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Imaginary Weapons

Posted on Nov 16, 2007
Pentagon building

James Harris and Josh Scheer

(Page 2)

Scheer: Now, in your book you talk about that we are spending $50,000 a second.  Is that number still true?

Weinberger: I think actually that number would be relevant to when I conducted the interviews, which would’ve been back in about 2005.  I think if you added in the supplementals, including the most recent supplemental that was requested in Congress for the war, that number would be much higher.  I’d have to sit down and do the math.  A number of years ago we were talking about an annual defense budget, the core budget, of around 400 billion.  Now when you add in the supplementals, you’re talking almost half a trillion a year, and I haven’t even done the latest numbers.  That number, I can only say, has gone up.

Harris: We’re talking with Sharon Weinberger, author of “Imaginary Weapons.”  Sharon, fewer dead troops are coming home than came home dead after Vietnam.  Anywhere we’re engaged, we seem to be doing this much better than we did before.  What would you say to someone who makes that contention, and clearly that’s a contention that flies with President Reagan, President Bush, President Clinton, and Bush II, of course. 

Weinberger:  That we’re doing better—I suppose that would measure how you mean by doing better.  Certainly we have developed technologies, body armor, that is saving more lives of our soldiers, of our Marines, of our airmen, than in previous wars.  And I think that’s been pointed out in the press.  You may not see the deaths as much, but then again, you’re seeing people come home with brain injuries because they have survived.  So there’re split sides to this.  Whether the casualty count is a measure of success, that’s much harder to argue.  I think even the military would say you need to look at what has been accomplished on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Certainly in Iraq progress to date has really not been all that encouraging. That’s almost a separate issue from the casualty count. 


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Scheer: Going back to the money that universities get and the money overall, we were talking to a person who’s worked in the military and worked with, say, UC Berkeley and the labs there.  He said it’s a relatively small amount, like in the neighborhood of millions and not [large] when you think about the Iraq war [costs].  Do you think it’s a small amount?  Do you think something like UC Berkeley, are they a defense contractor in the same vein as Lockheed or Boeing?

Weinberger: Oh, no, no, no, not at all.  In fact, I would say that, whoever you spoke with, it depends on what numbers they’re talking if they’re right.  The Pentagon, on one hand, they are one of the largest funders of science and technology for the universities.  They do support university research.  That number is going down.  It has been going down as a percentage of the Pentagon budget in years.  And part of that is, you have a war going on, so everyone’s budgets are being constrained.  There are some universities that have tended, historically, to do more work with the military than others.  In general, I’m very supportive of the Pentagon supporting basic research.  A lot of it has many wonderful civilian applications, it supports graduate students, it supports the work of professors.  These universities are really not on the par of the billions of dollars that a Lockheed Martin, a Northrop Grumman or a Raytheon get, and part of that is simply the function that they do.  University researchers probably don’t need the millions of dollars to support a lab.  Producing a modern aircraft, a modern fighter, a bomber, is going to take in the billions of dollars.  And that’s why it’s all the more important, when you spend money on basic research, it’s really important how you spend it.  In the example of the isomer bomb, one of the comments that people brought up is, “They were only talking about, in the beginning stages, 10, 20, 30 million dollars.”  And what is $30 million compared to $250 million for a fighter?  But the issue is, for universities, and for basic research, that is an enormous amount of money.  I remember one scientist telling me that a Nobel Prize winner—that a million-dollar budget would be a windfall for them.  So when you talk about $30 million for a dubious science project, that’s actually a large amount considering the constraints that funding is under. 

Scheer: I know that USC, a couple of years ago, got a four-year, $45-million deal to study robots for the military, and I know with Berkeley.  But my point was more towards Berkeley with obviously controlling the labs they get a lot of federal financing, and since the labs are the No. 1, they produced nuclear weapons, they produced weapons, as you were talking about earlier.  They produced weapons like this isomer bomb; if it ever came out, it probably would be produced there, right?  Are they supporting what Lockheed supports?  Lockheed builds planes.  Aren’t nuclear weapons worse?  They cost more, they do more damage, right?  So are they pushing?

Weinberger: Let me break it down.  I think I see what you’re getting at.  Let me break it down to two different areas.  You have universities like Berkeley, also ...  the University of California system, which gets funding to manage some of the national laboratories, some of which are nuclear weapons laboratories.  So you have the University of California, for example, which has the contract for Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos, which are nuclear weapons laboratories.  You have Berkeley, which—I’m not an expert in this area, but I believe they have a Department of Energy contract for a laboratory which is not a nuclear weapons laboratory.  But, regardless.  You have those contracts in place.  Those are management contracts, and traditionally there’s been support within the national laboratories and also contentions within the university.  There’s something to be said for having a university sponsor weapons laboratories because it promotes a scientific atmosphere.  You want to have scientific debate.  You don’t necessarily want your weapons laboratories controlled by defense contractors.

