Copyright © Howard Morland
first posted November 15, 1999
revised February 8, 2007
Do ordinary people really care how nuclear weapons work? Conventional wisdom holds that only bomb makers need to know such things. Since no nation wants to help its enemies get nuclear weapons, nuclear secrecy seems like a reasonable exception to the ideal of openness in modern societies.
The Holocaust Bomb:by Howard Morland
a Question of Time
But state secrets of any kind pose a dilemma for science and democracy. Both institutions require the free flow of information. Scientific knowledge is a global accumulation of published and verified findings. It is equally valid in all languages and cultures, and all scientists will insist on eventually having access to the work of all others. Likewise, democracy requires informed debate on public policy. If the electorate is not engaged in the policy process, invested with knowledge and credible standing, the best it can hope for is to periodically elect a wise dictator.
The founders of modern democracy, as creatures of The Enlightenment, understood this, and they didn't allow for easy exceptions to freedom of speech.
However, by the middle third of the Twentieth Century, as relations between nations were descending into hell, science gave technology such destructive powers that scientists began voluntarily withholding their findings from publication. Many disappeared into secret government laboratories to become engineers of mass destruction. Even in democratic nations, where the resulting secret technology was controlled by elected officials, the electorate had no idea what doomsday machines were being developed and what fateful decisions were being made.
In 1979 this situation was widely accepted as a fundamental necessity of the nuclear age and the Cold War. In February of that year, I challenged nuclear secrecy's justification and utility in an article drafted for The Progressive magazine, titled "The H-Bomb Secret: To Know How is to Ask Why" � and the government challenged our right to publish it. The Carter Administration's effort to impose "prior restraint" on publication produced a landmark First Amendment lawsuit, USA vs. The Progressive, et al. 1
Early observers thought it was a case the government couldn't lose, but the plaintiff's argument for censorship fell apart after six months of litigation, and freedom of the press prevailed. The article, essentially an anti-nuclear diatribe, was published unaltered in the November issue, six months late. To this day, most people who remember the case, but didn't read the article, think I published a set of nuts-and-bolts instructions on how to build a hydrogen bomb in a suburban garage, a quite impossible task which I would neither advocate nor abet, were it possible.
Twenty years later, in 1999, the H-bomb secret was back in the news when Republican members of Congress began leaking information to the New York Times about Wen Ho Lee, an alleged spy for China at the Los Alamos laboratory in New Mexico. Times reporters Jeff Gerth and James Risen pursued the story like Woodward and Bernstein on the trail of the next Watergate. On April 29, columnist William Safire told Times readers, "Thanks to the downloading of our secrets, American cities will be less safe in two years than they were at the height of the cold war." Really?
By the fall of 2000, the case had been downgraded to a controversy over the treatment of Wen Ho Lee, who had been arrested in New Mexico on December 10, 1999, and held in pre-trial solitary confinement for nine months. He was denied bail on a government theory that unless he was held incommunicado, he might contact his spy handler � this despite a 59-count indictment for merely mis-handling highly technical nuclear data of dubious value. He was never charged with spying or with transmitting any secrets to anyone, and there is no evidence that he did such things.
In September of 2000, he was set free for time served, after a token guilty plea to one of the 59 counts and a promise to answer all questions. U.S. District Judge James Parker apologized to Lee from the bench for his pre-trial detention and scolded the government for misconduct in the case. Supporters complain that Wen Ho Lee had been racially profiled and scapegoated. Lee filed a civil lawsuit against the government, and a made for TV movie was produced.2
As an interested party, of sorts, I watched the unfolding Lee melodrama with a sense of disappointment. I thought I had revealed all the interesting H-bomb secrets some twenty years earlier in The Progressive magazine. One of my purposes then, as now, was to argue that nuclear bomb secrets are a hoax, and that public understanding of nuclear arsenals is a necessary step in the quest for nuclear disarmament. This idea was and remains a hard sell. Although The Progressive's was a First Amendment case, a civil lawsuit in which no one was charged with wrongdoing, both cases, different as they are, raise the same troubling issues of jurisprudence in the realm of the national security state: secret evidence hidden from the defense, highly politicized, hyperbolic allegations included or implied in public statements, and of course, underlying it all, the bizarre phenomenon of nuclear bomb secrets. How secret are they and how important? What are the benefits and costs of trying to preserve them?
Nuclear Bomb Secrets
Nuclear secrecy was first introduced by the scientists themselves, before any government became involved. When German scientists discovered fission in 1939 and announced it to the scientific world, physicists outside of Germany wanted to avoid making helpful contributions to a Nazi A-bomb. They obviously could not keep the mere fact of fission secret from its own discoverers, but by withholding further discoveries from publication they sought to deny Hitler's scientists the benefit of international assistance in working out the details.
When the American A-bomb became a military project, in 1942, traditional wartime military secrecy was superimposed on the scientists' own voluntary restraint. Consequently, nuclear fission was introduced to the general public in the most dramatic and terrifying possible manner, the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima. It almost didn't happen that way.
Fission was first accomplished at Enrico Fermi's lab in Rome, Italy, in 1934. Fermi was unaware he had split the atom, on a microscopic scale, and had exposed himself to deadly radiation (like many other nuclear pioneers, he died of cancer before the age of sixty). As it was, he simply noted that when uranium is bombarded with neutrons, a new element results. If he had realized it was barium, in addition to earning the Nobel Prize for that experiment he would today be known as the discoverer of nuclear fission.3
I have often wondered how the world would have dealt with that news in 1934. Would World War II have started earlier, or been prevented? Would it have been a two-sided nuclear war? Could a limited war have been fought under the constraints of nuclear deterrence? Would the decisive battles have been preemptive strikes on nuclear facilities? One thing is certain: a vigorous global discussion of fission technology and its military implications would have put every literate person on notice that the human condition had changed forever. No nation could have built a bomb in secret and surprised an unsuspecting world with it.
On August 9, 1945, President Truman offered the following prayer in his second public statement about the atomic bomb: "We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes." I find Truman's prayer rather insightful. To regard nuclear weapons as the product of divine revelation is a predictable American reaction, given our religiosity, but there is truth to the idea that transcends any particular religious doctrine.
The curve of binding energy was written into the structure of matter by the time of creation. Any cognitive species which begins to comprehend the relationship of matter and energy will shortly discover that sunshine, the energy source of life, is the output of a thermonuclear furnace. With that knowledge, plus a few engineering innovations, the entire species will collectively confront Hamlet's dilemma: "To be, or not to be." Forever afterwards, each succeeding generation will need to make a conscious choice not to commit communal suicide with nuclear weapons.
If there is a God, and if life is a test, then invention of the bomb is the final exam for humanity, an exam written by a stern professor with a sense of irony. It's a pass-fail test with one question and, in my opinion, only one right answer: a permanent taboo on the construction of nuclear explosive devices. Each new generation must take the same exam before assuming power. As with chattel slavery, all children must henceforth grow up knowing that a particular mistake of the past, in this case nuclear bombs, must never be repeated.
Suppose for a moment that a Benevolent Deity did indeed choose the United States in 1945 as the recipient of this revelation. What better place and time? America was the only true victor in history's most destructive war, a war which introduced the strategy of city bombing, for which nuclear weapons are uniquely well suited, and not much good for anything else. As an undamaged democracy, destined to rule the world for a generation, the United States was in the best position of any nation to contemplate the meaning of this new development and to promulgate the new rules for the new age.
A number of Americans rose to that occasion. I have heard that no physicist of renown refused a chance to work on the Manhattan Project. But as soon as Germany surrendered in May of 1945, and while the war with Japan was still going on, wise men of the profession began to speak out. It is hard to improve on the Franck Report of June 11, 1945, written in part by Eugene Rabinowitch, later the founding editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.4
The Franck report was a plea to Truman, through Secretary of War Stimson, not to drop the bomb on Japan, but it also warned of a nuclear arms race and a consequent nuclear war in which the United States could be destroyed. After the war, its message was condensed to a pair of sentences in a 1947 fund-raising letter signed by Albert Einstein:5"This basic power of the universe cannot be fitted into the outdated concept of narrow nationalisms. For there is no secret and there is no defense; there is no possibility of control except through the aroused understanding and insistence of the peoples of the world."No secret and no defense. Implicit in that statement, of course, is a call for the abolition of general war between major powers. If the ultimate weapon is available to all industrial nations, and if defense is impossible, then any repeat of the sort of unlimited war just ended would clearly be an orgy of self-immolation for all participants. Not surprisingly, powerful forces opposed that point of view. For those who wanted to treat the bomb as simply an improved tool for fighting the next world war, the idea of giving it up was anathema.
But the Manhattan Project was dominated by well-established scientists who, before the war, had been part of an ethical system that abhors secrecy. It was, and is, a supranational community of investigators who believe that certain kinds of universal truth can be found in the natural world, and when found they must be shared. As soon as possible, they insisted on telling the world the A-bomb secret, treating the whole thing as a scientific discovery. They then went back to their civilian lives, some more concerned than others about the implications of their nuclear experiment. The physics community was thus split into two groups: those who left and those who stayed.
The ones who stayed at Los Alamos to build a nuclear arsenal effectively retired from science and became engineers. Their future output would be widgets rather than published papers; inventions rather than discoveries. While I have met only a few of the original players, I think my half century of life on this planet, as a citizen of this democracy, entitles me to the considered opinion that those who chose to make a career of nuclear weaponry created a mess far worse than any problem it was designed to solve. We're damn lucky it hasn't killed us all, and it still might.
