last month, NATO officials said Russian fighters violated Turkish airspace several times.
In September, Japan alleged that Russia violated airspace over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The incidents continue to raise questions about Russian navy aircraft safety practices.
US Navy officials say they have no objection to Russia, or any other nation, flying or sailing wherever international law allows. “We are advocates of any country being able to operate within international norms,” Cole said. “We do caveat that with the fact that all of these operations need to be conducted in accordance with the rights and regulations of other countries, and within a safe manner.”
The Reagan is essentially a floating airport, complete with an air traffic control center that tracks and communicates with nearby aircraft. When the carrier engages in flight operations, it institutes a carrier control zone, which extends up to 2,500 feet and within a five-mile radius, according to the Navy’s flight training instruction carrier procedures.
Navy officials did not discuss Thursday whether the carrier was engaged in flight operations when the Russian aircraft approached.
“Even if we don’t have flight operations ongoing, we are still very cognizant of what is going on in the airspace, within a good distance,” Cole said.
The lack of communication by the Russian aircraft also conflicted with general aviation practice. Even commercial airports of any significant size generally expect two-way radio contact when aircraft fly as close as the Russians did, according to international aviation guidelines.
This week’s incident added to a busy day for the Navy in the Asia-Pacific region. It happened at roughly the same time that the destroyer USS Lassen sailed within a 12-nautical-mile territorial zone claimed by China around Subi Reef in the South China Sea.
The US undertook the “freedom of navigation” operation because it considers those waters international, though China condemned the move as a violation of its “indisputable sovereignty.” Though artificially topped with landfill, Subi Reef is thought to be entirely submerged in its natural state, and therefore does not generate territorial waters under international law.
(October 29, 2015) — China’s naval commander, Admiral Wu Shengli, issued the warning to his American counterpart Admiral John Richardson during video conference talks on Thursday aimed at defusing tension in the region, according to a Chinese naval statement.
“If the United States continues with these kinds of dangerous, provocative acts, there could well be a seriously pressing situation between frontline forces from both sides on the sea and in the air, or even a minor incident that sparks war,” the statement paraphrased Wu as saying.
“I hope the US side cherishes the good situation between the Chinese and US navies that has not come easily and avoids these kinds of incidents from happening again,” Wu said.
The high-level talks followed mounting international alarm in the wake of the decision by Washington to send a US destroyer close to artificial islands built by Beijing in the South China Sea.
According to the Pentagon, however, the hour-long talks had been “productive”.
The admirals discussed “freedom of navigation operations, the relationship between the two navies including pending port visits, senior leader engagement and the importance of maintaining an ongoing dialogue”, a Pentagon spokesman said.
Navy spokesman Lieutenant Tim Hawkins said the conversation on Thursday had been “professional and productive”.
The USS Lassen guided-missile destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of at least one of the land formations claimed by China in the disputed Spratly Islands chain on Tuesday.
The move prompted the Chinese government to summon the US ambassador in Beijing and denounce what it called a threat to its sovereignty.
The US said after Thursday’s talks that the Chinese had expressed no desire to cancel scheduled visits by Chinese ships to a Florida port next week and that an upcoming visit to China by the commander of the US Pacific Command would still take place.
“We look forward to continue this dialogue,” an official said.
Wu and Richardson, the US navy operations chief, had agreed to speak again via video conference later this year.
Tensions have mounted since China transformed reefs in the area â€“ also claimed by several neighbouring countries â€“ into small islands capable of supporting military facilities, a move the US says threatens freedom of navigation.
Washington has repeatedly said it does not recognise Chinese claims to territorial waters around the artificial islands and reiterated that it would send more warships to sail close to the controversial islets.
But in a move that is likely to trigger fury in Beijing and reignite tension in the region, an international tribunal ruled on Thursday that it had the power to hear a case brought by the Philippines over the disputed seas.
Manila has insisted the UN convention on the law of the sea, which the Philippines and China have both ratified, should be used to resolve the bitter territorial row over isolated reefs and islets.
China has refused to participate in the proceedings, arguing the Permanent Court of Arbitration â€“ which is more than a century old and based in The Hague â€“ had no jurisdiction over the case.
“Reviewing the claims submitted by the Philippines, the tribunal has rejected the argument” by China that the “dispute is actually about sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and therefore beyond the tribunal’s jurisdiction”, the court said in a statement.
Instead, the court ruled the case reflects “disputes between the two states concerning the interpretation or application of the convention” – something which falls within its remit.
A senior Chinese diplomat said on Friday that China would neither participate in nor accept the case. Vice foreign minister Liu Zhenmin added that the case would not affect China’s sovereign claims in the seas.
China insists it has sovereign rights to nearly all of the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which about a third of all the world’s traded oil passes.
Following a stand-off between Chinese ships and the weak Filipino navy in 2012, China took control of a rich fishing ground called Scarborough Shoal that is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
China has also undertaken giant reclamation activities, raising fears it will use artificial islands to build new military outposts close to the Philippines and other claimants.
The tribunal â€“ set up in 1899 to resolve international disputes between countries â€“ stressed on Thursday its ruling did not yet go to the heart of the merits of Manila’s case, which was first filed in 2013.
A new hearing will now be held behind closed doors in The Hague, and a final ruling is not expected until next year.
The tribunal agreed it would take up seven of the 15 submissions made by Manila, in particular whether Scarborough Shoal and low-tide areas like Mischief Reef can be considered islands, as China contends.
It will also consider whether China has interfered with Philippine fishing activities at Scarborough Shoal.
But it set aside seven more pointed claims, mainly accusing Beijing of acting unlawfully, to be considered at the next hearing on the actual merits of Manila’s case.
In a July hearing in the Hague, Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario warned the integrity of UN maritime laws was at stake.
China’s behaviour had become increasingly “aggressive” and negotiations had proved futile, del Rosario said.
But the court on Thursday also directed Manila to narrow down the scope of its final request that it should order that “China shall desist from further unlawful claims and activities.”
In Washington, a senior US defense official hailed the tribunal’s decision as victory for international law.
“We of course welcome the decision of the panel. This demonstrates the relevance of international law to the territorial conflicts in the South China Sea,” the defense official said.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Iraq: We Didn’t Ask for US Ground Operations Cassandra Vinograd / NBC News
(October 30, 2015) — The Iraqi government said Wednesday it didn’t ask for — and doesn’t need — the “direct action on the ground” promised by the Pentagon.
The revelation came a day after Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the US may carry out more unilateral ground raids — like last week’s rescue operation to free hostages — in Iraq to target ISIS militants.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s spokesman told NBC News that any military involvement in the country must be cleared through the Iraqi government just as US-led airstrikes are. “This is an Iraqi affair and the government did not ask the US Department of Defense to be involved in direct operations,” spokesman Sa’ad al-Hadithi told NBC News. “We have enough soldiers on the ground.”
He acknowledged the importance of US assistance in Iraq, saying that his country needs American help “arming and training out forces.” The US currently has around 3,300 troops in Iraq to train and advise Iraqi forces and protect US facilities.
The Pentagon has said that the recent raid was in response to a request from the Kurdish regional government — a semi-autonomous body that governs in northern Iraq — which had learned the hostages faced imminent execution.
White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said Tuesday the administration has “no intention of long-term ground combat,” adding that US forces will continue to robustly train, advise and assist.
Hadithi’s response to the prospect of US direct involvement comes amid mounting pressure from Iraq’s ruling coalition on the prime minister to request Russian airstrikes against ISIS. Moscow’s move to mount strikes against ISIS in Syria has put the US and Russia at odds.
WASHINGTON (October 28, 2015) — US troops in Iraq are in combat. That’s what the Baghdad-based spokesman for the American-led, anti-Islamic State coalition told reporters Wednesday.
Pentagon officials have hesitated to label the role of US forces against the militants in Iraq and Syria as combat in the week since Army Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler was killed in a firefight during a raid on an Islamic State prison compound outside of Hawijah in the Kirkuk province. But Army Col. Steve Warren, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, was more direct Wednesday, speaking with reporters at the Pentagon through video conference.
“We’re in combat,” Warren said of the roughly 3,500 US troops in Iraq. “Of course it is; that’s why we all carry guns, that’s why we all get combat patches when we leave here, that’s why we all received imminent danger pay. So, of course it’s combat.”
In June, as President Barack Obama announced he would send more US troops into Iraq’s heavily contested Anbar province, he emphasized “American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq.”
The raid in which Wheeler was killed Oct. 22 has raised questions of mission creep more than one year into Operation Inherent Resolve. Wheeler was the first US servicemember to die in Iraq since the American withdrawal in 2011.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter has said more such raids could be conducted, but they did not “represent us assuming a combat role.”
