Daniel Ellsberg Arrested Protesting the ‘American Nuclear Doomsday Machine’
In the wee hours of Saturday, February 25th, nuclear expert (and Pentagon Papers whistleblower) Daniel Ellsberg, along with David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF), Cindy Sheehan, Fr. Louis Vitale, four members of CodePink, and six other concerned citizens, were all arrested for trespassing on military property while conducting an act of civil disobedience at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California.
They were protesting the test launch of the first [of five tests slated for 2012] of the Minuteman III InterContinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). This specific launch was targeted to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and hours after the arrests of Ellsberg, et al, the launching of the nuclear-capable dummy missile was conducted at 2:46 a.m. Thirty minutes later it had traveled the 4,200 miles to reach the target in the Marshall Islands.
According to a video posted on YouTube of the protest, Ellsberg stated outside the military base to approximately 100 supporters, including representatives of the coastal Chumash Tribe, and the Women's International League of Peace and Freedom (WILPF) that, "What we have here is a vulnerable missile that is designed for only one thing: to catch land-based missiles before they leave the ground, and it has to get off the ground here before any Russian missiles get here.
"So the existence of these weapons, in this country, compels virtually both sides to be on a High Alert status, prepared to go off on what might be a false alarm ... The risks of having nuclear accidents are outrageous, and it is inexcusable that these weapons continue to exist."
Currently, in military bases located in Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota, there are 450 of these specific ICBMs on alert in the U.S.
According to the Santa Barbara Independent, while Ellsberg was being arrested, war protestor Cindy Sheehan addressed the soldiers, "You are handcuffing a national hero who stopped the Vietnam War." Then while Sheehan was being arrested, she also stated loudly, "My son was killed in Iraq, and you're inhibiting his mother's freedom of speech."
Daniel Ellsberg, who has a PhD. in Economics from Harvard, was a defense strategic analyst at RAND Corporation, and was a consultant to the Department of Defense (and the White House) specializing in Command & Control of nuclear weapons, nuclear war plans, and crisis decision-making. He is renowned for leaking the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times during the Vietnam War, is the subject of a 2009 Oscar-nominated documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in America, and author of "Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam."
Ellsberg, after releasing the Pentagon Papers, had to endure a trial that had twelve felony counts threatening him, enough to have sentenced him to 115 years in prison. But in 1973, all the charges were dismissed on the grounds of government misconduct against Ellsberg. Soon after the trial, impeachment proceedings began against President Richard Nixon.
Ellsberg has been arrested close to one hundred times for civil resistance actions in the U.S since then, and when he shows up for an action it must be for a serious reason. In 1983, for example, Ellsberg was arrested at this same Vandenberg Air Force Base protesting the MX Missile.
In December 2010, he was arrested outside the White House protesting the war in Afghanistan.
Just a few days before this Missile Launch protest Ellsberg gave the prestigious Frank K. Kelly Lecture on Humanity's Future, entitled "Nuclear Weapons and Humanity's Future", in Santa Barbara for NAPF, and committed to show up again to lend his voice and presence to this missile protest, including getting arrested one more time.
"This protest is a success even if the test goes off because it shows you can't test First-Strike Weapons in this country without having to arrest Americans to do it," Ellsberg stated to those gathered before his arrest.
According to NAPF's website, Waging Peace, David Krieger stated after his arrest, "I felt really good to be a part of a community of individuals willing to take risks to end the insanity of nuclear testing, nuclear threats, and the ever-present danger of nuclear weapons use by accident or design. I also felt good to be taking this action with my wife and my good friend, Daniel Ellsberg. Also Fr. Louis Vitale, who has set a great example as a religious and moral leader by being arrested hundreds of times for this cause; and Cindy Sheehan, a spirited woman whose son died in the Iraq War."
He also noted that the soldiers who arrested them were respectful, but after processing the protestors their superiors ordered them "to drop us off at 4 a.m. in an empty shopping center 4-5 miles from VAFB where our cars were located," which Krieger said, "struck me as unnecessary harassment."
In an interview with me yesterday, Krieger clarified, "We protested not because these tests release radiation: they do not. We protested because of the suicidal and omnicidal nature of the weapon system being tested.