This new class of professional bomb designers, most trained originally as scientists, could not easily ignore the arguments of their colleagues on the outside. If Einstein was right (no secret and no defense), then anything they produced at Los Alamos would threaten America within a few years. Potentially, Los Alamos itself was America's greatest enemy. They needed a rationale for rejecting the no secret, no defense axiom and its arms control corollary.
As luck would have it, the 1951 invention of the H-bomb created a new secret, one that was shared only by the new insiders, who being the only ones who knew it could tell the world what to think about it. This new secret, namely radiation implosion and the tricks that make it work, was treated like a second divine revelation, an icon for the newly formed nuclear priesthood, a refutation of the no secret claim, and, most importantly, a wall between the hawkish insiders and the dovish outsiders. That wall gave a monopoly of decision-making power to people who were conveniently insulated from meaningful contact with the arms control point of view. They could hear criticism, but they didn't really have to deal with it.
For nearly three decades, radiation implosion was the secret password. If you didn't know it, your opinion didn't count.
The most often quoted statement about the new secret was made by J. Robert Oppenheimer, during his 1954 security clearance hearing. When asked about his opposition to the hydrogen bomb program, Oppenheimer insisted that his objections had been merely practical, and that, "When I saw how to do it, it was clear to me that one had to at least make the thing." He described the program in 1951 (which we now know was a reference to the design based on radiation implosion) as technically sweet, and by implication seductive.6
The Progressive Case
In 1979, when the Carter Administration brought its lawsuit against The Progressive, it was protecting the mystical turf of the bomb culture. It was reacting the way religious believers do when the symbols of their faith are desecrated. The plaintiffs may have been sincere in their belief that three decades of secrecy had somehow minimized the threat of nuclear holocaust, and that open discussion would suddenly weaken the national security, but government regimes based on secrecy always react that way.
The official justification for censorship in The Progressive case was the argument that a nation with an arsenal of pure fission bombs might want to go thermonuclear, but not know how to go about it. China, which already had H-bombs, presumably would not be interested. In the Lee case, the concern was that Chinese bomb designers may have been unable to figure out how to miniaturize their warheads in order to construct multiple-warhead missiles. Both arguments assume that American bomb designers at the Los Alamos and Livermore labs have an ability to invent things that would elude their foreign colleagues for decades, if not forever.
In The Progressive case the issue was the essential design concept for all true thermonuclear weapons: radiation implosion. In the Lee case, it was baggage handling. How does one fit the required mechanisms and nuclear fuels into the mid-section of a narrow cone? It may be instructive to look at what was alleged to be at stake in The Progressive case and what was and was not revealed.
On March 8, 1979, Duane Sewell, Assistant Secretary of Energy for Defense Programs, stated in an affidavit to the court that information in my Progressive article might "materially shorten the development time of thermonuclear weapons" for a proliferator nation, an event which would cause "immediate, clear, and irreparable" harm to U.S. national security. On March 9, primarily on the basis of the Sewell assertions, and without actually reading the H-bomb manuscript itself, Wisconsin Federal Judge Robert Warren issued a Temporary Restraining Order, accompanied by the statement that he would like to "think a long hard time before I gave the hydrogen bomb to Idi Amin." That night, David Brinkley, then the NBC Nightly News anchor, escalated the hyperbole by describing my article as one containing instructions for anyone "who might like to build a hydrogen bomb in his garage."
Editorial cartoonists had a field day with those two ideas.
By the time of the second public hearing, on March 26, the government arsenal of affidavits included versions of the Sewell language from three cabinet secretaries: Secretary of Energy James Schlesinger (former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Director of the CIA, and Secretary of Defense), who was the person most responsible for bringing legal action; Secretary of State Cyrus Vance; and Secretary of Defense Harold Brown (former Director of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory). The government affidavit which Judge Warren found most persuasive was submitted by physicist Hans Bethe.
Bethe has been on stage during every act of the thermonuclear drama. As an essayist and chronicler he has written the most useful insider accounts of the H-bomb era., in part because he managed at different times to take more than one side of several controversies.
It should be noted that twenty-four years later the world still has only five acknowledged thermonuclear nations, the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, and China, the same five nations as in 1979. The fission weapons club still has three members, including Israel and India, as in 1979, but South Africa has dropped out, to be replaced by Pakistan. Two former nations of the Soviet Union, Belarus and Ukraine, have returned to Russia the Soviet thermonuclear weapons that once were stationed on their soil, and the superpower arsenals have been reduced. Thus, on balance, the thermonuclear world has shrunk slightly, despite publication of The Progressive's article. Time has shown the government's affiants to be wrong about the announced danger.
In fact, Freeman Dyson, who initially asserted to me that "millions of people would suffer" because of my irresponsible action in revealing the H-bomb secret, soon reconsidered and published a retraction of that opinion in a 1984 book Weapons and Hope, which was serialized in the New Yorker. He wrote that because of The Progressive's H-bomb article, "Nuclear weapons design has been stripped of its mysteries, and there is no longer any scientific glory attached to it... From now on, there will be no more first-rate scientists driving the nuclear arms race with their rivalries.... It is probably no coincidence that the nuclear club ceased to expand at the same time as nuclear secrets ceased to be secret."7 In other words, he believes telling the secret was a contribution, not a detriment, to the global nuclear non-proliferation effort. That was certainly one of my intended consequences, and one I thought more likely than the dire ones predicted by the government's affiants.
Nonetheless, it was a risky move for a small band of anti-nuclear activists to dismiss the grave concerns of their own government, a government which because of nuclear weapons has a minute-to-minute responsibility to decide the fate of the world. It was not done lightly. The three named defendants, editors Erwin Knoll and Sam Day in addition to myself, had spent many years developing our separate, strongly held opinions that United States nuclear weapons policy was, and is, profoundly misguided. We were bolstered by knowledge of the scientists' arms control movement that began in 1945 with the Franck Report.
We all agreed that any non-proliferation or disarmament arrangement would necessarily be based on control of nuclear materials, not information. I carried with me a copy of a 1970 Defense Department Task Force on Secrecy report which specifically cited the futility of efforts to keep the H-bomb secret from Britain and China and concluded, "It is unlikely that classified information will remain secure for periods as long as five years."8 And 1970 was well before the age of the Internet.
We were also aware of the unresolved conflict between the First Amendment and a clause of the Atomic Energy Act which declares the entire subject matter of nuclear energy to be classified secret until each fact or idea has been specifically declassified by the government.9 We were willing to provoke a test case. We had done our homework, and we knew what we were getting into and why.
Certainly, none of us had any intention of harming the United States or of hastening the day of Armageddon. Despite our First Amendment right to do so, none of us would have published a story we thought was irresponsible. In order to invoke the Atomic Energy Act, the government accused us of having "reason to believe" that publication would cause harm to the nation, but it was done as a formality. Few of our critics ever seriously impugned our motives, but most people who learned of the case through news coverage had a difficult time understanding them.
My original goal in researching the subject, before I joined forces with The Progressive, was to produce a graphic image for a slide show plus a three-dimensional model to serve as a lecture prop, both of which I eventually did. I intended to label each major component with the appropriate corporate logo and tie it to a particular production facility in the Department of Energy complex. The bomb diagram was to serve as an outline for the portrait of an industry. I started research for the project before I discovered that the information I needed was still considered secret.
From Herbert York's 1976 book, The Advisors: Oppenheimer, Teller, and the Superbomb, I learned that the central H-bomb design concept, known as the Teller-Ulam idea, was not yet public. York was the Livermore H-bomb lab's first director. Skeptical, I collected several encyclopedia articles on the subject. Sure enough, the explanations were not all the same. They couldn't all be right, but I knew they might not all be wrong, either. It turned out that two H-bomb articles, the ones in Americana and in the Merit Student's Encyclopedia, were written, respectively, by Edward Teller and Hans Bethe, both members of the original H-bomb design team in 1951.
The textual descriptions were vague, but both articles were illustrated by schematically correct drawings not, allegedly, supplied by the authors. Both sets of drawings showed separate fission and fusion stages inside opposite ends of a hollow cylinder, an idea that the government later argued in court was one of three essential elements of the H-bomb secret: separation of stages. In both articles, the captions under the drawings were misleading, describing neutrons, rather than x-rays, as the energy transport mechanism connecting the stages. The neutron part was true enough, but the more important intervening steps of radiation coupling and compression, the other two elements of radiation implosion, were missing. It took a few months for me to fill in the blanks.
When we suddenly had to defend our controversial decision to tell the H-bomb secret, we tended to specialize. Erwin Knoll based his public arguments on the First Amendment, and his conviction that the splitting of the atom had not rendered the Bill of Rights obsolete. Sam Day, from his four-year tenure as editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, had developed a compelling interest in "exploding the secrecy mystique that intimidates the public, including the news media, from serious scrutiny of nuclear weapons policies and issues," to quote his 1991 autobiography, Crossing the Line. By default, I was the specialist in what became our legal defense, namely that the secret was already out.
It was a disappointment that the Great Debate we had hoped to provoke ultimately centered on legalistic arguments over whether or not the story had been scooped. If it had been, we could publish, but if there was anything truly novel in what I had written, it had to be suppressed. Once we accepted that framework, there would be no Supreme Court test of the constitutionality of the Atomic Energy Act. There would be no Clarence Darrow arguing for the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools versus William Jennings Bryan's appeal for religion-based censorship. (The good guys lost that case anyway.) There would be no Chicago Eight trial, with the defendants giving speeches about war and peace. Even in the Pentagon Papers case, there was argument that the public had an urgent need to know the history of the Vietnam War in order debate its ultimate resolution. In the end, we were arguing not for the right to publish, but for the right to re-publish.