Warren said raids with “capable, willing and able” partners should be expected. But a return to full-scale ground combat operations such as the United States conducted in Iraq between 2003 and 2009 would not happen.
“You’re not going to see . . . a large presence of US forces out there at every level with the entire Iraqi army,” he said. “. . . We’re talking about raids, a very specific term — a combat action that is conducted to achieve a certain objective and then the forces are immediately removed. That’s a very key doctrinal point that’s important to make.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
US Boots on the Ground in Syria:
Special Forces to be Dispatched in Fight against Isis Andrew Buncombe / The Independent
NEW YORK (October 30, 2015) — The US is to station troops in Syria to assist in the fight against Isis for the first time, a reversal of President Barack Obama’s opposition to basing US forces in the country. No more than 50 troops will be sent to offer advice and support to the moderate opposition troops, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said on Friday night. He insisted it was not a combat role.
“There’s no denying the serious risk they will be facing,” Mr. Earnest said, “but they are not in a combat mission.” US troops have entered Syria previously for one-off interventions, but this marks the first proper deployment.
Reports said troops will also be dispatched to Irbil in northern Iraq, and that Mr. Obama has also authorised deploying A-10s and F-15 aircraft to the Incirlik air base in Turkey. The US will also step up its military assistance to Jordan and Lebanon and will engage in further talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to target Isis’s leaders and networks, an official told Reuters.
The news came as the latest diplomatic effort to end the Syrian civil war — including for the first time a representative of Iran — got under way in Vienna. The talks focused on a way to ease out President Bashar Assad, with Iran this week for the first time signaling it would be willing to see a six-month transition period. The talks ended with a call for the UN to start a new ceasefire process between Syria’s government and the opposition with the ultimate goal of political transition.
US Secretary of State John Kerry made the announcement at a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura. But the main sticking block — the fate of Mr. Assad and an agreement on a “managed transition” to ease him out — remained unresolved.
In another shift in the US in recent months, no longer is Washington insisting on Mr. Assad’s immediate departure. But it maintains that he cannot be part of any long-term solution to the four-and-a-half-year conflict, in which 250,000 have died and 11 million people — half of Syria’s population — have been displaced.
Mr. Assad’s key patrons, Russia and Iran, do not rule out Mr. Assad’s departure, but insist that the Damascus government and the Syrian opposition groups alone must decide their country’s future, a formula that effectively gives the Syrian President a veto. They point to the 2014 elections — which the West says were rigged — that returned him for a new term theoretically lasting until 2021.
Further complications are the fragmentation of opposition groups fighting Mr. Assad, Russia’s military action to support him, and the swathes of Syrian territory now in the hands of Isis.
What hope there is resides in the fact that finally all the main countries involved are sitting at the same table, and that after last summer’s nuclear deal, Tehran and Washington might be able work more closely together. But the prospects of that took a fresh blow with reports that Iran has arrested and imprisoned a fourth Iranian-American in Tehran — Siamak Namazi, a businessman in his early forties.
Iran’s presence only increased tensions with its rival Saudi Arabia, a leader of the coalition of Sunni Arab countries demanding Mr. Assad’s early ouster. The Syrian conflict has become part of a proxy war between the region’s two biggest powers, while the increasing involvement of Russia and the US threatens to force a standoff between the two powers.
A senior Russian official warned the US against sending its own ground forces into Syria. The involvement of any foreign forces without co-ordination with Mr. Assad’s government was “unacceptable”, Sergei Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister said.
Russia began its air campaign in Syria on 30 September, claiming it was targeting Isis. But Western analysts say the bulk of the raids have been against more moderate rebels supported by the US and fighting president Assad. Yesterday, a missile strike on a heavily built up suburb of Damascus killed at least 45 civilians.
Mr. Obama had previously explicitly ruled out a US deployment to Syria, saying in September 2013: “I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria.” But earlier this week, Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said the US had been considering options in recent weeks for intensifying the fight.
Two US officials said any deployments would be narrowly tailored, seeking to advance specific, limited military objectives in both Iraq and Syria. That option includes temporarily deploying some US special operations forces inside of Syria to advise moderate Syrian opposition fighters and, potentially, to help call in US air strikes.
Other possibilities including sending a small number of Apache attack helicopters, and US forces to operate them, to Iraq, as well as taking steps to bolster other Iraqi capabilities needed to claw back territory from Isis.
John Pike, a defence analyst with GobalSecurity.Org, said he did not believe the several dozens special forces being sent would ultimately lead to the dispatch of hundreds of thousands. He also said he believed the US had little alternative. “If we don’t take the fight to Isis, they are going to bring it to us,” he told The Independent. “They are far more dangerous than al-Qaeda.”
New House Speaker Paul Ryan said last night that he hoped the deployment of troops would be the start of a strategy for US involvement in the war. “[Mr. Obama] really hasn’t had a Syria strategy,” the Wisconsin Republican told ABC News. “Hopefully, he has one now.”
WASHINGTON (October 30, 2015) — Since 2013, President Obama has repeatedly vowed that there would be no “boots on the ground” in Syria. But White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president’s decision Friday to send up to 50 special forces troops to Syria doesn’t change the fundamental strategy: “This is an important thing for the American people to understand. These forces do not have a combat mission.”
Earnest said the promises of “no boots on the ground” first came in the context of removing Syrian President Bashar Assad because of his use of chemical weapons. Since then, Syria has become a haven for Islamic State fighters.
Here’s a recap of Obama’s no-boots pledge:
Remarks before meeting with Baltic State leaders, Aug. 30, 2013
“In no event are we considering any kind of military action that would involve boots on the ground, that would involve a long-term campaign. But we are looking at the possibility of a limited, narrow act that would help make sure that not only Syria, but others around the world, understand that the international community cares about maintaining this chemical weapons ban and norm.
So again, I repeat, we’re not considering any open-ended commitment. We’re not considering any boots-on-the-ground approach.“ [Emphasis added — EAW]
Remarks in the Rose Garden, Aug. 31, 2013
“After careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. This would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope.”
Statement before meeting with congressional leaders, Sept. 3, 2013
“So the key point that I want to emphasize to the American people: The military plan that has been developed by our Joint Chiefs — and that I believe is appropriate — is proportional. It is limited. It does not involve boots on the ground. This is not Iraq, and this is not Afghanistan.”
News conference in Stockholm, Sweden, Sept. 4, 2013
“I think America recognizes that, as difficult as it is to take any military action — even one as limited as we’re talking about, even one without boots on the ground — that’s a sober decision.”
News conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 6, 2013
“The question for the American people is, is that responsibility that we’ll be willing to bear? And I believe that when you have a limited, proportional strike like this — not Iraq, not putting boots on the ground; not some long, drawn-out affair; not without any risks, but with manageable risks — that we should be willing to bear that responsibility.”
Weekly radio address, Sept. 7, 2013
“What we’re not talking about is an open-ended intervention. This would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan. There would be no American boots on the ground. Any action we take would be limited, both in time and scope, designed to deter the Syrian Government from gassing its own people again and degrade its ability to do so.”
Interview with the PBS Newshour, Sept. 9, 2013
“Tomorrow I’ll speak to the American people. I’ll explain this is not Iraq; this is not Afghanistan; this is not even Libya. We’re not talking about — not boots on the ground. We’re not talking about sustained airstrikes. We’re talking about a very specific set of strikes to degrade his chemical weapons capabilities in terms of delivery.”
Interview with CBS Evening News, Sept. 9, 2013
“What I’m going to try to propose is that we have a very specific objective, a very narrow military option, and one that will not lead into some large-scale invasion of Syria or involvement or boots on the ground; nothing like that. This isn’t like Iraq. It’s not like Afghanistan. It’s not even like Libya. Then hopefully people will recognize why I think this is so important.”
Address to the Nation, Sept. 10, 2013
“Many of you have asked, won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are ‘still recovering from our involvement in Iraq.’ A veteran put it more bluntly: ‘This nation is sick and tired of war.’
My answer is simple: I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities.”
Interview on Bloomberg View, Feb, 27, 2014
“We are doing everything we can to see how we can do that and how we can resource it. But I’ve looked at a whole lot of game plans, a whole lot of war plans, a whole bunch of scenarios, and nobody has been able to persuade me that us taking large-scale military action even absent boots on the ground, would actually solve the problem.”
News conference in Newport, Wales, Sept. 5, 2014
“With respect to the situation on the ground in Syria, we will not be placing US ground troops to try to control the areas that are part of the conflict inside of Syria. I don’t think that’s necessary for us to accomplish our goal. We are going to have to find effective partners on the ground to push back against ISIL.”
Interview with Meet the Press, Sept. 7, 2014
“(You) cannot, over the long term or even the medium term, deal with this problem by having the United States serially occupy various countries all around the Middle East. We don’t have the resources. It puts enormous strains on our military. And at some point, we leave.