"The missile test we protested had a dummy warhead. What was being tested was the missile, a Minuteman III land-based InterContinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). The US has 450 of these ICBMs. They are First-Strike Weapons.
"That means that in the event of a false alarm or high tensions between the U.S. and Russia there will be pressure to use these ICBMs before the Russian use their land-based missiles and destroy ours. In the time of tension, these land-based missiles in their silos are also a tempting target for the Russians to strike first - for the same reason their silos are tempting targets for us to strike.
"We would be better off to retire our land-based missiles immediately and not maintain ICBMs, because they could be used in response to a false warning, or be taken out by the Russians in a false warning situation."
Krieger added, "We don't need these land-based missiles for nuclear deterrence. We have plenty of missiles on our submarines that assure our retaliatory capability without being vulnerable and tempting targets for a first-strike attack."
Different Scenarios of Nuclear Famine
Krieger stated, "Nuclear weapons do not make us more secure." Referring to scientific studies NAPF has researched, he explained "The use of a few hundred thermonuclear weapons on cities in a war between India and Pakistan, for example, would lead to a nuclear famine, putting smoke from burning cities into the stratosphere that would reduce warming sunlight from reaching the Earth for ten years. This would result in successive crop failures, widespread famine, and could cause up to a billion deaths from starvation worldwide. That scenario is from the use of less than 1% of the world's nuclear weapons.
"But in a war between the U.S. and Russia, the launching of the operational nuclear weapons of either side targeting the other nation's cities, even without retaliation, could result in a nuclear famine that could lead to the extinction of complex life, including human life, on the planet."
Second Missile Test Cancelled on March 1
In my interview with Krieger he further explained that since their arrests at the Vandenberg Air Force Base, "The next planned Minuteman III test was scheduled for a few days ago, on March 1st. This was on the 58th anniversary of the U.S. Castle Bravo thermonuclear test, which was 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.
"The Castle Bravo test was far more powerful than the U.S. had thought it would be, and resulted in raining radioactive ash on the islands of Rongelap and Rongerik in the Marshall Islands, forcing the after-the-fact evacuation of the islanders, and spreading radioactivity throughout the Pacific. People in the Marshalls are still suffering the effects of that test and many others in their islands.
He added, "For the U.S. to plan the launch of an ICBM at the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site in the Marshalls on the anniversary of the Bravo test seemed to demonstrate particularly insensitivity to the people of the Marshall Islands. It is unconscionable today, six decades later, the U.S. continues to use the Marshall Islands as its nuclear weapon testing grounds."
The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation called for the cancellation of the test on March 1st, and over 7,000 letters were sent to President Obama. The test was, in fact, cancelled, and the Air Force claimed it was for technical reasons.
Krieger emphasizes, "I might add that this was a planned test, not of a defensive missile, but of the delivery system for a U.S. First-Strike thermonuclear weapon.
"Their continued testing and the deployment of these missiles puts the world at greater risks of causing a nuclear war by accident or design. Nuclear-armed missiles are quite simply instruments of indiscriminate mass murder, and should not be tolerated."
Additionally, the U.S. military's permit to use the atolls in the Marshall Islands for testing had expired in 2010 (pending an updated Environmental Assessment Report). Each missile test reportedly costs $20 million to complete.
NATO and Russia, Iran
In January 2012, NAPF's David Krieger and Steven Starr, a Senior Scientist for Physicians for Social Responsibility, wrote an article published by Truthout that stated, "NATO has expanded ... moving to the borders of Russia.... For the past several years the U.S. and NATO have been pursuing the deployment of an integrated missile defense system in Western, Eastern and Southeastern Europe, as well as in surrounding waters.
"The Russians have protested vigorously that the planned system will undermine its nuclear retaliatory potential and thereby its security ...
"The United States, the driving force behind NATO missile defense plans, has repeatedly told the Russian leaders that there is no need to be worried about these deployments since they are designed to counter Iranian missiles rather than Russian ICBMs ...
"The U.S. has refused, however, to provide Russia with written assurances that the missile defense system is not directed at Russia. Accordingly, Russia has rejected U.S. verbal assurances and has threatened to deploy its own missiles aimed at the NATO missile defense installations."