Because of the way the H-bomb case was conducted, and reported, some people still believe our goal was to call attention to unconscionable security lapses and to suggest that the government should tighten its controls on information. Certainly, no one who read the article could think that. But the players never control a landmark legal case; it plays itself out like any contest between opposing groups of talented and determined people, unpredictably.
When I recently reread the court documents for the first time in fifteen years, I found myself rooting for the government. In an early affidavit, Robert Thorn, Acting Director of Los Alamos, said that my story "is perhaps as suggestive of the process used in thermonuclear weapons as the original outline on the subject by Teller and Ulam," which outline, by the way, has not yet seen the light of day, except for its title page. In contrast, our own lawyers and experts practically accused me of plagiarizing children's encyclopedias. The government said I had done something remarkable; our defenders implied that my story was so old hat it was hardly worthy of publication, much less censorship.
I exaggerate. Actually, as the nation learned with the recent cases involving Monica Lewinsky and O.J. Simpson, it's the duty of a defense attorney to keep the client out of trouble. Our lawyers did an admirable job of this, along with clearing away all legal obstacles to publication. They also argued eloquently and passionately for the public's need to discuss nuclear weapons. But in the end, the case came down to the three H-bomb concepts which add up to radiation implosion, and whether or not they were both secret and correct, as I described them. The core of our defense was that nothing I had said was both.
After the case was dropped, I was embarrassed to read, in the defendants' last appeal brief, originally filed three weeks before the government's case folded, "at least two of the three concepts which the government says constitute the secret of the H-bomb -- separate stages and compression -- are publicly known. ...the district court believed the third concept, radiation coupling, is secret. ...However, even if radiation coupling were a secret it would not be revealed because, [deleted] Morland incorrectly describes this concept."10
The sting of that criticism was somewhat lessened, when the next page of the appeal brief helpfully corrected my mistake. It concerns the way that the "primary," the first stage of a two- stage bomb, sets off the much more powerful "secondary," by bombarding it with x-rays.
In the article, I had said, "For the briefest moment, the inside of the weapon becomes an x-ray oven, similar in principle to a microwave oven, but with unearthly temperatures and pressures." I then asserted, an educated guess, that these radiation pressures, in effect, crush the secondary which is suspended inside the oven. Apparently, I missed the implications of my own analogy. Ovens are made to cook things. Even at H-bomb temperatures, the heat effects inside the oven are greater than the pure radiation pressure effects. As the appeal brief clarified: "Essentially, the x-rays produce a plasma of energized matter which pushes on the fusion fuel tamper..."11 In other words, if the oven contained a turkey, it would overcook and explode. Continuing that analogy, the secondary stage of the bomb can be thought of as the stuffing, which is crushed by the exploding turkey.
In the one-page Errata in the December 1979 issue, I explained that the turkey in the oven is a plastic "channel filler" which captures x-ray energy and explodes with enormous force, purely as the result of getting very hot very fast (ten million degrees in half a microsecond). In the original H-bomb article, I had described the conditions inside the radiation channel in terms of "a gas of photons." For my revised explanation in the Errata, which I dubbed "exploding styrofoam," the corresponding phrase would be "a gas of electrons." The implosion of the secondary is driven by matter pressure, not radiation pressure. Incidentally, Dow Chemical complained that Styrofoam is a trademark, like Xerox, and that nuclear weapons do not contain Styrofoam. Point conceded; the foam is generic.
Plasma physics, the study of ionized gases, has the same cachet in popular culture as rocket science -- the exclusive purview of geniuses, usually ones with security clearances. It is certainly legitimate science. Plasma is the most common state of matter in the universe: hot, dense plasma inside stars and cold, diffuse plasma in interstellar space. But if the full story of plasma physics is ever told, I wager that an inordinate portion of the field will turn out to concern the behavior of x-ray heated plastic, or similar material, in the radiation channels of exploding H-bombs. The need for mathematical simulations of this process was a key factor driving the early development of electronic computers.
I like the idea of a nuisance material, plastic foam, as the real secret of the H-bomb. It symbolizes the banality of evil which is the essence of the whole H-bomb business. Workaday people doing workaday jobs building doomsday machines based on 1950's technology, while civilization marches bravely into the new millennium, oblivious to the death sentence imposed by a secret technology involving plastic foam. It calls to mind the most famous line from The Graduate, "One word: plastics."
Within the small community of researchers and authors who study this arcane subject from the outside, there is still no consensus about the precise role of plastic channel filler in radiation implosion. It is agreed that the plastic absorbs energy and is heated to plasma temperatures, and that radiation "flows" through the resulting plasma at orders of magnitude slower than the speed of light in a vacuum. It is also agreed that radiation implosion operates on temperature difference. The interior of the secondary is cold compared with the heated environment around it. The hot stuff expands and crushes the cold stuff. Whether the hot plastic does the pushing or transmits its heat to a designated ablator which does the pushing a matter of continuing discussion.
Anyway, I got two and a half out of three concepts right, which was evidently a passing grade in terms of triggering censorship. My original explanation still added up to radiation implosion, which was the unspeakable idea. Technically, according to the "born secret" clause of the Atomic Energy Act, even if I had gotten all three concepts wrong, my story could still have been classified, because if it's about nuclear energy, and if it hasn't been declassified, then it's classified, even if it's not true.
The Secret Trial
How did our lawyers know about my mistake, and I didn't? For reasons still unclear, the government decided to tell the real H-bomb secret to the court, in considerable detail. On the very first day of the case, March 8, 1979, two affidavits were submitted by the government which today, twenty-two years later, still contain substantial deleted passages. From that point on there were two trials, the show trial, for the press, and the real trial, in camera, behind closed doors.
The real trial centered on affidavits and testimony by John Griffin, Department of Energy Director of Classification, and by Jack Rosengren and William Grayson, two government experts who were former H-bomb designers. If our lawyers wanted to participate in the real trial, they had to get security clearances. As a result, forty-five special two-year security clearances were issued to defense lawyers and their typists, support personnel, and expert witnesses, and another twenty-three were issued to court personnel, including four judges. Seven defense experts already had security clearances. No clearances were issued to the defendants.
We have a convenient reminder of the exact count because in August of 1982, three years after the government folded its prior restraint case, William Grayson, the second half of the Rosengren and Grayson team, compiled a list of names of every person mentioned in any court document, plus every name mentioned in my 1981 memoir of the case, The Secret That Exploded. This list of over three hundred names, which included my high school sweetheart, a man who had died at Los Alamos in 1945, several members of Congress, and people like Phil Donahue, David Brinkley, and Dan Rather, was printed under the title, "Possible Violations of DoE Regulations, Court Orders, or the Atomic Energy Act in Connection with The Progressive Case." Grayson's 62-page report was obtained recently through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Obviously, nobody involved in The Progressive case had a need to know the government's official version of the H-bomb secret. This information was dumped onto the bench of Judge Warren to influence his decision. The H-bomb secret has always been a political tool. The Progressive had proposed to tell it to the public for political reasons, and now the government told it to the judge for political reasons. He couldn't help being impressed that their version of the secret was more authoritative and accurate than my approximation. What effect it had on his thinking will never be known, but very few people can resist a snow job involving official national security secrets. Judge Parker couldn't, at first.
The authors of the First Amendment knew the power of official secrets, especially secrets with religious overtones. The divine right of kings was their reference point. They combined freedom of religion, speech, the press, and assembly in the first bill of the Bill of Rights to deprive the government of its most potent instruments of tyranny: state religion, censorship, and the suppression of organized opposition. The First Amendment does not prohibit government secrets, but it recognizes that an informed, organized public is the best check on the abuses that always accompany secret government.
The defendants were completely unprepared to deal with these new secrets. We all three refused to accept security clearances, which would amount to permanent gag orders, but we allowed our defense team to go inside the security fence. Out of gratitude for their pro-bono legal services, among other things, we agreed not to inquire too closely about how the secret trial was going, what the government was saying against us, and what our lawyers and defense affiants were saying on our behalf. Erwin Knoll later regretted cooperating with this scheme and said he wished he had published immediately, in defiance of the court order. That action would have mooted the prior restraint case, but it might have triggered an espionage trial.
Eventually, our story got scooped one more time, and the government gave up. Other journalists and researchers were duplicating the story from scratch, and underground copies of The Progressive manuscript were popping up in places like Australia and Honolulu. An author named Chuck Hansen in California gave the case its coup de grace with a long letter to Senator Charles Percy, which was widely circulated, declared classified, and then published in defiance of court orders by the Madison Press Connection, a short-lived newspaper operated by striking reporters.
After the case was dropped, the defendants finally got to see expurgated versions of affidavits and briefs which had been completely secret during the trial. Those documents still have large blank spaces, which have been the subject of much speculation. For example, the first Griffin affidavit, on March 8, identifies thirty-six paragraphs in my manuscript which contain secret restricted data (SRD). An accompanying list summarizes what type of SRD is in each marked paragraph. The most frequently mentioned SRD type is separation of stages, mentioned twelve times, followed by radiation implosion, nine times, and radiation channeling, five times. Boosting fuel, levitated pit, and several other such things are mentioned once each. But for eleven of the marked paragraphs, the specification of what type of secret they contain is still secret. I can read each paragraph, which I wrote, but I can't tell what the government thinks is secret about it.
