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Imaginary Weapons

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Posted on Nov 16, 2007
Pentagon building

James Harris and Josh Scheer

(Page 5)

Harris: “So where should we be going?” is the question.

Weinberger: Here’s the question.  In my opinion, regardless of where one stands on being for weapons spending or against weapons spending, I think what both sides of the debate would agree on is, is that if we’re going to spend money on these things, we want to spend things on credible science, on credible technologies.  We don’t want to be investing in boondoggles, we don’t want to be investing in pseudo-science, or bad scientists or in charlatans.  And the issue is, we need to have a system of reviews, of checks and balances—even if it’s high-risk research—that people agree is a good system.  In basic science that may be peer review.  There may be times that we may fund things that don’t get stellar peer review, but at least let’s know when we want to do that.  If it’s technology, let’s, again, have standards.  How many years?  How much funding?  What do we want to put into it?  Can we have credible outside reviews?  There’s no silver-bullet solution, but I think outside scientific and technical reviews is a healthy thing.  I think having the highest level of scientific and technical expertise within the Pentagon is a good thing.  And, basically, oversight from Congress also has to play a role.

Harris: That’s an elaborate process.  We can’t even fix the walls after Hurricane Katrina.  We can’t even figure out what to do and not to do in Iraq.  It seems to be very ideal.

Weinberger: A system that in many ways is broken right now.

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Harris: Absolutely.  So to request that these things be fixed on the scale that you are, is it far-fetched?  It’s hopeful, and we need people like you, but is it so far-fetched that our government could never comply? 

Weinberger: Well, it starts from the top.  You need to have an administration that values experts.  When it comes to New Orleans, that it values experts in engineering.  Whether we’re talking about global warming or about defense or about technology, you have to be willing to listen—not always take their advice but at least to listen and value the people who have scientific, technical or maybe even political or social expertise in these areas.  This country’s ...

Harris: Sharon, you just ...

Scheer:  No, no—.

Weinberger: ... not lacking in experts.

Harris: You just threw three strikes at the president because he does none of those things.  So we’ve got a long way to go.

Weinberger: I try to avoid being political.  I would rather talk about the things that I would like to see an administration do.

Scheer: Yeah.

Harris: Well, you mentioned the administration, and he’s the head.

Scheer: First of all, James, you were being mocking of the ideal, but there has to be an ideal.  We have to go to that ideal.  She’s saying some, I have some—.  Yes, maybe the head of FEMA shouldn’t be in a position that the president just gives it to his friend who’s a failure in life, and then maybe we have someone who knows something about emergencies, someone from the Mississippi—.

Weinberger: I think, actually, that FEMA is an excellent example.  Not to pick on any people personally, but—good Lord!—this is an important agency, particularly after 9/11.  It’s important at any time, and you want to have people—.  And maybe it’s not technical expertise; maybe it’s management experience, but it should be relevant management experience.  You should value expertise over loyalty.  Loyalty should not be the highest standard in appointing people.

Scheer: Not just loyalty, though, and also with the oversight question.  Congress never does its oversight, never will, so there’s probably a system forever broken.  So you need people who have that kind of ideal.  I don’t know; maybe Sharon’s different than I am.  I want someone who’s doing that kind of oversight and saying, there’s a woman in South Carolina who charges the Pentagon $700,000 for something that you or I can pick up at Home Depot for $15.  And she talked about it from the beginning here: the $600 toilet seat.  And James and I were talking about that right before this.  A toilet seat shouldn’t cost $600, and there should be oversight, and if there was oversight through the Pentagon and Congress, which, again, these are idealistic. ...

Harris: But they are basic requirements, and I don’t disagree with what you guys are saying; I’m saying you’ve got a tall mountain to climb.  If you really think that those things are going to happen and happen with any rapidity.

Scheer: I enjoy pissing up a rope.  Just to let you know.

[Laughter.]

Weinberger: You see this as well now with the contractor scandal and the questions being raised about Blackwater.  It’s good these questions are being raised, but, as a lot of people are saying, this problem didn’t start last year.  It was made much worse by the war in Iraq.  But why did it take this long for Congress to exercise its oversight role?  You shouldn’t have a citywide disaster in New Orleans.  You shouldn’t have a disaster and controversies over contractors to the point you have if Congress is doing its role.  They’re not to blame totally, but they provide the money and they have a role of oversight that should be fulfilled.

Scheer: Thank you very much, Sharon.  It was really enjoyable talking to you.

Weinberger: Great.  I appreciate it.

Scheer: And, again, look her up on the Danger Room and with the book, “Imaginary Weapons.”

Harris: So that’s Danger Room, “Imaginary Weapons.”  Sharon, it was a pleasure.  Sharon Weinberger.  Pick up a copy.  Give it a read.  “Imaginary Weapons” is the title.  You can buy it at all the normal places.  Thank you for spending time with us today. 

Weinberger: Thank you for having me.  I appreciate it. 

Harris:  All right.  For Josh Scheer, for Sharon Weinberger, this is James Harris, and this has been a very interesting Truthdig.


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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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