Whistleblower Thomas Drake Issues a Dire Warning on the Risk of Nuclear War

March 22nd, 2023 - by RootsAction Education Fund

Thomas Drake, One of Our
Great Whistleblowers, Needs Our Help

RootsAction Education Fund

As a top executive of the National Security Agency a decade ago, Thomas Drake had nothing to gain — and everything to lose — by exposing the US government’s secret assault on overall civil liberties and the Fourth Amendment in particular. (Background links are at the bottom of this posting.) Federal prosecutors threatened him with prison for the rest of his life.

After our announcement last month that Tom had been struck by a serious cancer diagnosis, the generous responses have provided a huge lift. Keep in mind that the vindictive prosecution and massive legal fees left Tom deeply in debt.

While the persecutors ultimately lost in court, the long ordeal left him without a pension and, in effect, banishmed from government employment.

Ever since, challenging widespread government surveillance, Tom has remained a beacon of truth-telling integrity. Here at RootsAction Education Fund, we’ve been proud to work with him for many years. Now, he’s facing a new kind of crisis. As medical bills pile up and essential drugs are all too expensive, he urgently needs — and deserves — our help.

Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to support Tom Drake and his vital work.

Strategies to prevent a nuclear war — the subject of Tom’s new essay — appears below. What Tom Drake has just written embodies a commitment to working toward a livable future. Here is his essay:

Duty to Warn —
The Existential Danger of Nuclear Weapons

Thomas Drake / SalsaLabs.org

I want to take a brief moment and express my deepest gratitude for the outpouring of support you have shown me these past few weeks in light of the news I shared earlier that I am now dealing each and every day with the discovery that I have marginal zone b-cell lymphoma.

Taking care of my health is now my highest priority leveraging the very best combination of modern medicine with a pill called ibrutinib (Imbruvica) targeted to render the malignant cells null and void (in consultation with NIH and Johns Hopkins led by my Kaiser Permanente oncology team), plus a custom diet to mitigate the effects and push the lymphoma into remission.

(March 2023) — My personal health crisis has certainly re-focused me on what really matters in life — not just for myself but also for us and our common humanity (and heritage) at large. To that end, I wish to discuss and create conversation with you and within your various personal and professional circles the existential threat still posed by the horrific possibility of an accidental nuclear weapon explosion or launch or even the willful use of nuclear weapons with all those terrible prospects and outcomes.

I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s as a child of the Atomic Age and well remember the alert drills in middle school, where we would practice our reactions in case the sirens and alarms went off regarding an incoming nuclear missile or strike. We would quickly exit our chairs in the classroom, go out into the hallway with the regular lights turned off and face our lockers, or in high school head to designated shelters.

Also well remember the fear of a nuclear exchange occurring at the superpower level and the discussions about the end of civilization as we knew it if that horror would occur and seeing pictures of mushroom clouds from the tests that occurred in the Pacific, underground, and in the air. It was all very scary and quite traumatic.

Also remember the day my younger brother and I were up in the attic rooting through boxes placed there by our parents and coming across a box of metal 35mm slides. As we were going through them discovered several showing pictures of a nuclear mushroom cloud high in the atmosphere.

We were most curious and asked our mother regarding their source. She answered in rather somber tones that they were taken by our father when he was in the Air Force and assigned to the Strategic Air Command on a classified team at the time, witnessing some of the last of the high-altitude nuclear tests in the early 1960s that detonated high above Christmas Island west of Australia out in the Indian Ocean.

My father actually helped develop the Fail Safe program called CHROME DOME that kept nuclear-armed bombers on 24-hour alert and ready to launch (or from designated forward flight boxes) and then head into the USSR if orders were delivered to drop their bombs in the event the nuclear balloon went up.

Bomb Shelters and Bunkers in Yonkers
I also remember visiting my grandparents in Sayville, New York with a next-door neighbor who built an underground bomb shelter on his property for “escape” and survival in case the Big One occurred. Turns out, a number of people built their own bomb shelters under the delusion it would save them and they could come out later above ground to live another day.