Another example is more complicated, but very revealing. On March 21, Earl Munson, the defense lawyer who argued our case in the first few hearings, submitted a defendants' brief which began, "As near as we can tell, there are three concepts in the Morland article which the plaintiff contends are Restricted Data..." He identified them as "compression, radiation pressure, and reflection." The next day, March 22, Griffin submitted a long affidavit, about three thousand words of which are still blanked out. The day after that, March 23, a closed hearing took place in which Munson questioned Griffin about his affidavit. Six weeks later, Munson appended to one of his affidavits a heavily censored transcript of this March 23 closed-door discussion. After the case was dropped in September, enough of the Munson affidavit with its appended hearing transcript cleared the censors that it was possible to learn, for the first time, that in paragraph 4 of the still-missing three thousand words of the March 22 Griffin affidavit there is a clarification of Munson's three concepts.
Griffin described the three concepts as "separate stages, radiation coupling, and compression." Apparently, the government did not want to litigate Munson's phrases "radiation pressure" and "reflection" because they are incorrect. Griffin combined those two phrases into "radiation coupling," which was correct enough for them to live with and then added "separate stages," which Munson had assumed was not secret. To support their case for censorship, the government then had to argue that a foreign bomb designer who was suffering inventor's block would become unblocked on seeing my incorrect explanation, easily correct my mistakes, and proceed forthwith.
Unbeknownst to the defendants, my inaccuracies quickly became the focus of the secret trial. The star witness for the defense, Ray Kidder, of the Livermore Lab, challenged Jack Rosengren's statement that, "The Morland Article goes far beyond any other publication in identifying the nature of the particular design used in the thermonuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile." Kidder called this statement misleading and said, "No U.S. stockpile weapon that I know of works the way the Morland device is intended to work."
On June 10, Rosengren and Grayson answered Kidder's challenge with a extraordinary affidavit that states in paragraph 5, on page 2, "There are several basically different design arrangements for possible [thermonuclear] weapons." The publicly available version of this document is then essentially blank from there until paragraph 27, on page 9, which begins, "The real �secret of the H-bomb' is the combination of the concepts discussed above." The intervening blank pages probably contain about two thousand words, a term paper on H-bomb design, government version.
The Griffin and the Rosengren and Grayson affidavits so thoroughly contaminated the court record with official secrets that it is still very difficult for an outsider, including this defendant, to figure out what was going on in court.
(Ray Kidder also challenged Hans Bethe, whose participation in the case was more symbolic than substantive. Their resulting discussion was a private correspondence comprising ten letters and assorted documents which have recently been declassified and posted on the web. Kidder believes that he persuaded Bethe to change his mind and agree that radiation implosion was effectively in the public domain by the mid-1970s.)12
For legal scholars trying to understand what kind of precedent this case sets, the secrecy of the trial itself is a key factor. In general, when any part of a legal proceeding is secret, that part takes on dominating importance. It may be completely immaterial or irrelevant, but if it is secret, the insiders who know the secrets automatically feel justified in ignoring the opinions of people who don't know the secrets.
Secret trials are among the most insidious possible features of any legal system. The prosecution is all powerful, and there is no public review. Secret trials have always been a potent tool of totalitarianism. In criminal cases, they are the polite equivalent of the dreaded knock on the door in the middle of the night. In civil cases, as this one was, they are still odious.
The most troubling aspect of The Progressive case for me, personally, was the naming of names. Senator Joe McCarthy's reign of terror and the infamous Hollywood blacklist were directly connected to nuclear bomb secrets. The Manhattan Project spy scandals, involving Klaus Fuchs and the Rosenbergs, were fresh on the public mind, but those cases involved the A-bomb secret. The notion that in the 1950s we now had a terrible new secret to keep from the Communists, the H-bomb secret, served as a major justification, usually unstated, in McCarthy's search for Communists and Communist sympathizers in America. Considering the role The Progressive magazine played in opposing Joe McCarthy in the 1950s, it is ironic that I should have been snagged by that particular Cold War anachronism in the course of The Progressive's First Amendment test case.
When any aspect of government is based on secrecy, keeping the secrets becomes more important than making wise choices. Loyalty dominates talent, and the search for disloyal people who might reveal the secrets becomes a form of ideological cleansing. Lists of names can lead to blacklists and purges.
In the brave new world of Joe McCarthy, any former Communist could be purged of taint, and avoid being purged personally, by giving the names of former comrades, something movie director Elia Kazan did in 1952, and which still generated protests 47 years later on the occasion of his lifetime achievement Oscar. My dilemma was not exactly the same, but it was too close for comfort. On March 26, I was ordered to provide the court with "the name and address (including ZIP code, street, city, state, and telephone number if known) of the last known recipient" of "each and every copy" of the manuscript of my article. Since January, I had passed out copies to everyone who had helped me craft a phrase, put me up for the night, or merely wanted a souvenir of something that might turn out to be historic.
My generation missed the Great Depression, and we grew up knowing about the crimes of Stalin. There were no Communists on my potential list; all were either merely personal friends or full-time Quaker-type peace activists operating in the open. Nonetheless, I was being asked for a long list of private citizens who would, as a result of my naming them, be interrogated by the FBI about their handling of nuclear bomb secrets. They would all acquire FBI files. Should I go to jail to protect their privacy? None of them objected to being named, and my first lawyer insisted that I had to obey the court order, which I reluctantly did.
I now have records of the FBI visits to the people on my list. The only interesting report concerns a peace activist named Jim Albertini in Honolulu, and his girlfriend Barbara Jensen. (At the time, he and I were involved in an unrelated lawsuit concerning the construction of a nuclear weapon storage facility directly under the final approach path to Honolulu International Airport.) The FBI report, a telegram in all caps, says, "Attempt made to interview James Albertini April 17, 1979. Albertini refused to answer any questions... On April 23, 1979, letter received by Honolulu from James Albertini �inviting' the FBI to lobby of his office... to discuss the Morland matter.... On April 23, 1979, Honolulu received inquiry from press re this matter. Press apparently invited to this meeting. In light of the apparent desire of Albertini and Jensen to turn this inquiry into a public forum, no further attempt will be made to contact Jensen or Albertini."
In September, when the case was dropped, Albertini had his copy of the manuscript at the typesetter, planning to distribute copies on the street in hopes of getting arrested and becoming part of the case. Chuck Hansen's letter beat him to the punch. In the end, nobody got arrested, or blacklisted either as far as we know.
When ACLU lawyers became part of the legal defense team, they were so displeased with my lawyer's performance they found me a new one, Paul Friedman, who later became a federal judge. Friedman advised me that I should not have turned over the names without a fight, that I had been the victim of bad legal counsel. When I heard about people peripherally involved in the Kenneth Starr real estate and adultery impeachment drama, who mortgaged their homes to pay legal bills, I am reminded of the pitfalls of having less than the best in legal representation.
Graymail and Journalism
In the first edition of this article, posted on November 15, 1999, I stated, "If the present H-bomb controversy [Wen Ho Lee] results in any kind of court case, either it will be tried in secret, in violation of the most important traditions of American jurisprudence, or I should be able to answer all my remaining questions about H-bombs by reading the court transcript. That dilemma typifies the nuclear-age conflict between secret government and democracy." It turns out there was no Wen Ho Lee trial, but pre-trial detention was used to punish the defendant for a crime with which he was never charged, something that is not supposed to happen. The defendant's rights were violated until the government folded its case, in part to protect secrets.
The standard spy defense is "graymail," a form of blackmail in which the defense threatens to drag all manner of national security secrets into open court. The legal rationale behind graymail is that a criminal defendant should not be hampered in preparing or presenting a defense. (As civil defendants in The Progressive case, we did not have the same right to demand openness that a criminal defendant does.) How well graymail works depends on the judge, and on how many secrets the government is willing to compromise.
Judge Parker began to lose faith in the prosecution's case when Harold Agnew, a former Los Alamos director, and others challenged the government's claims about secrecy and harm, and when a key government witness had to retract his testimony. When Parker then made rulings favorable to Lee's graymail strategy, the government knew it was time to bargain. Among other things, Lee's defense team was requesting an H-bomb blueprint so it could show a jury that characterizations of Lee's downloaded computer codes as blueprints were an exaggeration.
To avoid the graymail defense, caught spies are sometimes recruited as double agents, debriefed in return for immunity, or held until a spy swap can be arranged. Intelligence agencies are usually more eager to protect their remaining secrets and to quietly learn what was compromised, and how, and than they are to exact punishment. When spy prosecutions do happen, they tend to be sensational political events, as Judge Parker soon came to realize, and resent.
On September 13, 2000, Parker released Lee with the following disclaimer of judicial culpability: "the top decision makers in the Executive Branch... have embarrassed our entire nation and each of us who is a citizen of it... I do not know the real reasons why the Executive Branch has done all of this... as a member of the Third Branch of the United States Government, the Judiciary, the United States Courts, I sincerely apologize to you, Dr. Lee, for the unfair manner you were held in custody by the Executive Branch."13
He could have mentioned the Legislative Branch and the Fourth Estate as well. Republican members of Congress were trying to expand a White House fund-raising scandal involving Chinese money into a national security scandal involving nuclear secrets. New York Times reporters Gerth and Risen were willing partners in this Congressional campaign to promote national hysteria. The Clinton administration, having barely survived impeachment, was under tremendous pressure from Capitol Hill and the media to offer up Wen Ho Lee as proof that it was not coddling spies in return for campaign contributions. As a cast member in this partisan political squabble, Judge Parker was played for a fool. When he figured it out, he was not happy.