And then things blow up again. So we’ve got to have a more sustainable strategy, which means the boots on the ground have to be Iraqi. And and in Syria, the boots on the ground have to be Syrian. . . . I will reserve the right to always protect the American people and go after folks who are trying to hurt us wherever they are.
But in terms of controlling territory, we’re going to have to develop a moderate Sunni opposition that can control territory and that we can work with. The notion that the United States should be putting boots on the ground, I think would be a profound mistake. And I want to be very clear and
Address to the Nation on Syria, Sept. 10, 2014
“I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground.”
News conference in Brisbane, Australia, Nov. 16, 2014
“Yes, there are always circumstances in which the United States might need to deploy US ground troops. If we discovered that ISIL had gotten possession of a nuclear weapon, and we had to run an operation to get it out of their hands, then, yes, you can anticipate that not only would Chairman Dempsey recommend me sending US ground troops to get that weapon out of their hands, but I would order it.
So the question just ends up being, what are those circumstances? I’m not going speculate on those. Right now we’re moving forward in conjunction with outstanding allies like Australia in training Iraqi security forces to do their job on the ground.”
Remarks at the White House, Feb. 11, 2015
“The resolution we’ve submitted today does not call for the deployment of US ground combat forces to Iraq or Syria. It is not the authorization of another ground war, like Afghanistan or Iraq. . . . As I’ve said before, I’m convinced that the United States should not get dragged back into another prolonged ground war in the Middle East. That’s not in our national security interest, and it’s not necessary for us to defeat ISIL. Local forces on the ground who know their countries best are best positioned to take the ground fight to ISIL, and that’s what they’re doing.”
Remarks at the Pentagon, July 6, 2015
“There are no current plans to do so. That’s not something that we currently discussed. I’ve always said that I’m going to do what’s necessary to protect the homeland. One of the principles that we all agree on, though, and I pressed folks pretty hard because in these conversations with my military advisers I want to make sure I’m getting blunt and unadulterated, uncensored advice.
But in every one of the conversations that we’ve had, the strong consensus is that in order for us to succeed long-term in this fight against ISIL, we have to develop local security forces that can sustain progress. It is not enough for us to simply send in American troops to temporarily set back organizations like ISIL, but to then, as soon as we leave, see that void filled once again with extremists.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
How One Air Force Captain Saved the World From Accidental Nuclear War 53 Years Ago Today Jon Schwarz / The Intercept
(October 28, 2015) — An event Wednesday at the United Nations made a powerful case that William Bassett, an unknown US Air Force Captain, saved humanity from accidental nuclear obliteration 53 years ago today, on October 28, 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis.
The key figure in the UN presentation was John Bordne, who as the crisis began was an Air Force airman with the 498th Tactical Missile Group stationed at a US base in Okinawa, Japan.
According to Bordne, whose story is recounted in detail in an extraordinarily unsettling new article by Aaron Tovish in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Bassett was the senior field officer on Bordne’s shift for facilities capable of launching 32 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. [See complete Bulletinstory below — EAW.]
Altogether the missiles had 35.2 megatons of destructive capacity — the equivalent of over 35 million tons of TNT, or about 1,000 times the combined yield of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Bordne, now 74, appeared in an introductory video, and then answered questions via Skype from his home in Pennsylvania. Recounting the atmosphere on the base that week, Bordne described all his fellow airmen crowding around a television to watch President John F. Kennedy discuss the standoff with the Soviet Union: “There was standing room only. There was dead silence during . . . and there was dead silence after. It was then that we really got the impression we would have to do what we were paid to do.”
During Bordne’s shifts, the missile crew would receive a daily, standard radio message, including the time, weather, and a string of code, from the commanding major at Okinawa’s Missile Operations Center nearby. Under normal circumstances, the first part of the code did not match that possessed by the crew. On October 28, it did.
This signaled that the rest of the code would contain special instructions. The second part also matched the code possessed by the crew, thereby instructing the officers with launch authority, including Bassett, to open their pouches to retrieve the third part of the code. If it too matched, this meant the crew should launch its missiles. It did match.
Bassett, however, realized that something must be wrong: Under military regulations nuclear missiles would only be launched when US forces were at DEFCON 1, the highest state of readiness for war, but they were then at DEFCON 2.
According to Bordne, as Bassett attempted to determine whether the orders were legitimate, a lieutenant decided that Bassett did not have the authority to stop the launch, and ordered his section of the overall crew to proceed to fire its four missiles. Bassett, says Bordne, threatened to have the lieutenant shot.
Bassett reached the major who had originated the radio transmission on the phone. Once he was made aware of his mistake, he gave orders to stand the missile crew down. Bordne says the crew later participated in court martial proceedings against the major.
Borden said in an interview after the event that he spoke recently to two other members of the crew, and found all three of them could still perfectly remember the morning as the shift ended and they walked outside: “It was such a beautiful day, just the perfect temperature, a slight breeze blowing . . . and the sun was to our back, just a beautiful clear blue sky. We could smell the land and the sea . . . . It was awe-inspiring.” They felt, Bordne believes, that they were “preserving God’s creation.”
As of today there’s no way to know for certain whether events transpired 53 years ago as Bordne describes them. Bassett died in 2011, and Bordne remains the only participant willing to describe them on the record. However, a Japanese news outlet spoke last year to another US veteran who was willing to anonymously confirm Bordne’s account.
There was general agreement among the other participants in the UN discussion, including Princeton nuclear security expert Bruce Blair, that Bordne’s account was credible.
What could settle the story, of course, is whatever military documentation still exists from the incident. The National Security Archives at George Washington University has filed a mandatory review request for the official history of this time period for the 498th Tactical Missile Group, and a Freedom of Information Act request for records of any court martial proceedings for a major with the 498th.
Without public pressure, requests such as these generally require years before the government responds.
If the story is true, Bassett is a hero on par with Vasili Arkhipov and Stanislav Petrov, both mid-ranking Soviet military officers who prevented the accidental use of Russian nuclear weapons during moments of excruciating US-Soviet tension.
(October 25, 2015) — John Bordne, a resident of Blakeslee, Penn., had to keep a personal history to himself for more than five decades. Only recently has the US Air Force given him permission to tell the tale, which, if borne out as true, would constitute a terrifying addition to the lengthy and already frightening list of mistakes and malfunctions that have nearly plunged the world into nuclear war.
The story begins just after midnight, in the wee hours of October 28, 1962, at the very height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Then-Air Force airman John Bordne says he began his shift full of apprehension. At the time, in response to the developing crisis over secret Soviet missile deployments in Cuba, all US strategic forces had been raised to Defense Readiness Condition 2, or DEFCON2; that is, they were prepared to move to DEFCON1 status within a matter of minutes. Once at DEFCON1, a missile could be launched within a minute of a crew being instructed to do so.
Bordne was serving at one of four secret missile launch sites on the US-occupied Japanese island of Okinawa. There were two launch control centers at each site; each was manned by seven-member crews. With the support of his crew, each launch officer was responsible for four Mace B cruise missiles mounted with Mark 28 nuclear warheads.
The Mark 28 had a yield equivalent to 1.1 megatons of TNT — i.e., each of them was roughly 70 times more powerful than the Hiroshima or Nagasaki bomb. All together, that’s 35.2 megatons of destructive power. With a range of 1,400 miles, the Mace B’s on Okinawa could reach the communist capital cities of Hanoi, Beijing, and Pyongyang, as well as the Soviet military facilities at Vladivostok.
Several hours after Bordne’s shift began, he says, the commanding major at the Missile Operations Center on Okinawa began a customary, mid-shift radio transmission to the four sites. After the usual time-check and weather update came the usual string of code. Normally the first portion of the string did not match the numbers the crew had. But on this occasion, the alphanumeric code matched, signaling that a special instruction was to follow.
Occasionally a match was transmitted for training purposes, but on those occasions the second part of the code would not match. When the missiles’ readiness was raised to DEFCON 2, the crews had been informed that there would be no further such tests. So this time, when the first portion of the code matched, Bordne’s crew was instantly alarmed and, indeed, the second part, for the first time ever, also matched.
At this point, the launch officer of Bordne’s crew, Capt. William Bassett, had clearance, to open his pouch. If the code in the pouch matched the third part of the code that had been radioed, the captain was instructed to open an envelope in the pouch that contained targeting information and launch keys. Bordne says all the codes matched, authenticating the instruction to launch all the crew’s missiles.
Since the mid-shift broadcast was transmitted by radio to all eight crews, Capt. Bassett, as the senior field officer on that shift, began exercising leadership, on the presumption that the other seven crews on Okinawa had received the order as well, Bordne proudly told me during a three-hour interview conducted in May 2015.