I later read about the then-super-secret WWII Manhattan Project designed to create the atomic bomb and then used against the Japanese over Hiroshima and Nagasaki resulting in utter devastation across a vast area from a single weapon dropped out of the bomb bays of specially configured B-29s.

And when I was going through my Air Force airborne Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training at Fairchild AFB in 1981, I was quartered in barracks just feet from the nuclear bunkers on that Airbase housing nuclear weapons.

I woke up one morning to actually witness the elephant-walk exercise of numerous B-52 bombers taking off in two-minute intervals down the long runway as a drill to maintain proficiency in the event of any mutually assured destruction response as part of the nuclear “deterrent” triad (ground missiles, subs and bombers), just in case the US had to use nuclear weapons in conflict against our primary enemy of the day during the Cold War era — namely the Soviet Union.

Later, as an aircrew member on RC-135s in the early to mid-1980s, as part of the Peacetime Aerial Reconnaissance Program flying out of RAF Mildenhall Air Base, we also had exercises and training involving Bomb Damage Assessment flights in case a nuclear exchange did take place.

We were tasked with listening for signals from what was left on the ground in the aftermath that were still active or emanating electronic signals (or no longer active or emanating).

A History of Nuclear Near-Misses
The world has experienced any number of close calls besides the near-nuclear war that almost happened between the US and the USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, until cooler heads eventually prevailed.

I am also well aware of how close we came to a nuclear missile launch and exchange in the 1980s when the Soviets really thought we were engaging in a secret first-strike capability against the USSR, given the extreme realism of an ongoing US exercise along the peripheries of the Soviet Union. [It could have become a nuclear conflgration] if not for a Russian Lieutenant Colonel Petrov who call it out as a nuclear false alarm….

And this is not even addressing any number of nuclear accidents that have occurred over the years with crashed bombers, subs that sank and nuclear power plant accidents like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

For example, one accident was made into a Danish docu-drama called “The Idealist,” where a whistleblower attempted to reveal the secret behind a nuclear disaster that occurred during the height of the Cold War and took place in Danish airspace when a US B-52 crashed in Greenland, carrying four nuclear bombs. It took 20 years for the truth to eventually come out.

Unfortunately, many of the Cold War-era nuclear test-ban and weapons-ban treaties and agreements (including the Open Skies Treaty) no longer exist and Russia recently suspended its participation in New START — the last remaining nuclear arms control agreement with the United States.

And yet the advent of a new Cold War rises once again in the 21st Century and puts the horrifying specter of nuclear threats and actual accidental or willful use of nuclear weapons front and center again.

Have we forgotten what the real and potential horrors of a nuclear would look like — even if limited?

Even Cold War scientists did not know or anticipate how big the US military’s largest nuke test [would be] (a Soviet test was even larger).

And yet the real possibility of accidental nuclear war grows closer in light of recent world events with a rising Cold War 2.0 with Russia and China, and Russia even using nuclear weapons as blackmail in light of their war with Ukraine.

There is no shelter from a nuclear bomb going off. I remember in 2018, when the alert siren sounded in Hawaii for an inbound nuclear missile from North Korea. Turned out it was a false alarm, but it brought home just vulnerable we are.

There are no winners when it comes to the use of nuclear weapons. It is not a contest as much as the first Cold War was set up as such with each country sitting high on its powder keg of nuclear weapons — some piled higher than others.

We must get beyond always assuming that the motives of “other,” defined as the existential enemy, are always malign. Nationalistic flag waving and exaggerated notions of intractable clashes keep the status quo predicament and contradictory blight of nuclear weapons in place.

The only winning move is not to play the deadly game — paraphrasing the computer from the “War Games” movie in the 1980s.

Do we really want to place ourselves again on the razor’s edge of a nuclear disaster — either by accident or by design? So much of this is decidedly fear-based and also designed to persist the notion of the enemy as justification for maintaining arsenals of incredibly dangerous weapons that have no practical military value except to create mutual destruction in which not only untold thousands and even millions and millions (if not tens and hundreds of millions) are incinerated.

In addition, the impact on the environment with the prospect of a nuclear winter would create conditions that would utterly change the local, regional and even continental landscape impacted by the detonation of nuclear weapons.