Separate from that, there are universities—.  DARPA, for instance, supports a number of university researchers.  I don’t know the breadth of all their contracts, but I’m quite sure there are many in the University of California system.  And so you have those two separate issues: a management contract and then the direct support.  And I know that there’s been debate within the University of California system over the years about whether universities should be running nuclear weapons laboratories, and I think there’s a lot of arguments on both sides of the debate.  Me, personally, I think that there’s something to be said for the honesty you get out of a university running a weapons laboratory that, perhaps, is more conducive to scientific debate than the alternative, which is a defense company, running it.  Whether that does harm for the university is really something for the students, the faculty and the university administration to hash out. 

Scheer: What I’m getting at—.  I know the debate is a good issue, but if they’re not like a Lockheed, why don’t we let Lockheed do it?  Because they are professionals.  It would be more—.

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By purplewolf, December 7, 2007 at 11:41 am Link to this comment

The United States spends more money per year on the war machine than all of the other countries on the earth combined. Just think how much good all that wasted money and effort on the wars and weapons could actually do to solving the problems the whole world faces. If even 1 percent of that was put to a positive use rather than what it now is the difference would be obvious. Sounds like the shades of paranoia have run out of control and have made the whole world the enemy of the United States

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By SteveL, December 6, 2007 at 2:34 pm Link to this comment

What other countries are wasting their money on these kind of things?  Note that even Iran does weapons programs on a cost/benefit basis.

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By purplewolf, December 5, 2007 at 12:55 pm Link to this comment

Imaginary weapons must now be paid for with imaginary money!

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By nils cognizant, November 24, 2007 at 4:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think people are afraid to comment on these dark programs. The project designers might want to raise their sights, though. There are cheap strategic advantages which can be gained through employment of technologies meant to bring contentment to unstable populations. One example I’ve dreamed up is a small, cheap 10-inch laptop computer operating off Linux and loaded with specialized modules: alternative farming for profit, high-production fishfarming strategies for areas requiring coral-reef protection, etc. The specialized modules will include video instructional lectures in the local language and will be aware of resources which are available locally.

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By rodney, November 22, 2007 at 12:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s nothing but a bunch of drunkin cowboys sitting around thinking of new and better ways to kill and destroy society as if they haven’t already discovered enough ways. Just another way to steal and loot our taxpayers dollars without accountability. If we spent the money we spend on education instead killing and incarcerating,then maybe we would have to kill and incarcerate. Oh I totally forgot about imperealism,capitalism,colonialism,greed,power,and control.

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By Douglas Chalmers, November 20, 2007 at 6:01 am Link to this comment

Isomers? Sounds like some kind of hairspray, ha ha. Oh, you mean the “Hafnium bomb” ......well, that’s different!

But isn’t it amazing how what can be described as “devastating” in another country’s hands is blithely seen as “useful” if it is developed by the USA?!?!

And the mad scientists are demanding to do whatever they wish by making excuses about a free country while the critics are trying to “fight the science in the press because they don’t like the politics”.......

Quote: “Hafnium could be used to build a more powerful bomb or, more to the point of what the military was looking for, a small bomb with a huge bang, the believers argued. And even better, building a weapon using hafnium wouldn’t violate internationally negotiated restrictions on testing nuclear weapons or congressional limits on developing new nuclear weapons. Because it wouldn’t involve splitting atoms, a hafnium bomb would be a totally new class of weapon…....

“It sure would make a great dirty bomb.”.......

A hafnium bomb, even if it didn’t leave radioactive fallout, still wouldn’t be like an ordinary bomb because, along with an explosive force, it would emit intense, penetrating gamma rays. According to Hill Roberts, a scientist at SRS Technologies in Huntsville, Ala., a gamma-ray bomb is appealing to some because gamma rays can pass through solid material and penetrate living tissue. Theoretically, an energetic gamma-ray burst could penetrate bunkers, killing whatever was inside—be it humans or anthrax stockpiles. Putting it more bluntly, he said, “Tissue turns to goo.”.......

Hafnium bombs could be loaded in artillery shells, according to a copy of the briefing slides, or they could be used in the Pentagon’s missile defense systems to knock incoming ballistic missiles out of the air. He encapsulated his vision of the program in a startling PowerPoint slide: a small hafnium hand grenade with a pullout ring and a caption that read, “Miniature bomb. Explosive yield, 2 KT [kilotons]. Size, 5-inch diameter.” That would be an explosion about one-seventh the power of the bomb that obliterated Hiroshima in 1945…...”

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