He also allowed me to read the chapter on this incident in his unpublished memoir, and I have exchanged more than 50 emails with him to make sure I understood his account of the incident.
By Bordne’s account, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Air Force crews on Okinawa were ordered to launch 32 missiles, each carrying a large nuclear warhead. Only caution and the common sense and decisive action of the line personnel receiving those orders prevented the launches — and averted the nuclear war that most likely would have ensued.
Kyodo News has reported on this event, but only in regard to Bordne’s crew. In my opinion, Bordne’s full recollections — as they relate to the other seven crews — need to be made public at this time as well, because they provide more than enough reason for the US government to search for and release in timely fashion all documents relating to events in Okinawa during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
If true, Bordne’s account would add appreciably to historical understanding, not just of the Cuban crisis, but of the role accident or miscalculation have played and continue to play in the Nuclear Age.
What Bordne contends
Bordne was interviewed extensively last year by Masakatsu Ota, a senior writer with Kyodo News, which describes itself as the leading news agency in Japan and has a worldwide presence, with more than 40 news bureaus outside that country.
In a March 2015 article, Ota laid out much of Bordne’s account and wrote that “[a]nother former US veteran who served in Okinawa also recently confirmed [Bordne’s account] on condition of anonymity.” Ota has subsequently declined to identify the unnamed veteran, because of the anonymity he’d been promised.
Ota did not report portions of Bordne’s story that are based on telephone exchanges that Bordne says he overheard between his launch officer, Capt. Basset, and the other seven launch officers. Bordne, who was in the Launch Control Center with the captain, was directly privy only to what was said at one end of the line during those conversations — unless the captain directly relayed to Bordne and the other two crew members in the Launch Control Center what another launch officers just said.
With that limitation acknowledged, here is Bordne’s account of the ensuing events of that night:
Immediately after opening his pouch and confirming that he had received orders to launch all four nuclear missiles under his command, Capt. Bassett expressed the thought that something was amiss, Bordne told me. Instructions to launch nuclear weapons were supposed to be issued only at the highest state of alert; indeed this was the main difference between DEFCON 2 and DEFCON1.
Bordne recalls the captain saying, “We have not received the upgrade to DEFCON1, which is highly irregular, and we need to proceed with caution. This may be the real thing, or it is the biggest screw up we will ever experience in our lifetime.”
While the captain consulted by phone with some of the other launch officers, the crew wondered whether the DEFCON1 order had been jammed by the enemy, while the weather report and coded launch order had somehow managed to get through. And, Bordne recalls, the captain conveyed another concern coming from one of the other launch officers: A pre-emptive attack was already under way, and in the rush to respond, commanders had dispensed with the step to DEFCON1.
After some hasty calculations, crew members realized that if Okinawa were the target of a preemptive strike, they ought to have felt the impact already. Every moment that went by without the sounds or tremors of an explosion made this possible explanation seem less likely.
Still, to hedge against this possibility, Capt. Bassett ordered his crew to run a final check on each of the missiles’ launch readiness. When the captain read out the target list, to the crew’s surprise, three of the four targets were not in Russia.
At this point, Bordne recalls, the inter-site phone rang. It was another launch officer, reporting that his list had two non-Russian targets. Why target non-belligerent countries? It didn’t seem right.
The captain ordered that the bay doors for the non-Russian-targeted missiles remain shut. He then cracked open the door for the Russia-designated missile. In that position, it could readily be tipped open the rest of the way (even manually), or, if there were an explosion outside, the door would be slammed shut by its blast, thereby increasing the chances that the missile could ride out the attack. He got on the radio and advised all other crews to take the same measures, pending “clarification” of the mid-shift broadcast.
Bassett then called the Missile Operations Center and requested, on the pretense that the original transmission had not come through clearly, that the mid-shift report be retransmitted. The hope was that this would help those at the center to notice that the original transmission’s coded instruction had been issued in error and would use the retransmission to rectify matters.
To the whole crew’s consternation, after the time-check and weather update, the coded launch instruction was repeated, unaltered. The other seven crews, of course, heard the repetition of the instruction as well.
According to Bordne’s account — which, recall, is based on hearing just one side of a phone call — the situation of one launch crew was particularly stark: All its targets were in Russia. Its launch officer, a lieutenant, did not acknowledge the authority of the senior field officer — i.e. Capt. Bassett — to override the now-repeated order of the major.
The second launch officer at that site reported to Bassett that the lieutenant had ordered his crew to proceed with the launch of its missiles! Bassett immediately ordered the other launch officer, as Bordne remembers it, “to send two airmen over with weapons and shoot the [lieutenant] if he tries to launch without [either] verbal authorization from the ‘senior officer in the field’ or the upgrade to DEFCON 1 by Missile Operations Center.” About 30 yards of underground tunnel separated the two Launch Control Centers.
At this most stressful moment, Bordne says, it suddenly occurred to him that it was very peculiar such an important instruction would be tacked to the end of a weather report. It also struck him as strange that the major had methodically repeated the coded instruction without the slightest hint of stress in his voice, as if it were little more than a boring nuisance. Other crew members agreed; Bassett immediately resolved to telephone the major and say that he needed one of two things:
Raise the DEFCON level to 1, or
Issue a launch stand-down order.
Judging from what Bordne says he heard of the phone conversation, this request got a more stress-filled reaction from the major, who immediately took to the radio and read out a new coded instruction. It was an order to stand down the missiles . . . and, just like that, the incident was over.
To double-check that disaster had really been averted, Capt. Bassett asked for and received confirmation from the other launch officers that no missiles had been fired.
At the beginning of the crisis, Bordne says, Capt. Bassett had warned his men, “If this is a screw up and we do not launch, we get no recognition, and this never happened.” Now, at the end of it all, he said, “None of us will discuss anything that happened here tonight, and I mean anything. No discussions at the barracks, in a bar, or even here at the launch site. You do not even write home about this. Am I making myself perfectly clear on this subject?”
For more than 50 years, silence was observed.
Why the Government Should Look for
And Release Records. Immediately.
Now wheelchair-bound, Bordne has tried, thus far without success, to track down records related to the incident on Okinawa. He contends that an inquest was conducted and each launch officer questioned.
A month or so later, Bordne says, they were called upon to participate in the court martial of the major who issued the launch orders.
Bordne says Capt. Bassett, in the only breach of his own secrecy command, told his crew that the major was demoted and forced to retire at the minimum service period of 20 years, which he was on the verge of fulfilling anyway. No other actions were taken — not even commendations for the launch officers who had prevented a nuclear war.
Bassett died in May 2011. Bordne has taken to the Internet in an attempt to locate other launch crew members who may be able to help to fill in his recollections. The National Security Archives, a watchdog group based at George Washington University’s Gelman Library, has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Air Force, seeking records relating to the Okinawa incident, but such requests often do not result in a release of records for years, if ever.
I recognize that Bordne’s account is not definitively confirmed. But I find him to have been consistently truthful in the matters I could confirm. An incident of this import, I believe, should not have to rest on the testimony of one man.
The Air Force and other government agencies should proactively make any records in their possession relating to this incident available in their entirety — and quickly. The public has long been presented a false picture of the dangers inherent in nuclear weapon deployment.
The entire world has a right to know the entire truth about the nuclear danger it faces.
As this article was being considered for publication, Daniel Ellsberg, who was a Rand consultant to the Defense Department at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, wrote a lengthy email message to the Bulletin, at the request of Tovish. The message asserted, in part: “I feel it’s urgent to find out whether Bordne’s story and Tovish’s tentative conclusions from it are true, given the implications of its truth for present dangers, not only past history. And that can’t await the ‘normal’ current handling of a FOIA request by the National Security Archive, or the Bulletin.
A congressional investigation will only take place, it appears, if the Bulletin publishes this very carefully hedged report and its call for the elaborate documentation reported to exist from an official inquest to be released from inexcusably (though very predictably) prolonged classification.”
During this same time period, Bruce Blair, a research scholar at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security, also wrote an email message to the Bulletin. This is the entirety of the message: “Aaron Tovish asked me to weigh in with you if I believe his piece should be published in the Bulletin, or for that matter any outlet. I do believe it should be, even though it has not been fully verified at this stage.
It strikes me that a first-hand account from a credible source in the launch crew itself goes a long way toward establishing the plausibility of the account. It also strikes me as a plausible sequence of events, based on my knowledge of nuclear command and control procedures during the period (and later).
Frankly, it’s not surprising to me either that a launch order would be inadvertently transmitted to nuclear launch crews. It’s happened a number of times to my knowledge, and probably more times than I know.
It happened at the time of the 1967 Middle East war, when a carrier nuclear-aircraft crew was sent an actual attack order instead of an exercise/training nuclear order.