We definitely do not need a new arms race that would protect nothing and threaten everything. We need at least a new arms control regime and upgraded communication alert systems. Suspending or disabling the remaining nuclear security architecture only raises fears of more escalation. I really don’t want to envision or step into a dystopian future like Nevil Shute painted in “On the Beach.”

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is an international agreement that aimed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy. But there is the real danger of dual use, and the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation are many these days and very serious.

Important to note that any type of nuclear weapon detonation near a populated area would cause massive death and destruction, trigger long-term harm to human health and well-being and again long-term damage to the environment, while upending everything we hold near and dear as civil societies.

The spread of nuclear weapons technology can also increase the risk of theft or diversion by non-state actors such as terrorists or criminals who could use them for other malicious purposes and even increase the risk of accidents or miscalculations that could result in the unintended use of nuclear weapons with all of its severe consequences.

Nuclear arms and its proliferation also pose a significant and growing threat to international peace, stability and security. And yet what do we do about it? Preventing the risk of nuclear conflict by accident or design is not easy and poses a real predicament for humankind. And yet preventing nuclear conflict and conflagration is again one of the most pressing challenges of our time.

My focus is on education and awareness regarding the dangers of nuclear weapons and the importance of disarmament and non-proliferation as critical and crucial in preventing the risk of any type of nuclear conflict. But that requires a concerted and sustained effort by all including new arms control measures, reduction in the sheer numbers of nuclear weapons (and delivery means), with the goal of eventual elimination (sooner, not later), active bi-lateral and muti-lateral diplomacy as well as outright disarmament. Yet those with nuclear weapons (or actively seeking the same) will not give up or drop their seeking the acquisition of nuclear weapons (or the capacity) lightly.

My position is also very much in alignment with Daniel Ellsberg. Nuclear weapons do pose a clear and present danger as an existential threat to humanity. Their use must be avoided at all costs. Any use of nuclear weapons at best would result in catastrophic damage and at worst the potential near extinction of the human species. So-called nuclear deterrence is now obsolete, and an unsustainable and unstable strategy that perversely incentivizes arms races and increases the risk of accidental nuclear war.

We live on Spaceship Earth — our home and our planet. If you love this planet and the jewel of life as we know it inhabiting this extraordinary Third Rock from the Sun, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to keep your global home safe and secure from the very instruments of our own destruction?

The Atomic Doomsday Clock currently sits at 90 seconds before midnight and states that we are, in 2023, a time of unprecedented danger.

And if you love this planet, please check out this older documentary from 1982 based on a lecture delivered in 1981 by Helen Caldicott as a sobering reminder of why we must work together to keep the future of our Earth intact through peace, instead of instruments of abusive power (or a Dr. Strangelove scenario) that force us to face the prospect of nuclear war and conflict.

Will we heed her stark warning? As she so aptly stated over 40 years ago, “It is appropriate to be passionate about our survival.”

PS from the RootsAction Education Fund:
Whether or not the rare whistleblowers at places like the NSA go to prison, a key official goal is to drive them close to the poverty line for the rest of their lives, deprived of pensions and rendered unemployable for all but low-paid jobs.

While Thomas Drake remains deeply in financial debt, we are in his debt — morally, politically and ethically. We owe him so much because he stood up for civil liberties and human decency.

Let’s help repay that debt to Tom Drake, who exposed extreme mass surveillance by the NSA. Living in what is supposed to be a democracy, we get vital information because of the courage of whistleblowers. You can make a tax-deductible contribution in support of Tom Drake.

Thank you!
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>>  Jane Mayer, The New Yorker: Thomas Drake — “The Secret Sharer”
>>  Daily Beast: “US Intelligence Shuts Down Damning Report on Whistleblower Retaliation”
>>  Thomas Drake and other whistleblowers at Cato Institute forum: “The NSA & the Road to 9/11: Lessons Learned & Unlearned”
>>  “The Constitution and Conscience: NSA’s Thomas Drake”: Video of speech
>>  Jesselyn Radack, The New York Times: “Whistleblowers Deserve Protection Not Prison”