For the record, I don't think Wen Ho Lee was a spy with a clever lawyer. Real spies never hold onto incriminating evidence the way Lee did. He was also, clearly, not a nuclear pacifist hoping to promote nuclear abolition by telling secrets. His actions remain a mystery. He is probably just a pack rat who broke the rules for sake of convenience. Fortunately for Lee, the graymail defense works for the innocent as well as the guilty.
So I didn't learn anything new about H-bombs from the Wen Ho Lee court case, but a variation on the graymail theme did bring interesting things to light. In both The Progressive case and the Wen Ho Lee case, journalists published stories that otherwise would not have been written. In addition to graymail, investigative reporting is a predictable risk for the government whenever it takes national secrets to court.
During 1999, I learned from Richard Garwin in Arms Control Today that the W-88 warhead has a center of gravity problem which suggests that the heavier part, the secondary, is located in the rear, or fat, end of the re-entry cone. Dan Stober, writing in the San Jose Mercury News, confirmed that arrangement and added that the secondary is spherical in shape, the primary is linear, and the radiation case enclosing the primary and the secondary has the shape of a peanut shell. He reported that a spherical secondary was first used in the 1960s for an early Polaris Missile warhead. I had been hearing such things for years, but doubted they were true. Four months later, when Bill Broad summed up these and other insights in a front page article for the New York Times, I was finally convinced.14 (See Diagrams at the end of this article.)
The advantage of a spherical secondary is greater compression and thus greater efficiency. The disadvantage is greater diameter. Only for a warhead of one megaton or less is the diameter of a spherical secondary small enough to be practical.
A David Wise article in Gentleman's Quarterly, gave the diameter of the W-88 secondary as 17.2 centimeters (seven inches), which, if spherical, means a volume of two and two-thirds liters.15 The maximum theoretical yield for a secondary is about two hundred kilotons per liter, assuming equal volumes of fission and fusion fuel. The math is simple. A secondary the size Wise reported would need to fully consume 90% of its thermonuclear fuel, including the uranium, in order to produce the W-88 warhead's advertized yield of 475 kilotons.
If that calculation is correct, there is little wonder the W-88 warhead is still our most modern warhead, despite its being a twenty-five year old, mid-1970s design. It would be a waste of time trying to squeeze out the last 10%. I was recently told that 1962 was the year when weapon designers "ran out of things to invent." A dozen years later, they apparently gave up trying.
When the case against Wen Ho Lee was settled, the Washington Post ran an op-ed evaluation by Kenneth C. Bass III, the Justice Department's first counsel for intelligence policy in the Carter administration. By way of background, he had the following curious comment about The Progressive case: "claims of danger proved shallow when the Justice Department later learned that the same information had been placed on the public shelves of the Los Alamos Library, a fact not reported in the judicial decisions and thus not easily discovered by counsel or judges who want to know why the government consented to vacate the injunction."16
His timing seems off. In citing the library document rather than the Hansen letter, either Bass is confused, or he knows an interesting story that I don't know.
UCRL-4725, the document Bass referred to, was the Livermore Lab's monthly progress report for June of 1956, written during the Redwing nuclear test series in the Pacific. It described test results from May and June and plans for the remaining tests in July. It was discovered at Los Alamos on May 7, 1979, by Dimitri Rotow, an ACLU researcher who was sent there to see what he could find. It had been declassified and placed on the open shelves four years earlier, in 1975. I had never seen it.
Rotow mailed copies to journalists and interested parties around the nation. The Chicago Sun-Times ran a May 18 story headlined, "Secrets of H-Bomb were mailed to us." Reporter Brian Kelley said the document described, "how to fill the empty spaces of the bomb cannister with foam." I had seen the factory in Kansas City where plastic foam is made into H-bomb components, but I had guessed that the foam goes inside the secondary, leaving the radiation channel empty. Learning the true location of the foam was helpful in correcting my misunderstanding about radiation pressure.
When I first saw UCRL-4725, I think I must have felt the way Howard Carter felt when he opened King Tut's tomb. It was a glimpse into the inner sanctum of the doomsday bureaucracy. One phrase that jumped off the page and into my psyche was "megatons per meter," often bloodlessly abbreviated as "MT/m." It's an obvious concept, given the cylindrical geometry of multi-megaton H-bombs, but to see the subtle ways insiders used it to insulate themselves from the grisly business of mass murder and world destruction was a gift.
Like "miles per gallon," it signified potentially unlimited amounts of a desired thing, plus an implied challenge to improve efficiency. If you need more megatons, add some fraction of a meter to the length of the bomb's last stage, unless you can improve the ratio of MT/m. That phrase also codified the short-lived, but momentous, victory of Edward Teller over J. Robert Oppenheimer on the question of whether H-bombs could be too big or not. Mercifully, the megatons per meter phase of American history was short, coinciding roughly with the rise and fall of Senator Joe McCarthy. The smaller missile warheads that came afterwards (with spherical secondaries) made up an arsenal more like the one Oppenheimer had recommended, although the warheads quickly became so numerous as to be equally destructive in the aggregate.
Meanwhile, defense lawyers immediately petitioned for a dismissal of The Progressive case, but the government argued that the 1975 declassification was accidental, that all known copies were being retrieved, and that, anyway, the document was fragmentary and hard to understand. Rosengren and Grayson ended their 27-page affidavit on June 10 with the statement, "the Morland article retains a special significance even if UCRL-4725 were presumed to be available."
Throughout the summer of 1979, there were numerous in camera hearings and exchanges of classified affidavits concerning defense claims that the case should be mooted by the UCRL-4725 discovery, plus earlier articles from the Milwaukee Sentinel, Fusion, and New Solidarity.17 The government continued to deny that the story they were trying to suppress was being told anyway. The case dragged on until September, when it finally sailed into the judicially hostile waters of the Chicago appeals court. By the time the Hansen letter arrived on the scene, we had begun to hear that the government wanted out.
The moral: one way or another, in a civilized democracy a court case becomes a leak machine. Government secrets have a hard time staying secret when they go to court.
Arms Control Today
Despite The Progressive's effort to demonstrate that there is no secret, the H-bomb secret seems to be alive and well in popular culture. The Wen Ho Lee case with its accusations of mis-handled nuclear secrets was a factor in two important 1999 U.S. Senate votes, the March 17 vote, 97 to 3, to deploy a missile defense system, and the October 13 vote, 48 to 51, to reject the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. As Einstein explained in 1947, secrets, defenses, and arms control are interrelated -- the absence of the first two necessitates the third. Senate opponents of nuclear arms control implicitly concede the Einstein formulation by promoting secrets and defense as part of their package.
During my decade as an arms control lobbyist and defense policy analyst on Capitol Hill, in the 1980s, I saw every possible wrinkle in what was originally called the anti-ballistic missile, or ABM debate. Ballistic missile defense was considered dead until Edward Teller, using his authority as Father of the H-bomb and his resulting access to President Ronald Reagan, resurrected it as the Strategic Defense Initiative, the so-called Star Wars program. The arguments against it were either that it wouldn't work, and be a waste of money, or that enemies might think it could work and use it as an excuse to escalate their offensive capability, which would nullify missile defense whether it worked or not.
There was a treaty effectively prohibiting it, based on both of those arguments, a treaty which the United States has ratified. The Senate vote was a serious step toward abrogating that ABM treaty.
The main argument in favor of Star Wars was a denial of the no defense idea and the assertion that we shouldn't leave our population unprotected in a nuclear war. Nuclear defense in the 50s and 60s included duck and cover drills, fallout shelters, and evacuation routes. The Star Wars program was less alarming to the populace, but it was based on the same assurance that we can fight and win a nuclear war, with acceptable losses. If we can protect ourselves with anti-missile technology, we can afford to relax about arms control. But if there is no possibility of effective defense, then arms control is our only hope, as Einstein pointed out.
When the Star Wars program came up for a vote in 1999, the annual ritual debate was canceled by the sudden, well-timed accusation that at Los Alamos during the 1980s (well before Clinton's White House tenure, by the way) Wen Ho Lee may have leaked H-bomb secrets to China.18 By a logic which escapes me, the conclusion was drawn that we still have nuclear secrets worth stealing, and since they have been stolen, we need to build anti-missile defenses, despite the treaty and all the other arguments.
The Senate's stunning rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the first time it has ever failed to ratify a signed nuclear arms control treaty, signals a dramatic turning away from any international cooperation in nuclear matters. It implies a belief that meaningful nuclear superiority is still possible, based on secrets and defense, and that unconstrained competition is preferable to treaties. Without constraints, the United States can stay ahead. Under a treaty regime, say opponents, other nations can cheat and catch up.
The dismissive, superficial Senate debate which preceded the test ban treaty rejection is enough to make anyone despair of discussing the issue. The general public has lost interest, based in part on the notion that the nuclear threat to America was reduced to acceptable levels when the Cold War ended. The partisans who remain engaged are so partisan that it seems neither side is willing to accept a point made by the other. Nonetheless, the issue is too important to ignore, and the disappearance of the original justification for the superpower nuclear arsenals is too great an opportunity to miss. We need to reassess the business of secrets, defenses, and arms control.
It seems obvious to me that ballistic missile defenses won't work for the same reason that we can't shoot flying bullets out of the air over a battlefield. We nonetheless seem destined to waste a lot of money trying, which is a folly I can live with if I have to. But what about secrets? Twenty years after publication of the H-bomb secret, and well into the age of the Internet, is there anything left to protect?
Four Hundred Thousand Pages
Technically, the crime for which Wen Ho Lee served his time is the downloading of four hundred thousand pages of nuclear weapon secrets from secure laboratory computers to personal computers and portable tapes. This certainly sounds like a lot of secrets, about eight hundred large books' worth. How can there be that much to say about bombs the size of trash cans, with no moving parts aside from a couple of gas valves and pumps?