It happened in the early 1970s when [the Strategic Air Command, Omaha] retransmitted an exercise . . . launch order as an actual real-world launch order. (I can vouch for this one personally since the snafu was briefed to Minuteman launch crews soon thereafter.)
In both of these incidents, the code check (sealed authenticators in the first incident and message format validation in the second) failed, unlike the incident recounted by the launch crew member in Aaron’s article. But you get the drift here. It just wasn’t that rare for these kinds of snafus to occur.
One last item to reinforce the point: The closest the US came to an inadvertent strategic launch decision by the President happened in 1979, when a NORAD early warning training tape depicting a full-scale Soviet strategic strike inadvertently coursed through the actual early warning network.
National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski was called twice in the night and told the US was under attack, and he was just picking up the phone to persuade President Carter that a full-scale response needed to be authorized right away, when a third call told him it was a false alarm.
I understand and appreciate your editorial cautiousness here. But in my view, the weight of evidence and the legacy of serious nuclear mistakes combine to justify publishing this piece. I think they tip the scales. That’s my view, for what it’s worth.”
In an email exchange with the Bulletin in September, Ota, the Kyodo News senior writer, said he has “100 percent confidence” in his story on Bordne’s account of events on Okinawa “even though there are still many missing pieces.”
Since 2003, Aaron Tovish has been the Director of the 2020 Vision Campaign of Mayors for Peace, a network of more than 6,800 cities worldwide. From 1984 to 1996, he worked as the Peace and Security Program Officer of Parliamentarians for Global Action. In 1997, he organized on behalf of the Swedish Foreign Policy Institute, the first-ever workshop among expert representatives of the five nuclear-weapon states on de-alerting nuclear forces.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
US Has Secretly Been in Combat in Iraq for Months Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(October 29, 2015) — Last week’s “first of the ISIS war” combat death for a US soldier in Iraq gave way to admissions, over the past two days, that the Pentagon is engaged in ground combat as a fairly regular matter during what officials have presented as an exclusively “advisory” deployment. It’s also apparently not new.
Apparently determined to protest the charge of “mission creep” in the war, officials are now conceding that they’ve been engaged in secret ground combat for months now, and therefore this isn’t mission creep, but rather a transition to public admission of what they’ve been doing all along.
Officials also made reference to a US special operations office being run out of the Kurdish capital of Irbil, saying the matter was kept so highly classified that even the name of the office itself is considered a state secret that won’t be released.
Sen. Bob Corker (R – TN), head of the Foreign Relations Committee, downplayed the seriousness of the White House carrying out a secret ground war even as they were publicly telling the American people that no ground combat would ever happen in Iraq, saying “it’s the way our government is set up.”
Corker did however express concern about the lack of information given to Congress about the scope of the special operations ground combat, saying that Congress isn’t “even close to fully knowledgeable as to what is happening.”
That apparently even leaves open the question of whether last week’s death was the first “combat casualty” of the war, as officials are now suggesting that there are at least five American ground soldiers who were wounded in Iraq over the course of the war, and the details of all of those incidents are being kept secret.
Sgt. Joshua Wheeler’s death last week appears to have been the first actual death of the conflict, and covering that up appears to have been a step too far for the Pentagon leadership. This is at least the public explanation for why the Pentagon went from “ruling out” combat to insisting a ground war was self-evidence in the matter of about 48 hours.
It may be too soon to rule out mission creep as well, however, as even if the US has been in secret ground combat for months doesn’t mean the sudden admission of limited ground combat might not suggest the “secret” part of the war is going to transition into something even more aggressive.
US Special forces reportedly in covert combat for months against ISIS FoxNews.com
(October 29, 2015) — US special operations forces reportedly have carried out several covert combat missions against ISIS over the past year, contrary to the Pentagon’s insistence that operations like last week’s raid of an ISIS-held prison in northern Iraq was a “unique” circumstance.
Bloomberg View reported that a special operations task force staffs an operations center in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil to support such missions. The report, which cited US and Kurdish officials, claimed that the task force has worked in recent months to identify and locate senior leaders of ISIS. Members of the group also participated in last week’s raid, during which Army Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler was killed. Wheeler became the first American to die in combat since the launch of anti-ISIS operations last year.
At a Pentagon briefing in Baghdad Tuesday, spokesman Col. Steve Warren answered a question about whether US forces in Iraq were in combat against ISIS in no uncertain terms.
“We’re in combat,” Warren said. “I thought I made that pretty clear … That is why we all carry guns. That’s why we all get combat patches when we leave here, that’s why we all receive [an] immediate danger badge. So, of course we’re in combat.”
Last week, Cook said the raid on the ISIS prison in the town of Hawija was “consistent with our counter-ISIL effort to train, advise and assist Iraqi forces”, using a different acronym for the terror group. He also said the rescue was a “unique” circumstance, but declined to say that it was the only time US forces have engaged in a form of ground combat in Iraq. Instead, he noted that US troops are “allowed to defend themselves, and also defend partner forces, and to protect against the loss of innocent life.”
Cook’s previous comments had kept with a general avoidance on the part of administration officials to admit that US troops were in combat. However, on Friday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said while discussing the raid, “This is combat, things are complicated.”
In addition to the death of Master Sgt. Wheeler, The Daily Beast reported earlier this week that five service members had been wounded in action since the start of operations in Iraq last year. However, the Pentagon has refused to disclose how and when they were injured. The Washington Post reported in March that one of the wounded service members was hit in the face by bullet fragments while coming under enemy fire.
Bloomberg View reported that in addition to the special operations task force, the operations center also contains so-called Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, who work with US allies and the Iraqis to coordinate combat flights against ISIS over Iraq. A third group, from the Marine Special Operations Command, is in charge of training Kurdish counter-terrorism forces.
On Tuesday, Carter testified on Capitol Hill that that the military plans a “higher and heavier rate of strikes” against ISIS targets. Separately, a senior US official confirmed to Fox News that President Obama is considering proposals to move US troops closer to the front lines in the fight.
On Wednesday, retired Gen. John Allen told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that as the US continues to build up its military options in Syrian, European nations might consider combat operations to battle extremists.
Allen said the US military recently began asking its European allies to join it at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey where the US is being allowed to launch fighter aircraft and surveillance missions in Syria.
“I expect that as time goes on, and as more opportunity becomes available to us, we may well see our European partners become more kinetically involved in Syria,” Allen said.
“There may be opportunities in the south as well as in the north where our European coalition partners could in fact play an important role, and I’m thinking special operations,” Allen said, adding that additional details could only be provided in a classified setting.
Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(October 29, 2015) — America and its allies make modern war in a way that assures “mistakes” destroy hospitals, and civilian lives are taken by drones. These horrors are all too often strategic decisions, or the result of the profligate use of needlessly destructive weapons. They are typically far from accidents.
The destruction of a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, including the deaths of physicians from Doctors Without Borders, has become the celebrity example of America’s conduct of war. It is the one that made the news, much like a single child dead on the beach stood in for five years of unabated refugee flows out of the Middle East. But Kunduz is more important than just a dramatic news story, in that it stands as a clear example of a sordid policy.
After a series of cascading explanations, the United States settled on blaming the Afghan military for demanding a strike on the building which was the hospital. There is truth in that — the request likely did initiate with the Afghans — but it ignores the larger story of how “accidents” really happen.
The strike was conducted by an American AC-130, a flying gunship. A retired Air Force Special Operations officer explained to me that the AC-130 is considered a “first hit” weapon; its ordnance hits where it is designated to hit on the first try. The targeted hospital was marked by a US Special Forces operator alongside the Afghans, using a laser. The AC-130 fired on the hospital for over one hour, in 15-minute paced barrages.
How could the US have known the target was a hospital? Easily. Kunduz had been controlled by the Afghans alongside their embedded Americans for some time. It was a mature battlefield, with landmarks such as the hospital well-known on the ground.
In addition, NGOs employ organizations such as The International NGO Safety and Security Association (INSSA) specifically to coordinate with armed forces working around their sites, to include providing precise GPS coordinates to avoid “accidental” targeting. Doctors Without Borders also directly provides combatants their locations; in Kunduz, as recently as September 29.
The latter details are especially important in evaluating strikes against hospitals and other civilian targets. Unlike in WWII when thousands of planes flew over cities hoping to hit a target only as precisely defined as “Tokyo,” modern ordnance is delivered by computer, using laser designation, satellite coordination, GPs systems and classified mapping tools.
America blew up exactly what it aimed at in Kunduz.
America’s Other Hospitals
Kunduz was not America’s first hospital. The US bombed a maternity hospital in Baghdad in 2003, a hospital in Rutbah, and stormed a hospital in Nasiriya. Shells hit the large Al Yarmuk Hospital in Baghdad. A hospital in Belgrade, former Yugoslavia, was bombed in the 1990s.
