Monday, January 02, 2006

Guest editorial

Dear colleagues –

Some of you might like to see the more complete version of the guest editorial I wrote for the Albuquerque Tribune on the subject of the lab's new managers. It can be found on our web site here.

This guest editorial refers to a conversation I once had with the head of LANL's government relations group. For the record, that person was Karl Braithwaite. Two of us at the Study Group had expressed the hope, in 1992 or so, that LANL might become less of a weapons lab – even convert to something “peaceful.” (We were new at the disarmament business.) Karl responded by saying that “Livermore will become more the lab you want,” while Los Alamos will be assigned the “dirty work.” This fact of life, he explained, was because of the geographical differences between the two sites. Of course we understood those differences quite well prior to his comment.

As the 12/28/05 editorial makes clear, I think one of the most important things about the new “Los Alamos National Security, LLC” (LANS) corporation is the much greater motivation this new organization will have to do whatever NNSA wants, in contrast to the prior contract with UC. The new contract and the new missions that go with it -- namely, the development, testing, and manufacture of plutonium components for new nuclear weapons -- will no doubt gradually shape the laboratory culture and staff. Many staff members and new hires will have little idea of how their work fits into somebody else's larger vision.

The new LANL contract is one of potentially very great total dollar value. It could greatly exceed, say, the sum of the contracts given thus far to Halliburton in Iraq. While the LANS contract does not have the extreme profit potential available to an agent of an occupying military power, it does come with what could be large cumulative fees. We can be sure that management personnel will be highly incentivized, as writers on this blog have noted.

The Bechtel Group, Washington Group International, and BWXT are very interesting organizations, and worthy of more study than we have been able to quickly do. A very few key references can be found on our web site here. I am sure we could pick over some of this prior work and say that some of it might be overblown. Experience suggests, however, that for every exaggerated scandal there are two or three others not mentioned – scandals that nobody (yet) knows about. Where there is this much smoke, there is a lot of fire.

Should we look to the new LANL managers to foster or protect good "science," as some are suggesting? At least 70% of LANL's budget is designated to maintain, design, or produce weapons of mass destruction. Is this, the bulk of the lab's mission, really science? Or is it just a large and complex technical activity conducted under the color of science? If it is science, why should we want this kind of science, or want to do it, or even tolerate it? Doesn't our country devote altogether too much "science" to destructive ends?

Our nation has signed and ratified a treaty which commits us to nuclear disarmament -- not just to negotiate in good faith toward it, but to actually complete the process, as the International Court of Justice unanimously ruled in 1996. Most people in the U.S. think this is a very good idea, as polls show.

Now we have strongly connected the nuclear weapons design and manufacturing business with war profiteering (Washington Group and Bechtel were #4 and #6, respectively, in post-conquest Iraq and Afghanistan billings through July 2004). These companies, like BWXT, have strong material and institutional interests in militarism, war, and nuclear weapons. This is not a good situation, and it calls for special efforts from all of us.

Greg Mello, Director
Los Alamos Study Group
Greg Mello
Los Alamos Study Group
2901 Summit Place NE
Albuquerque, NM 87106
505-265-1200 voice
505-265-1207 fax
505-577-8563 cell
(signal very weak in the office; messages
on cell phone may not be received promptly)


Thanks for playing all of these years, but to call yourself a colleague of mine and others from LANL is an insult. Your end, though NOBLE, is unrealistic regardless of who's fault it is that our world now possesses nuclear weapons. The technology will never disappear, Greg and as long as rogue nations continue pursuing this technology, lets not all just pretend we live in a different world. Let's embrace reality, continue to use these weapons responsibly as deterents, and try and deter rogue nations from possessing weapons which we know they cannot control. The US has shown incredible restraint in the post WWII era. Should a rogue country without the same security and ethical standards get their hands on these babies, then adios New York, DC, LA, etc. Then what do we do Greg, sit around the rubble and sing Cumbaya? You, the Study Group, and all of the other anti nuke groups are nothing but a bunch of unrealistic pacifists, whom if pressed hard enough, would abandon your pacifism like a drunk would his AAA program. Give it up, and take down your ridiculous billboards on I-25. Want someone to blame?, blame Einstein! He had the courage to recognize the threat had Hitler got his hands on them first.
From the Left and from the Right (Mello and Rofer, following post), we see the unending attacks upon Los Alamos. They have their points; give them that.

If only the Right truly valued science in its pure and "campus-like" form; if only the Left could see the gradual evolution of the weapons physicists, particularly the ones from the Manhattan Project, who came to see the limitations of the weapons they made, both physical and moral. (-Oppenheimer, Bethe, Carson Mark, John Manley, and many others--but not Teller, for sure.) Not to mention the scientific and technological spin-offs that always occur with man's eternal obsession with creating the "ultimate" weapon.