The data were originally described as 806 Megabytes, a little more than one CD-ROM disc, but somebody noticed that a typewritten page makes a two-kilobyte text file and decided that a truckload of books makes a better story. Either way, it's a lot of data. What could it be all about?
Lee's downloads are usually described as "weapon codes," a phrase that suggests encrypted, digitized blueprints, especially when prosecutors play word games to reinforce that impression. However, as I understand weapon codes they have about the same relationship to blueprints as a doctoral dissertation on carburetion has to gasoline engine design. They would be useful to designers working at a very theoretical level, but not very useful at the nuts and bolts level.
The weapon codes mentioned in UCRL-4725 involve mathematical simulations of radiation channeling. In the bomb business, computer programs that drive such simulations are called channel codes, or radflow codes. They attempt to mimic the transfer of radiation between the primary and the secondary, and they never work as well as the designers would like. For example, the channel codes for the Bassoon device, tested on May 27, 1956, in the Zuni shot at Bikini, made timing predictions that were off by 50%. This fact was noted in the document, but no suggestion was made for changing the device design. Bassoon worked just fine, yielding 3.5 Megatons, in a strip-down "clean" version with almost all the uranium removed.
The response to this code failure was to fix the code, not the bomb. Extra sensors were added for the next Bassoon test, to gather more data, and a hope was expressed that the next generation IBM computer would support more sophisticated simulation models that would be more accurate. Unlike bridges and skyscrapers, which can be reliably designed on the basis of theory alone, multi-stage thermonuclear weapons are designed by trial and error. Weapon codes come later, in an effort to explain the test results, and satisfy the curiosity of scientists.
Walter Goad, a Los Alamos bomb designer from 1950 to 1970, wrote an affidavit for the defense of Wen Ho Lee in which he compared nuclear weapon codes to computerized weather models. He noted similar problems in "long range predictions of weather" and in "predictions of nuclear weapon behavior." In both cases the task is to predict chaotic, turbulent energy flows, slow flows over a large area in the first case, and fast flows over a short distance in the second. Success in both cases remains elusive. Goad said, "after the enormous investment of effort over many years, weapons codes can still not be relied on for significantly new designs."19
While these simulation studies were no doubt useful to early designers, work on the codes continued long after all design work was finished. Wen Ho Lee started his career at Los Alamos in 1978, after the last warhead had already been designed. Agnew stated in his affidavit, "It appears that most, if not all, of the codes presently being refined and developed at Los Alamos Laboratory were modified after all of the current U.S. nuclear systems had entered our nation's stockpile."20
It appears to me that code development during recent decades is, at least in part, a jobs program for the labs. It produces mountains of classified documents, and as long as everything is stamped secret, it seems unpatriotic to ask if the labs are doing good, evil, or nothing at all. The usual proof that someone is doing serious science is publication in peer reviewed journals, but secrecy saves them from that requirement.
In my quest to understand how the labs could stay busy all these years, and how the codes could grow so voluminous, I received the following explanation from a anonymous, knowledgeable source. Some weapon codes do contain hundreds of thousands of lines of code, but very little of the code is physics equations which drive simulations. Most of the code involves data management, input/output files, software for graphics output, etc. (It's the kind of stuff that makes the Windows-95 operating system take up 200 Megabytes, or a hundred thousand pages, on a personal computer hard drive.) Most of the labor on weapons codes during the past quarter century has gone into rewriting old codes to run on new machines.21
A resumption of nuclear testing would mean new data for the labs to incorporate into their codes. It would also provide the opportunity for "add ons," which are physics experiments driven by the explosion. An underground nuclear explosion might have four to six "add ons." Science that the Labs could not get funded on its merits could be tacked onto bomb tests. The "add ons" would also allow them to do unique physics, driven by energies unavailable to those outside the weapons community. Thus the "add ons" become a hidden motive for opposing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Secrets generated by such activities have no limit, but are there any essential design concepts that are not yet on the Internet?
The H-bomb Secret Today
I am told that the W-88 warhead is unique in the U.S. arsenal, with distinctively shaped internal components. (Harold Agnew described it as "a �delicate' and neat package.")22 Obviously, any change in the shape of a bomb component becomes a new secret, unless it is declassified. But three decades after developing their own H-bomb, along with its associated technical-industrial infrastructure, what could the Chinese possibly learn about warhead design from Los Alamos that would make any real difference in the ABM debate, which is essentially an issue between the U.S. and Russia? Not much, in my opinion.
While the public has yet to see a real H-bomb blueprint, the material in the public domain is at least an indication of how little there is left for a determined H-bomb design team to discover.
In the twenty years since The Progressive case, a number of books and papers have been published on warhead designs, nuclear arsenals, and the related industry. All make use of information declassified as a result of the case. They also make extensive use of information which has never been declassified, but which is widely known outside the security fence. The Nuclear Weapons Databook series by the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Richard Rhodes' two books, The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun, are noteworthy.
Chuck Hansen has recently expanded his 1988 hardcover book, U.S. Nuclear Weapons: The Secret History, into a 2,500 page treatise called Swords of Armageddon, self-published on CD-ROM.23 It takes the form of a well-documented dissertation based largely on official papers he obtained through Freedom of Information requests and a careful reading of declassified documents in various archives. A valuable reference tool, it is quite readable if you can tolerate the medium, and care deeply enough about the esoteric subject. Reading 2,500 pages on a computer screen, half a page at a time, is taxing. I prefer ink on paper, but that usually requires the backing of a publishing house. With five reams of paper and a few cartridges of printer ink, you can print it from your computer and read it from an armchair. A laptop also works in an armchair.
I learned during The Progressive case that First Amendment press freedoms do not apply to writers. At the hands of editors and publishers, writers are subject to all types of censorship, including deletions, rewrites, and outright suppression. Freedom of the press kicks in for a writer only when the writer and publisher are of single mind, or the same person, as in Chuck Hansen's case. But self-publication is easier now than it used to be, as long as the writer doesn't need to be paid.
A curious compilation of self-published H-bomb "secrets" exists only in cyberspace. It is a 1,000 page book called Nuclear Weapons Frequently Asked Questions by Southern California computer programmer Carey Sublette. For a while, it was hosted by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). It now has a different host.24 It has had a number of hosts since its founding in November 1994 by Gary Au, then a student at Melbourne University, Australia, but it has always been accessible by any computer with a modem.
The appearance of this essay, the one you are now reading, hyperlinked to the FAS homepage, is ironic, to say the least, in light of the position taken by then president Jeremy Stone and the FAS in opposition to publication of The Progressive article in 1979, a position which Stone reiterated in his 1999 memoir. Steve Aftergood, of the FAS Washington staff, was kind enough to invite me to post it here after a number of magazines turned it down. I am confident, of course, that Steve is as discriminating as any magazine editor, but he is unconstrained by considerations of circulation, advertising revenue, writing style, subject matter, and length. He is free to post anything, along with supporting documents, which might contribute to informed debate on nuclear arms control.25
In my opinion, none of the public literature on H-bombs would be much help to an H-bomb design team, which would need to do its own engineering and testing, even if it had stolen computer codes to look at. Harold Agnew said as much in his Wen Ho Lee affidavit. But such public information information is useful in addition to being harmless; it provides valuable insights into public policies which were crafted in secret. The still fragmentary documentation in Chuck Hansen's archive and in Richard Rhodes' interviews with principals, some now dead, reveals in broad outline how some very smart people made what I regard as the worst set of choices in the history of conscious thought.
It is hard for me to understand why anyone ever thought building a hydrogen bomb was a good idea. When one fission bomb can blow up a medium sized city, and a dozen such bombs can blow up any city in the world, why does a single bomb need to be any more powerful than the basic model? That was Oppenheimer's question in the great, secret H-bomb debate of 1949. At a time when the H-bomb design team had run out of promising ideas, he recommended a large arsenal of small fission bombs made with known technology, employing fusion-generated neutrons to increase the efficiency of fission. In other words, Oppenheimer advocated small H-bombs of the "booster" type. Even if one accepted the hideous premise of nuclear war, it was hard to find a military requirement for a single bomb bigger than fifty or a hundred kilotons. The Hiroshima bomb was fifteen.
But the quest for the H-bomb had a mystical quality that defied such rational analysis. In some ways it was like the effort to climb mount Everest, which was going on at the same time period. It was a quest to prove that something could be done, and a race to be the first to do it. The Lindbergh flight from New York to Paris might be a better example. The Atlantic Ocean had already been conquered by air in 1919 by two military pilots flying on a secret mission. What Lindbergh did in 1927 was repeat the feat in public, with media hype. In order for his feat to be unique, it had to be solo, a completely useless criterion from any practical point of view, but the public bought it as something new.
The uranium fission bomb had already been produced in secret, like the first airplane flight across the Atlantic. When Truman announced the H-bomb program to the world in January of 1950, as a response to the first Russian A-bomb, he was proposing a contest, much like the cash prize offered for the first solo transatlantic flight. In order to make the new bomb seem like a unique feat, a real breakthrough and not just a refinement of existing technology, it was assumed that it should be powered mostly by hydrogen fusion rather than uranium fission and it should be a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, on the order of fifteen megatons rather than fifteen kilotons. The H-bomb race would be conducted on center stage of the Cold War, but unlike the Lindbergh flight, the details would be kept secret. Because of secrecy, the contestants in the H-bomb race could cheat, as long as they produced a really big explosion. And cheat they did.