In Hanoi, the United States struck the Bach Mai hospital — twice — during the 1972 “Christmas Bombing.” The United States also destroyed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999, citing inaccurate maps as the cause.
There are always investigations following such incidents, though in the history of modern American warfare none have ever been deemed such strikes as having been planned. Hospitals make attractive targets.
Destroying them results in fighters dying of their wounds, and increases the burden on healthy soldiers, pulling them from the battlefield to care for their own wounded. In military terms that is known as a “soft kill.” Accidents emerge in war, but so do patterns.
Civilian Deaths and the Drone War
The killing of civilians as a result of American war is not limited to attacks on hospitals. The global drone war continues to take innocent lives, in what has come to be known without shame or irony as collateral damage.
Even conservative estimates of the number of civilians killed by drone attacks targeted on others are suspect, given the secrecy under which the US drone program operates. The analytically conservative Council on Foreign Relations tally assesses that 500 drone strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan have killed 3,674 civilians as of 2014.
The count measures kills outside of Iraq and Afghanistan specifically because only those places are considered active war zones per se by the United States (known US attacks inside Syria had not yet begun.)
In Yemen, in just one example, American drone strikes aimed at 17 named men actually killed 273 people, at least seven of them children, including the American Citizen son of alleged al Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki.
But the killing of civilians as a result of American war is not limited to attacks on hospitals, or by drone.
Tools of Destruction
There is a commonality to the growing death count created by America and its allies: the inevitable civilian deaths caused by the profligate use of horrifically destructive weapons, especially inside urban areas.
Civilian casualties overall in America’s 2003-2011 Iraq War were anywhere from 140,000 dead to upwards of 500,000, many by artillery, cluster munitions, and depleted uranium munitions, indiscriminate weapons unique to American forces.
For its drone strikes, the US uses Hellfire missiles, armed with warheads originally designed to burn through the heaviest tank armor. Aiming them at a person inevitably will kill others nearby; the US claimed al-Awlaki’s son was killed inside a car, seated next to the actual target.
Such deaths are also closely tied to America’s policy of “signature drone strikes,” where a missile is aimed at a “profile:” a suspect cell phone, a car matching some description, a suspicious gathering outside a home.
America’s allies, equipped with American weapons, follow a similar pattern in their making of war.
The US throughout the Middle and Near East, the Saudis in Yemen and Israel in Gaza, employ cluster munitions in urban areas. Such munitions are known as “area denial weapons,” which cause massive, indiscriminate destruction over wide swaths of territory.
Documented inside Yemen have been American-made CBU-52 cluster bombs, each loaded with 220 “anti-material” bomblets. Imagine the use of such weapons inside central London, or on a Manhattan street.
Though not confined to cluster munitions alone, the deployment of US-made weapons by the Saudis in Yemen has only added to the carnage. Almost 4,000 people have been killed, with 19,000 injured and more than a million displaced from their homes.
In Gaza in 2009, the Israelis used cluster munitions, white phosphorus (a burning agent also used by the US in Iraq), as well as standard artillery, rockets and airstrikes, all against dense urban areas.
The UN estimates over 1,400 civilians, of whom 495 were children, were killed in the attacks. The Israelis also destroyed a hospital in Gaza, attacked two others, and shelled UN-run schools in 2014.
The US, Israel and Saudi Arabia are among the countries that have refused to sign The Convention on Cluster Munitions, a treaty banning the use of such weapons.
The Cost of Modern War
Accountability remains in the hands of those with the weapons. America and Israel conduct self-investigations, and stymie independent ones, to clear their military of blame (the Saudi do not even appear to bother.) At the UN, the United States blocks action critical of Israel.
In Yemen, the US claims it cannot control how the Saudis choose to employ American weapons, and has stated the Saudi actions only “border on” violations of international law. NATO and the EU are deathly silent on the substantive issues, even in places where their own forces are on the ground.
It is clear that modern war as conducted by the United States and its allies in the Middle East has as a known outcome massive civilian casualties. The sites purposefully targeted can be civilian when needed, in violation of all known standards of international law.
The steady flow of “accidents” and collateral kills are fully-expected, inevitable and foreseeable consequences of the choice of weapons used.
The civilian deaths are not accidental, but policy. Kunduz was no accident. It was simply another example.
Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
The financial center of global capitalism is so highly concentrated that less than a few thousand people dominate and control $100 trillion of wealth.
(October 20, 2015) — Globalization of trade and central banking has propelled private corporations to positions of power and control never before seen in human history. Under advanced capitalism, the structural demands for a return on investment require an unending expansion of centralized capital in the hands of fewer and fewer people.
The financial center of global capitalism is so highly concentrated that less than a few thousand people dominate and control $100 trillion of wealth.
The few thousand people controlling global capital amounts to less than 0.0001 percent of the world’s population. They are the transnational capitalist class (TCC), who, as the capitalist elite of the world, dominate nation-states through international trade agreements and transnational state organizations such as the World Bank, the Bank for International Settlements, and the International Monetary Fund.
The TCC communicates their policy requirements through global networks such as the G-7 and G-20, and various nongovernmental policy organizations such as the World Economic Forum, the Trilateral Commission, and the Bilderberger Group.
The TCC represents the interests of hundreds of thousands of millionaires and billionaires who comprise the richest people in the top 1 percent of the world’s wealth hierarchy.
The TCC are keenly aware of both their elite status and their increasing vulnerabilities to democracy movements and to unrest from below. The military empire dominated by the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) serves to protect TCC investments around the world.
Wars, regime changes, and occupations performed in service of empire support investors’ access to natural resources and their speculative advantages in the market place.
When the empire is slow to perform or faced with political resistance, private security firms and private military companies (PMC) increasingly fulfill the TCC’s demands for the protections of their assets. Private security firms and private military companies (PMC) increasingly fulfill the TCC’s demands for the protections of their assets.
These protection services include personal security for TCC executives and their families, protection of safe residential and work zones, tactical military advisory and training of national police and armed forces, intelligence gathering on democracy movements and opposition groups, weapons acquisitions and weapon systems management, and strike forces for military actions and assassinations.
The expanding crisis of desperate masses/refugees, alienated work forces, and environmental exhaustion means an unlimited opportunity for PMCs to engage in protections services for the global elite.
Estimates are that over $200 billion a year is spent on private security employing some fifteen million people worldwide. G4S is the largest PMC in the world with 625,000 employees spanning five continents in more than 120 countries. Nine of the largest money management firms in the world have holdings in G4S. Some of its more important contractors are the governments of the UK, the US, Israel, and Australia.
In the private sector, G4S has worked with corporations such as Chrysler, Apple, and Bank of America. In Nigeria, Chevron contracts with G4S for counterinsurgency operations including fast-response mercenaries. G4S undertakes similar operations in South Sudan, and has provided surveillance equipment for checkpoints and prisons in Israel and security for Jewish settlements in Palestine.
Another private military contractor Constellis Holdingsâ€”formerly Blackwater and Triple Canopyâ€”is a leading provider of security, support, and military advisory services to the US government, foreign governments, multinational corporations, and international organizations.
Constellis is managed by an all male board of directors including billionaire Red McCombs; John Ashcroft, the former attorney general; retired admiral Bobby Inman; and Jack Quinn, a leading Democratic advisor who served as chief of staff to vice president Al Gore and as counsel to President Clinton.
Hundreds of private military contractors now play an important role in TCC security in the evolving 21st century neo-fascist corporate world. Capital will be free to travel instantly and internationally to anywhere that profits are possible, while nation-states will become little more than population containment zones with increasingly repressive labor controls.
For these reasons, PMCs must be understood as a component of neoliberal imperialism that now supplements nation-states’ police powers and could eventually substitute for them.
The trend toward privatization of war is a serious threat to human rights, due process, and democratic transparency and accountability. The US/NATO military empire sets the moral standards for denial of human rights by using pilotless drones to kill civilians without regard for international law in various regions of resistance to empire.
Labeling dead civilians as insurgents and terrorists, the complete lack of due process and human rights belies any standard of governmental moral legitimacy. This lack of moral legitimacy in turn sets standards for private military companies to operate with much the same malice in the shadow of the empire.
The globalization of PMC operations alongside transnational capital investment, international trade agreements, and an increasing concentration of wealth in the TCC means that the repressive practices of private security and war will inevitably come home to roost in the US, the European Union, and other first-world nations.
The 99 percent of us without wealth and private police power face the looming threat of overt repression and complete loss of human rights and legal protections.
We see signs of this daily with police killings (now close to a hundred per month in the US), warrantless electronic spying, mass incarceration, random traffic checkpoints, airport security/no-fly lists, and Homeland Security compilations of databases on suspected resisters.