I don't want to hear, ever again, that crap about the narrowness of opinions presented on this blog. Many of them are models of calm and thoughtfulness, even when I disagree with them.
Once again, Greg Mello misses the point entirely. The management team for LANL has nothing to do with the percentage of nuclear weapons work at the lab. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. The extent of the nuclear weapons budget at LANL is entirely due to the 535 members of Congress: what they see as appropriate and necessary to ensure the security of the country. I respect Greg and others who think this amount of effort is too large, but for years Greg has tried to claim that it is weapons scientists and LANL managers who keep that budget sustained. That view is simply wrong, and quite clearly uninformed. LANL and the other elements of the DOE complex will go away when a majority of 535 elected representatives, from every part of the country, decide that it is time. Whether the LANL manager is UC-Bechtel, Lockheed-Martin, or Grandmother Gertrude has zero impact on the size of the nuclear weapons budget. It also has no effect on how many dollars are spent on energy research, environmental remediation research, and all other areas of LANL effort.
Well said, Bernard. Unfortunately, no matter how many times someone tells this to Greg, he refuses to listen. But what do you expect from someone who sets up the Los Alamos Disarmament Center. The last time I looked, it was not obvious to me that Los Alamos is armed and needs disarming, except for maybe the police and PTLA. Does anyone know the percentage of registered guns in Los Alamos compared to say Albuquerque? Maybe Albuquerque is a better location for a disarmament center.
To "Infallable" - You express your thanks to Einstein but did you know .. "On July 9, 1955, Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell issued the Russell-Einstein Manifesto warning of the peril of nuclear weapons and the dangers of continuing an arms race and called upon Congress, scientists and the general public to join in a resolution. The Russell Einstein Manifesto resolved: “In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the Governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them.”


To others who are critical of the petition or appeals to preserve/expand science at LANL - while it is true that Congress funds DOE/NNSA it is also true that Congress has been hugely corrupted by corporate influence. This corruption and its effects have extended into many workplaces of course. Is it not our right or even duty to criticise this, to express our views and hopes regarding community and workplace? The alternative - sullen silence - is a poor choice.
This is a noble goal expressed by Einstein and Russell but fails to take into account the nature of man so well illustrated in the world wars of the last century and the islamo-fascist terrorists in this century. What chance is there that one would have such rational thought come from those that practice indiscriminant suicide bombing or their leaders? Do you really think they would disavow the use of the "bomb" if others did? What chance is there that the current governments of Iran and North Korea would sign on to such a statement.

And why is corporate influence singled out as the corrupt influence on Congress? There are many influences on Congress, but influence alone doesn't make them corrupt. Corrupt influence knows no such boundaries. The rejection of moral principles by many in society today is a probably a greater factor.
David -
"Islamo-fascist"?? This sounds like an extremely broad and prejudiced brush. How would you like the term "Judeo-fascist"? Or how about "Christian-fascist"? Let's be honest: there are fanatics in all religions.

Your slander of Islam corresponds with your assumptions about Iran and North Korea and the Bush 'war on terror'. Nuclear non-proliferation is very desirable, achievable and in the interests of all countries. The major obstacles are the US globally and in the Middle East, Israel. The hypocrisy of these two countries - do as we say, not as we do - is quite obvious to most people. Last time I checked the current Iranian leader issued some stupid statements about Israel but Israel was engaged in a grinding, brutal colonial occupation which is now increasingly being opposed by its own citizens while the US has a very explicit goal and policy of imperial rule around the world and focussed on the Middle EAst, coincidentally the area of a certain vital natural resource.
I agree with you that human and societal factors make it difficult to disarm. The biggest difficulty comes from the biggest hypocrites.
Of course their are fanatics in all religions. The problem we are talking about has to do with those who are trying to take over a particular religion with extreme views. I didn't create this term. It is a way of talking about a particular group of terrorists who are attempting to destroy significant portions of civilization through a total disregard for human life. These terrorists represent a threat to Islam itself. Do you really think disarming the US from the use of nuclear weapons would make the world a safer place?

Sounds to me like the rest of your views are extremely radical left views that have no foundation in fact. It is views like those you describe that are dangerous. What are you talking about "grinding, brutal colonial occupation" by Israel? This is nonsense as is your view that the US wants an "imperial rule around the world". So do you think that trying to help people become free and rule on their own and not through a documented brutal deadly, lying dictator is imperialism? Are you one that thinks we "deserved" what happened on 9/11 and the WTC? Is there some reason you don't make your true identity known?
David - this is a slow-motion political debate.

You ask: Would it make the world safer for the US to stop nuclear weapon development? Absolutely. It would give essential credibility to US and IAEA pressure to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. It would set a positive example instead of the opposite.

Do you think it increases security to publicly label other countries as 'evil', issue threats, and then engage in "pre-emptive" attacks and occupations? Sounds like a rogue state.

Regarding Israel, most in the world see its occupation as brutal and akin to apartheid South Africa. Just read some of the very widespread accounts by many people from all over. There is a moving account by an American visitor from before 9-11 at

Courageous Israelis are saying the same thing. For example a former IDF soldier says: "We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people."

This viewpoint is not 'dangerous' unless you are in a police state.

Can I persuade you with some facts? Fact: the democratically elected government of Iran was overthrown in US sponsored coup in 1953. Fact: This coup led to decades of brutal dictatorship. Fact: US has sponsored or actively supported brutal dictatorships around the world (South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Congo, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Domincan Republic, etc etc etc). Look it up on wikipedia or any other half way objective source.

Fortunately there are great Americans willing to challenge the myths and lies. People like Oppenheimer and Bethe. Former CIA agents like Agee and John Stockwell. Engineers like Ben Linder, murdered by 'Contra' terrorists in Nicaragua. Also NSA and FBI staff members like those speaking out and blowing the whistle now. Or Harry Belafonte who on Monday called Bush the 'biggest terrorist in the world'. Are all these people deluded?

I hope you will objectively look at what kind of a foreign policy we have and whether it is actually what they say and you believe.

As to my identity, no problem. I already gave it in an earlier posting.


Rick Sterling
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