The quest for the H-bomb was based in part on a false premise: that there is an inherent limitation on the size and power of a uranium fission bomb, namely the limitation imposed by critical mass considerations. When a sphere of uranium-235 any larger than a softball is assembled, a nuclear chain reaction will start prematurely. This must, of course, be avoided until the moment of detonation. If only one critical mass (one softball) is used, the size of the explosion is limited to a few tens of kilotons. This was the supposed limitation.
There were always a number of obvious ways of getting around this restriction. Cylindrical shape was one. If a uranium-235 cylinder has a diameter slightly smaller than a softball, the cylinder can be arbitrarily long without exceeding critical mass. A hollow cylinder, open at the ends, would work even better. The mass may be several times larger than critical for a sphere, but because of shape, namely the high ratio of external surface area to volume, the uranium will avoid criticality until its detonation by implosion. Designs based on this or similar principles were called "multi-crit" designs. The largest one ever tested was the super-oralloy bomb of the 1952 Ivy- King test. (Oralloy, for Oak Ridge alloy, was the wartime code name for uranium-235.) It exploded with a yield of 500 kilotons, the largest pure fission explosion ever.
Another technique was to use uranium-238, which has no critical mass limitation and which, by the way, is dirt cheap. The bomb can have as much uranium-238 as the designer wants, in any shape, but the neutrons for fission must come from an outside source, namely fusion. By the mid-1940s, it was known that a lot of fission could supply the heat to cause a little fusion, and that a little fusion could in turn produce the neutrons to cause a lot more fission, with the ultimate yield being limited only by the amount of uranium in the bomb. It was a promising idea, but the first schemes for exploiting it, code-named Alarm Clock, were cumbersome.
In January of 1951, Stanislaw Ulam suggested another method for circumventing the critical mass limitation. He proposed breaking up uranium-235 into discrete chunks, or stages, and setting off the chunks in rapid sequence, like a chain of firecrackers. It would have worked, but his idea quickly led to the successful H-bomb design based on radiation implosion, in which the second firecracker could be so much more powerful and efficient than the first that only two were needed. Radiation implosion made all previous ideas obsolete as stand-alone designs, but the new design eventually incorporated most of the old ideas and made them much more practical, all because of the high compression made possible by radiation from the first firecracker in the two- firecracker chain.
In hindsight, the winning design was so simple nobody could understand why it took ten years to think it up. Two contradictory theories emerged to explain the delay, and since contradictions often persist unresolved in politics, especially in secret politics, both were used. One theory was that pinkos like Openheimer and his fellow travelers had obstructed progress. During the 1950s, every relevant government entity wrote its own version of the H-bomb history, hinting broadly that dovish sentiment among scientists had slowed things down. All have been declassified with deletions during the past twenty years, and collected by Chuck Hansen. They include H-bomb chronologies written by the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, by the Pentagon's Military Liaison Committee to the Atomic Energy Commission, and by the Atomic Energy Commission itself.26
The alternative theory was that radiation implosion, simple once you know it, is actually almost impossible for mere mortals to invent without divine help, or leaks from Los Alamos. This theory absolved the scientists of any blame for the delay, but it powerfully reinforced the admonition to wrap the entire thermonuclear industry in a blanket of secrecy. Two short histories written independently by Hans Bethe, in 1952 and in 1954, advance the idea that progress was as rapid as it could have been. Politics aside, Bethe's histories give the best technical synopsis. The second, the 1954 version was declassified first, in 1980.27
According to all of these accounts, Teller's original H-bomb plan was to use a small fission bomb to light one end of a cannister of deuterium, or heavy hydrogen, and cause a self-sustaining fusion reaction to propagate through the length of the cannister, like the detonation wave that propagates through a stick of dynamite. This was the "Classical Superbomb," also known as the "Runaway Super," which Bethe referred to as Method A, in his 1954 history. In 1950, Stanislaw Ulam convinced everyone at Los Alamos that the fusion reaction would not propagate. His reports from Johnny von Neumann that "icicles are forming" meant that in mathematical simulations of the detonation, on the Princeton MANIAC computer, ignition temperatures could not be maintained by the detonation wave in the cannister of hydrogen. The true hydrogen bomb was thus abandoned, in favor of making a multi-megaton explosion, period.
The theoretical failure of Teller's hydrogen superbomb revived interest in 1946 Alarm Clock design. In the Alarm Clock, alternating layers of hydrogen fusion fuel and uranium fission fuel were arranged to take advantage of the aforementioned symbiotic relationship between fission and fusion. Uranium fission would produce the temperatures necessary for fusion, and hydrogen fusion would produce the neutrons necessary for more uranium fission. When the fusion reaction began to cool below its ignition point, more fission would heat it up again and keep it going.
The name Alarm Clock was a nonsense code name; it was supposed to wake people up to the possibilities of H-bombs. The Russians chose a physically more descriptive term for the same design concept: Sloika, a layered pastry cake. Bethe referred to it as Method B.
Because of the high energy neutrons in the Alarm Clock/Sloika design, relatively cheap uranium-238 becomes as explosive as the much more expensive uranium-235, but unconstrained by criticality considerations. The Alarm Clock design may have originated as a way of keeping the temperature up in the fusion fuel, but in practical terms it was a way to make a very cheap, dirty uranium bomb of unlimited power.28
Despite the public hype about the hydrogen bomb contest, there was a serious problem with any weapon based mostly on fusion energy. It doesn't produce a very satisfactory explosion. In uranium fission, 90% of the energy is released as the kinetic energy of highly-charged, fully- ionized fission fragments. Fission fragments are the split pieces of uranium nuclei. With a high electrostatic charge, a value of plus forty-six on average, these fission fragments convert their energy to heat quickly and within inches, producing an intense point source of heat. The resulting blast and fire is the whole point of a nuclear explosion.
In fusion, on the other hand, only 20% of the energy is released as the kinetic energy of charged fusion products, and their electrostatic charge is only a plus two. Because of the lower charge, the bremsstrahlung effect, which produces the heat, is much less powerful with fusion products than with fission products. More importantly, the bulk of the fusion energy, 80%, is carried off by neutrally-charged neutrons which can travel hundreds of yards before colliding with something and giving up their energy. By themselves, neutrons are very inefficient producers of blast and fire. But an H-bomb which is designed so that every fusion-produced neutron results in a uranium fission event is very efficient. It not only converts relatively useless neutron energy into blast and fire energy, it also multiplies the total energy release by a factor of ten or more. The neutron, with an energy value of 14 million electron volts (MeV), produces a fission event worth 180 MeV.
This dramatic multiplication of yield has proved irresistible to bomb designers, despite the fact that it makes an extremely dirty explosion with vast amounts of lethal radioactive fallout.
In the Alarm Clock design, the layers of uranium embedded in the fusion fuel were thus far more than a means of keeping the fusion fire burning. In a weapon optimized for fission-fusion symbiosis, fission would actually dominate the explosion, providing 90% of the total energy and virtually all of the energy that contributed to blast and fire. It would be more a uranium bomb than a hydrogen bomb. Was this cheating? Did it meet Truman's criteria for a hydrogen bomb?
This vexing question was ultimately resolved at a famous secret Princeton conference in June of 1951 where it was decided that "any thermonuclear device yielding very great energy" would meet the 1950 Truman directive, and qualify as an H-bomb.29
Meanwhile, it took three more developments to complete the design and make the Alarm Clock a practical weapon: boosting (Bethe's Method C, invented by Teller in 1947), radiation implosion (Bethe's Method D, invented by Ulam and Teller in 1951), and the spark plug (Teller in 1951).
Boosting is the use of small, gram amounts of gaseous heavy hydrogen, deuterium and tritium, which fuse to add neutrons and improve the efficiency of ordinary fission bombs, or H-bomb primaries. By saying that boosting is all we really needed, Oppenheimer got the reputation of being anti-H-Bomb and was kicked out of the club. Radiation implosion is the so-called H-bomb secret that got The Progressive dragged into court in 1979. The spark plug is a mass of uranium-235 in the core of the secondary stage, where it fissions and provides the heat to start the main fusion reaction. I described the spark plug in The Progressive's Errata, along with the plastic channel filler.
Apparently, both the channel filler and the spark plug are still considered classified. For twenty years, the spark plug has been mentioned in every published description of nuclear weapon design, as long as the author is not directly associated with the government. One exception to that rule: Edward Teller himself mentioned the spark plug in a interview he gave a few days after the government dropped The Progressive case in 1979.30 It is necessarily taken into account when private estimates are made of the fissile material stockpile. But all references to the spark plug are still excised from the official documents of the period.
Richard Rhodes assures me that his sources, including Bethe, credit Teller with this invention in 1951, but I would have thought the spark plug was inherent in the 1946 Alarm Clock concept, and also in Ulam's proposed separation of stages, since Ulam was working on pure fission devices when he thought of it.
In his earlier, more detailed thermonuclear history written in 1952 and partially declassified in 1990, Bethe calls the designs by their real names. He makes it clear that Method A (Teller's superbomb) was abandoned and that ultimately the H-bomb was a combination of all the other ideas: namely separate stages in which x-rays from a fusion-boosted primary stage, compress (implode) a secondary stage which is patterned on the Alarm Clock concept. The Alarm Clock secondary is what makes the H-bomb a dirty uranium bomb, rather than a true hydrogen bomb.