Each time we look past the crimes of the empire we lose a portion of our integrity of self. Ignoring repression becomes part of continuing compromise in our daily lives leading to a moral malaise and increased feelings of helplessness.
We must stand up and demand democratic transparency and the international enforcement of human rights. Unless we collectively challenge the empire, we face a world that is evolving into a new dark age of neo-feudal totalitarianism unlike any previously known.
Peter Phillips is a professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University and president of Media Freedom Foundation/Project Censored. For a longer footnoted version of this report see. “21st Century Fascism”:
Northrop Gets Defense Lifeline in $80 Billion Bomber Contest Rick Clough Anthony Capaccio Julie Johnsson / Bloomberg
(October 28, 2015) — Northrop Grumman Corp., shut out of prime contracts for US warplanes since the B-2 in the 1980s, won a Pentagon sweepstakes valued at as much as $80 billion to build the Air Force’s Long-Range Strike Bomber.
In beating a team of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co., Northrop overcame the world’s two largest defense contractors and secured a financial lifeline stretching into the 2020s. The plane, still highly classified after years of planning, will be the military’s first new bomber since the Cold War and one of the biggest US weapons systems of the next decade.
“There was a David and Goliath situation going on,” said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at consultant Teal Group. “This is disappointing for Lockheed Martin, pretty bad for Boeing, but transformational for Northrop Grumman. They go from being a collection of operating units to a first-tier prime with a strong central core.”
Northrop surged to a record high Wednesday, extending a rally that began when the Defense Department announced the award late Tuesday after the stock market closed. Drexel Hamilton LLC raised its recommendation to buy from hold, a boost for the lowest-rated company among top Pentagon contractors, based on data compiled by Bloomberg.
The new plane will join the B-2 and is due to be deployed in the mid-2020s as the successor to the 37-year-old B-1 and the Eisenhower-era B-52. The Air Force wants a durable, stealthy aircraft that can fly deep into enemy territory to attack hidden or mobile targets.
What that plane will look like is still unknown, at least to the public. A Northrop commercial during the Super Bowl subtly tried to link its jet — shown as a shrouded flying-wing shape — to past aviation glories such as the B-2, which entered service in 1989. But there has been no indication whether the new jet will resemble that shape or some other design.
Northrop’s proposal is “the best value for our nation,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said at a news conference at the Pentagon.
Based on figures released Tuesday, which exclude the cost of any related future military construction, the bomber program calls for spending $23.5 billion in development plus $56 billion on procurement, or about $564 million for each bomber in 2016 dollars.
“Northrop has won ‘the’ military aircraft award of the decade, and assuming that it goes to plan this will be a key driver of revenue growth for at least the next 10 years,” Robert Stallard, an RBC Capital analyst, said in a note to clients.
Stallard estimated that the program could add about $1 billion in annual revenue starting in 2018. Howard Rubel, an analyst with Jefferies LLC, projected that the plane could account for as much as 10 percent of Northrop’s sales — 2014’s total was $24 billion — within a few years.
Northrop’s “legacy experience with the B-2 helped them understand what was required,” Rubel said in a telephone interview. The company also has major contracts building drones with advanced technology for the military.
Northrop climbed 5.5 percent to $190.45, an all-time high, at the close in New York. Boeing fell 0.4 percent and and Lockheed declined 0.9 percent.
Lockheed and Boeing could choose to protest the award, which typically must happen within two weeks, according to Nick Taborek, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. Given the years of research that went into the decision, the chances of overturning it “are likely even slimmer” than the usual 4 percent success rate, Taborek said Tuesday in a report.
The plane also was of less-urgent financial consequence to Lockheed, the builder of the F-35 fighter, and Boeing, the commercial-and-defense giant whose military programs include the KC-46 tanker. However, Boeing is working to find new military contracts to replace its F-15 and F/A-18 fighter jet manufacturing, which is approaching the end of production, said Aboulafia, the Teal Group analyst.
Boeing and Lockheed were “disappointed” by the Pentagon’s choice, the companies said in a joint statement. “We will have further discussions with our customer before determining our next steps.”
Northrop’s bomber will employ a family of secret, strike technologies including munitions; sensors needed to find targets; jamming capabilities to suppress enemy radar; and communications able to survive the electromagnetic pulses from nuclear detonations. The first planes will be piloted and outfitted with conventional weapons, followed by a version that can carry nuclear arms. A drone version may follow.
Also still secret: subcontractors such as engine suppliers. Citing national security concerns, the Pentagon said they wouldn’t be identified. The Air Force did disclose on Tuesday that Congress has appropriated $1.9 billion since 2011 on projects to reduce the risks of some technologies to be used in the aircraft.
The Pentagon’s announcement came on the eve of Northrop’s third-quarter financial results on Wednesday. The Falls Church, Virginia-based company boosted its 2015 profit forecast and reported quarterly earnings that beat analysts’ estimates as sales rose in three of its four divisions.
“As the company that developed and delivered the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, we look forward to providing the Air Force with a highly-capable and affordable next-generation Long-Range Strike Bomber,” Chief Executive Officer Wes Bush said in a statement. “Our team has the resources in place to execute this important program, and we’re ready to get to work.”
Three main issues helped drive the government’s decision: Costs were given the same weight as payload and range for the competing designs, said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute. Boeing and Lockheed have contributed to the institute.
The price tag per plane would soar if far fewer aircraft are built than the fleet envisioned by the Pentagon. Costs for the B-2 skyrocketed to $2.2 billion apiece as a projected fleet of 132 bombers was slashed to 21 after the Cold War ended.
This Is Why the US Is Spending
$80 Billion on a New Long-range Stealth Bomber David Axe / Quartz
(October 27, 2015) — A key component of US military power is to get a major upgrade. Pentagon officials said Tuesday that Northrop Grumman will build up to 100 new long-range stealth bombers for the Air Force, at a cost of $79 billion. It’s arguably the most important US military initiative in years.
Details of Northrop’s bomber design remain classified, but experts agree on what is required. “Stealth, a payload capacity of approximately 20,000 pounds and a range of 4,000 to 5,000 nautical miles,” according to Mark Gunzinger, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, DC.
Those capabilities, combined with a network of overseas bases, will allow the US to maintain an important advantage over military rivals. Russia and China have long-range bomber capabilities, but neither can match the reach and sophistication of the US program, which can reliably hit targets anywhere in the world.
The Pentagon is counting on the new bomber’s radar-evading design, which should allow the aircraft to penetrate the sophisticated air defenses that Russia and China are deploying in growing numbers. The bomber will also be capable of carrying nuclear weapons, giving it value as a strategic deterrent.
Northrop will build 21 bombers by 2025 and the remaining 79 over the following decades. Pentagon accountants estimate each bomber will cost $790 million, including development costs. That’s actually pretty cheap. The Air Force’s last bomber, the B-2, set taxpayers back around $2 billion for each of 21 copies.
Northrop was widely expected to win. Having built the B-2, the company has more recent bomber experience than rivals Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Northrop has also developed a small, stealthy robotic bomber prototype for the Navy.
General Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, praised Northrop’s design during the announcement. “Its range, survivability and payload flexibility will ensure we can execute our global power mission.”
You can follow David Axe on Twitter @daxe.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Sara Jerving, Katie Jennings, Masako Melissa Hirsch and Susanne Rust – 2015-10-29 01:17:37
(October 9, 2015) — Back in 1990, as the debate over climate change was heating up, a dissident shareholder petitioned the board of Exxon, one of the world’s largest oil companies, imploring it to develop a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from its production plants and facilities.
The board’s response: Exxon had studied the science of global warming and concluded it was too murky to warrant action. The company’s “examination of the issue supports the conclusions that the facts today and the projection of future effects are very unclear.”
Yet in the far northern regions of Canada’s Arctic frontier, researchers and engineers at Exxon and Imperial Oil were quietly incorporating climate change projections into the company’s planning and closely studying how to adapt the company’s Arctic operations to a warming planet.
Ken Croasdale, senior ice researcher for Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary, was leading a Calgary-based team of researchers and engineers that was trying to determine how global warming could affect Exxon’s Arctic operations and its bottom line.
“Certainly any major development with a life span of say 30-40 years will need to assess the impacts of potential global warming,” Croasdale told an engineering conference in 1991. “This is particularly true of Arctic and offshore projects in Canada, where warming will clearly affect sea ice, icebergs, permafrost and sea levels.”
Between 1986 and 1992, Croasdale’s team looked at both the positive and negative effects that a warming Arctic would have on oil operations, reporting its findings to Exxon headquarters in Houston and New Jersey.
The good news for Exxon, he told an audience of academics and government researchers in 1992, was that “potential global warming can only help lower exploration and development costs” in the Beaufort Sea.