President Obama's Meeting With Netanyahu
In the interview with me yesterday, NAPF's David Krieger focused on the meeting of President Obama with Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu that took place on Monday at the White House. Krieger emphasized: "There is no clear evidence that Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear weapon. At this point, the evidence from U.S. and other intelligence sources seems to be that Iran is not doing so. The U.S. has already illegally attacked Iraq and pursued a costly war against it based upon lies by high-level officials about a non-existent Iraqi nuclear weapons program.
"President Obama needs to be clear with the Israeli Prime Minister that an attack against Iran by Israel would lead to nuclear proliferation and chaos in the Middle East, and would not be acceptable to the U.S. Rather, it would be to the benefit of all countries in the region to pursue a Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone, as long called for by the parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty."
Fragility of First Alert Systems
Other high-ranking officials have expressed the same concerns in the 1990s about the high risks of forcing countries, i.e. Russia, to have their nuclear missiles on High Alert status. Gen. Lee Butler, a former Commander-in-Chief of the US Strategic Command (which is the nation's foremost nuclear deterrent force utilizing ICBMs), highlighted this well at a National Press Club talk in 1996 when the General surprised the world by actually calling for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.
I had interviewed Gen. Lee Butler for the Los Angeles Times at the State of the World Forum prior to that announcement at the National Press Club in DC. He explained to me at that time his concerns about the fragility of Russia's First Strike Alert system, and how it could be devastating for the world if a false alarm was interpreted as a real threat. Because of this fragility of the world's First Strike Alert systems, Gen. Butler then called for an end to all nuclear weapons systems.
In 1999, Gen. Butler and his wife started the Second Chance Foundation, and he adjusted his stand for totally abolishing all nuclear weapons. Their foundation, however, promoted the responsible global reduction of nuclear dangers.
Jacques Cousteau's Warnings
I also interviewed the great Jacques Cousteau in the late 1980s in Santa Barbara when he was awarded NAPF's Distinguished Peace Leadership Award, given for his environmental work highlighting nuclear dangers to the world's oceanic ecosystems. Cousteau was adamantly opposed to use of nuclear submarines due to the maneuverability risks of the large nuclear submarines, especially near coastal lands. He urged citizens to be aware of the potential dangers of nuclear missile testing and/or radioactive contamination to the oceans. Cousteau was particularly concerned about the coral reefs, which he proclaimed were sensitive and should be protected from any potential accident by a nuclear submarine or contamination by a nuclear missile.
Urging President Obama to Be Bold
NAPF's Krieger also pointed out, "Shortly after President Obama came into office, he said in Prague, 'The U.S. seeks the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.'
"Some will attack the President for being bold in seeking to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal. But boldness is needed, for there are many ways in which nuclear deterrence can fail, including its requirement of rationality in a real world of irrational leaders and terrorist extremists. At NAPF, we applaud the President for considering these options for lowering the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and we encourage his boldness in moving to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons use by accident, miscalculation or intent.
"If President Obama is successful in reducing the size of the U.S. arsenal to 300-400 weapons and bringing the Russians along with the U.S., this will leave the other seven countries in possession of nuclear weapons roughly at parity with between 100-300 nuclear weapons each.
"This would be a strong place from which to launch multilateral negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, a treaty for the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons. Such a Convention would be a great achievement for humanity and a gift to ourselves and the generations that will follow us on the planet."
A Nuclear Doomsday Machine
Krieger cautioned, "These Minuteman III missile tests are meant to send a message to the world that we have accurate nuclear-armed missiles at the ready, which no one should forget. We opposed and protested these tests because they send a foolish message and reflect a dangerous policy.
"Our nuclear arsenal is, in effect, a Nuclear Doomsday Machine, capable of causing human extinction. We should not be treating these tests as routine. We should instead be making citizens and policy makers aware of what these weapons are capable of doing to our species and other forms of complex life. That is our responsibility to ourselves and to the generations that will follow us on the planet."
Daniel Ellsberg, David Krieger, Father Louis Vitale and Cindy Sheehan are to appear in Federal Court for their trespassing charges, but have not been notified of the exact date yet.