But, he added, it also posed hazards, including higher sea levels and bigger waves, which could damage the company’s existing and future coastal and offshore infrastructure, including drilling platforms, artificial islands, processing plants and pump stations. And a thawing earth could be troublesome for those facilities as well as pipelines.
As Croasdale’s team was closely studying the impact of climate change on the company’s operations, Exxon and its worldwide affiliates were crafting a public policy position that sought to downplay the certainty of global warming.
The gulf between Exxon’s internal and external approach to climate change from the 1980s through the early 2000s was evident in a review of hundreds of internal documents, decades of peer-reviewed published material and dozens of interviews conducted by Columbia University’s Energy & Environmental Reporting Project and the Los Angeles Times.
Documents were obtained from the Imperial Oil collection at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum and the Exxon Mobil Historical Collection at the University of Texas at Austin’s Briscoe Center for American History.
“We considered climate change in a number of operational and planning issues,” said Brian Flannery, who was Exxon’s in-house climate science advisor from 1980 to 2011. In a recent interview, he described the company’s internal effort to study the effects of global warming as a competitive necessity: “If you don’t do it, and your competitors do, you’re at a loss.”
The Arctic holds about one-third of the world’s untapped natural gas and roughly 13% of the planet’s undiscovered oil, according to the US Geological Survey. More than three-quarters of Arctic deposits are offshore.
Imperial Oil, about 70% of which is owned by Exxon Mobil, began drilling in the frigid Arctic waters of the Canadian Beaufort Sea in the early 1970s. By the early 1990s, it had drilled two-dozen exploratory wells.
The exploration was expensive, due to bitter temperatures, wicked winds and thick sea ice. And when a worldwide oil slump drove petroleum prices down in the late 1980s, the company began scaling back those efforts.
But with mounting evidence the planet was warming, company scientists, including Croasdale, wondered whether climate change might alter the economic equation. Could it make Arctic oil exploration and production easier and cheaper?
“The issue of CO2 emissions was certainly well-known at that time in the late 1980s,” Croasdale said in an interview.
Since the late 1970s and into the 1980s, Exxon had been at the forefront of climate change research, funding its own internal science as well as research from outside experts at Columbia University and MIT.
With company support, Croasdale spearheaded the company’s efforts to understand climate change’s effects on its Arctic operations. A company such as Exxon, he said, “should be a little bit ahead of the game trying to figure out what it was all about.”
Exxon Mobil describes its efforts in those years as standard operating procedure. “Our researchers considered a wide range of potential scenarios, of which potential climate change impacts such as rising sea levels was just one,” said Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil.
The Arctic seemed an obvious region to study, Croasdale and other experts said, because it was likely to be most affected by global warming.
That reasoning was backed by models built by Exxon scientists, including Flannery, as well as Marty Hoffert, a New York University physicist. Their work, published in 1984, showed that global warming would be most pronounced near the poles.
Between 1986, when Croasdale took the reins of Imperial’s frontier research team, until 1992, when he left the company, his team of engineers and scientists used the global circulation models developed by the Canadian Climate Centre and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies to anticipate how climate change could affect a variety of operations in the Arctic.
These were the same models that — for the next two decades — Exxon’s executives publicly dismissed as unreliable and based on uncertain science. As Chief Executive Lee Raymond explained at an annual meeting in 1999, future climate “projections are based on completely unproven climate models, or, more often, on sheer speculation.”
One of the first areas the company looked at was how the Beaufort Sea could respond to a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which the models predicted would happen by 2050.
Greenhouse gases are rising “due to the burning of fossil fuels,” Croasdale told an audience of engineers at a conference in 1991. “Nobody disputes this fact,” he said, nor did anyone doubt those levels would double by the middle of the 21st century.
Using the models and data from a climate change report issued by Environment Canada, Canada’s environmental agency, the team concluded that the Beaufort Sea’s open water season — when drilling and exploration occurred — would lengthen from two months to three and possibly five months.
They were spot on.
In the years following Croasdale’s conclusions, the Beaufort Sea has experienced some of the largest losses in sea ice in the Arctic and its open water season has increased significantly, according to Mark Serreze, a senior researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo.
For instance, in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, west of the Beaufort, the season has been extended by 79 days since 1979, Serreze said.
An extended open water season, Croasdale said in 1992, could potentially reduce exploratory drilling and construction costs by 30% to 50%.
He did not recommend making investment decisions based on those scenarios, because he believed the science was still uncertain. However, he advised the company to consider and incorporate potential “negative outcomes,” including a rise in the sea level, which could threaten onshore infrastructure; bigger waves, which could damage offshore drilling structures; and thawing permafrost, which could make the earth buckle and slide under buildings and pipelines.
The most pressing concerns for the company centered on a 540-mile pipeline that crossed the Northwest Territories into Alberta, its riverside processing facilities in the remote town of Norman Wells, and a proposed natural gas facility and pipeline in the Mackenzie River Delta, on the shores of the Beaufort Sea.
The company hired Stephen Lonergan, a Canadian geographer from McMaster University, to study the effect of climate change there.
Lonergan used several climate models in his analysis, including the NASA model. They all concluded that things would get warmer and wetter and that those effects “cannot be ignored,” he said in his report.
As a result, the company should expect “maintenance and repair costs to roads, pipelines and other engineering structures” to be sizable in the future, he wrote.
A warmer Arctic would threaten the stability of permafrost, he noted, potentially damaging the buildings, processing plants and pipelines that were built on the solid, frozen ground.
In addition, the company should expect more flooding along its riverside facilities, an earlier spring breakup of the ice pack, and more-severe summer storms.
But it was the increased variability and unpredictability of the weather that was going to be the company’s biggest challenge, he said.
Record-breaking droughts, floods and extreme heat — the worst-case scenarios — were now events that not only were likely to happen, but could occur at any time, making planning for such scenarios difficult, Lonergan warned the company in his report. Extreme temperatures and precipitation “should be of greatest concern,” he wrote, “both in terms of future design and . . . expected impacts.”
The fact that temperatures could rise above freezing on almost any day of the year got his superiors’ attention. That “was probably one of the biggest results of the study and that shocked a lot of people,” he said in a recent interview.
Lonergan recalled that his report came as somewhat of a disappointment to Imperial’s management, which wanted specific advice on what action it should take to protect its operations. After presenting his findings, he remembered, one engineer said: “Look, all I want to know is: Tell me what impact this is going to have on permafrost in Norman Wells and our pipelines.”
As it happened, J.F. “Derick” Nixon, a geotechnical engineer on Croasdale’s team, was studying that question.
He looked at historical temperature data and concluded Norman Wells could grow about 0.2 degrees warmer every year. How would that, he wondered, affect the frozen ground underneath buildings and pipelines?
“Although future structures may incorporate some consideration of climatic warming in their design,” he wrote in a technical paper delivered at a conference in Canada in 1991, “northern structures completed in the recent past do not have any allowance for climatic warming.” The result, he said, could be significant settling.
Nixon said the work was done in his spare time and not commissioned by the company. However, Imperial “was certainly aware of my work and the potential effects on their buildings.”
Exxon Mobil declined to respond to requests for comment on what steps it took as a result of its scientists’ warnings. According to Flannery, the company’s in-house climate expert, much of the work of shoring up support for the infrastructure was done as routine maintenance.
“You build it into your ongoing system and it becomes a part of what you do,” he said.
Today, as Exxon’s scientists predicted 25 years ago, Canada’s Northwest Territories has experienced some of the most dramatic effects of global warming. While the rest of the planet has seen an average increase of roughly 1.5 degrees in the last 100 years, the northern reaches of the province have warmed by 5.4 degrees and temperatures in central regions have increased by 3.6 degrees.
Since 2012, Exxon Mobil and Imperial have held the rights to more than 1 million acres in the Beaufort Sea, for which they bid $1.7 billion in a joint venture with BP. Although the companies have not begun drilling, they requested a lease extension until 2028 from the Canadian government a few months ago. Exxon Mobil declined to comment on its plans there.
Croasdale said the company could be “taking a gamble” the ice will break up soon, finally bringing about the day he predicted so long ago — when the costs would become low enough to make Arctic exploration economical.
Amy Lieberman and Elah Feder contributed to this report.
About this story: Over the last year, the Energy and Environmental Reporting Project at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, with the Los Angeles Times, has been researching the gap between Exxon Mobil’s public position and its internal planning on the issue of climate change.
As part of that effort, reporters reviewed hundreds of documents housed in archives in Calgary’s Glenbow Museum and at the University of Texas. They also reviewed scientific journals and interviewed dozens of experts, including former Exxon Mobil employees. This is the first in a series of occasional articles.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.