Dirty Bombs and Clean Bombs
The H-bomb's heavy reliance on uranium fission was revealed to the world in March of 1954, when a Japanese fishing boat called the Lucky Dragon sailed home covered with fallout from the Castle Bravo test at Bikini Atoll. One fisherman died, all were sickened. Ralph Lapp, a Manhattan Project scientist who, incidentally, was the first person to sign Leo Szliard's petition against dropping the A-bomb on Japan, wrote a damning book about the Lucky Dragon incident. He also wrote a series of eight articles on radioactive fallout for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. I would argue that most of what the world knows about H-bomb fallout first entered the public domain through Ralph Lapp's articles in the Bulletin.31
In March of 1999, Lapp told me that his apparent interest in the civil defense aspects of fallout during the 1950s had been a ruse, an excuse to use fallout to tell the bomb-makers' secrets. And the biggest secret of all, the only one that really matters, is that the H-bomb is actually a uranium fission bomb. The lethal zone from fallout would vastly overshadow the lethal zone from blast and fire. A serious war fought with such weapons would poison entire continents. It would be war against the planet.
The public uproar over fallout led to one of the few comic sideshows of the period, the business of the "humanitarian H-bomb." Four of the 1956 Operation Redwing shots were full-scale multi-megaton H-bomb explosions. For two of those shots, all the unnecessary uranium had been removed from the device to produce a "clean" explosion, reportedly no more than 15% fission, the rest fusion. (I'd like to see more information before I believe that figure.) On July 19, Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Lewis Strauss announced that the new clean H-bombs were important "not only from a military point of view but from a humanitarian aspect. We are convinced that mass hazard from fallout is not a necessary complement to the use of large nuclear weapons."32
Ralph Lapp wasn't fooled. He derided the humanitarian H-bomb in his next article, the fifth in his series on fallout. He guessed, correctly, that the clean versions of these bombs would not be the deployed versions. He wrote, "the superbomb can be designed to be either relatively clean or very dirty. The former would be desirable in the test series, whereas the latter would seem to fulfill the requirement of a strategic weapon." We now know that two of the high-yield Redwing shots were clean and dirty versions of the same device: the Livermore Lab's Bassoon device, described in UCRL-4725.
The clean version of Bassoon, tested in the Zuni shot on May 27, left a crater twelve stories deep and half a mile wide and produced a fallout pattern covering thousands of square miles. Once again, a Japanese ship was showered with fallout. This time the fallout had a lower percentage of fission products and relatively more neutron-activated coral from the crater. The more "humanitarian" mix of radioactive isotopes caused no immediate deaths, in part because the crew members undertook vigorous efforts to decontaminate the ship.
By foregoing all nonessential uranium, Bassoon's designers deprived it not only of its main explosive ingredient but also of a major source of compression and containment for its fusion fuel. To compensate for these losses, it was designed with three stages. The secondary served as a primary for a much larger tertiary, which was imploded by the substantially greater x-ray flux coming off the secondary. It worked, but there was an irresistible temptation. Anything that made a clean bomb more efficient would make a dirty bomb even more efficient.
The dirty version, Bassoon Prime, was fired in the Tewa shot on July 20, the day after Strauss' announcement about humanitarianism. It was packed with uranium, not just in the casing of the fusion fuel package where it could accidentally on purpose add to the yield, but throughout the fusion fuel, Alarm Clock style, where it would be certain to capture neutrons and maximize the fission energy release of the bomb. The test yielded five megatons, roughly as expected. (See photographs at the end of this article.)
Had Bassoon Prime been tested at its full potential of 25 megatons, 85% fission and 15% fusion, promptly lethal concentrations of fission-product fallout would have covered 10,000 square miles of the earth's surface. Over dry land, the same fallout pattern would have forced the long-term evacuation of an area many times larger than that. While no one was willing to test it at full yield, 500 copies of the weaponized version, the Mark 41 bomb, were deployed with B-47 and B-52 bombers. Some were still in the arsenal as late as 1976. It was the only three-stage weapon ever deployed by the U.S., and at 25 megatons it was the most powerful.33
For twenty-five years, Daniel Ellsberg, another secret sharer, has been telling what he learned as a nuclear war analyst at the Pentagon in the early 1960s. By then, so many large, dirty H-bombs had been deployed on long-range bombers that the standard U.S. nuclear war plan was expected to kill 600 million people in Russia, China, and Japan, mostly from fallout, assuming that the winds blew the fallout away from Western Europe. That information was, and remains, highly classified.
Recently declassified documents obtained by Chuck Hansen reveal the internal debate provoked by this issue. It is clear that decision makers chose not to deploy clean bombs because they were not willing to sacrifice any potential explosive yield, especially with their new ballistic missile warheads, which needed to be small in diameter. In the end, the clean bomb charade proved only that dirty H-bombs are a public policy choice, not a design necessity. There is no indication that the bomb makers ever intended to warn the public of that fact. It took people like Ralph Lapp, and in his own quiet way, Samuel Glasstone.
The insiders, of course, knew that a pure hydrogen bomb would produce a great flux of neutrons. Rather than searching for ways to make their bombs cleaner, the insiders were looking in the opposite direction: how to use all those neutrons to make the dirtiest possible bomb. The cobalt bomb of science fiction novels like On the Beach was taken seriously by people like Carson Mark at Los Alamos. Neutrons plus cobalt would produce a potent radiological warfare agent. But in a secret April 1954 letter Carson Mark points out that "for the purpose of maintaining some high level of contamination over a stated period and also for the purpose of increasing the total radiation dose" no deliberate contaminating agent such as cobalt or tantalum would be as effective as the uranium fission products produced by the standard, dirty H-bomb. As he put it, "only a mild enhancement of radiation levels appear possible with present thermonuclear bombs." In his evaluation, the standard H-bomb was the dirtiest possible bomb.34
Glasstone, the official Oak Ridge historian, managed to get his own version of that statement into public print in 1957 in an unclassified book called The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, published by the Atomic Energy Commission. In a section titled "Radiological Warfare," he discussed "the possibility of using radioactive material deliberately as an offensive weapon." After describing the problems with various proposals such as the cobalt bomb, he writes that the problems have been solved "with the development of bombs having high fission energy yields. ...they are, in effect, weapons of radiological warfare. ...Radiological warfare has thus become an automatic extension of the offensive use of nuclear weapons of high yield."
The wording of that last phrase clearly implies that all nuclear weapons are essentially fission devices, which I believe is correct. In the 1964 edition of the book, which had very few changes, the word "fission" was added as the next to last word of the above statement: "weapons of high fission yield" rather than "weapons of high yield." A reader could now imagine that we routinely deployed high-yield weapons that were mostly fusion-powered and that the radiological warfare discussion applied only to a small class of particularly dirty, high-fission H-bombs, rather than to all of them. In the 1977 edition, the entire three-paragraph confession was eliminated altogether. In 1978, I asked Samuel Glasstone why that section had been removed. "Lack of interest," he said. Had the fission percentage of the U.S. nuclear stockpile been significantly reduced? "Oh no, the weapons haven't changed, but people aren't interested in talking about radiological warfare anymore."35 Perhaps because radiological warfare is considered a war crime.
Earlier that same year, I had asked Herb York about the warhead modernization program in which old ballistic missiles like the Minuteman and Poseidon were scheduled for replacement by new MX and Trident missiles. The new missiles would carry eight or ten warheads each instead of three, and each warhead would be significantly more powerful without being bigger. This clearly implied high fission yields, since uranium is twenty times more compact than hydrogen, even when the hydrogen is stored in the bomb in its usual solid hydride form.
I was thinking in particular of the half-megaton warhead already on the drawing boards, which would arm the Trident II D-5 missile.
The W-88 Warhead and the Trident D-5 Missile
This warhead, which is now called the W-88, is the one Wen Ho Lee was informally accused of helping China understand. It reportedly has the highest yield-to-volume ratio of any U.S. warhead. When deployed on Trident submarines, in place of the W-76 warhead, the W-88 increases the explosive power of one submarine five-fold, from 20 megatons to 100 megatons, enough firepower to devastate several average-sized nations. Its design purpose is to destroy Russian missiles in hardened underground silos, before they are launched. In other words, the W-88 warhead is a first strike weapon.
The Los Alamos designers called it the "commissar killer." Among the hardened targets it was promoted to destroy were the underground personnel bunkers of Soviet leaders. Although warhead designers do not control targeting policy, the nickname reveals a rationalization for their work. Critics have charged that such a decapitation policy would eliminate the only people who were in a position to stop an escalating nuclear war and thus guarantee that the first missile launches would initiate a full-scale holocaust. Anticipation of this situation would encourage both sides to strike first with every available weapon, making the balance of terror highly unstable.
I had joined the ban-the-bomb movement in 1977 with the express purpose of supporting a campaign to stop the funding for the D-5 missile and its new first strike warhead.
When I asked York in 1978 why we deployed such dirty, high-fission bombs, he said that our goal has never been to minimize casualties in Russia. "You have to remember that Russia is considered the enemy country. Small high-fission bombs designed for surface burst are going to reduce global fallout by ensuring that most of the fission products are deposited on Soviet soil."36 Sounds like radiological warfare to me, even if it isn't the main mission. It certainly is not humanitarian.
I devoted the 1980s to a grassroots and legislative campaign against the D-5 ballistic missile. We never got more than 100 votes in the House of Representatives, but each year we got an hour or so of debate during floor consideration of the Defense Authorization bill. Congressman Ted Weiss of New York usually sponsored the D-5 amendment. During one year, when Congressman Ed Feighan of Ohio offered the D-5 amendment, his legislative aide, a not yet famous George Stephanopolous, was our point man on the hill. Every year, the urban liberals, whose districts contain the greatest concentrations of wealth and educated talent in the country, voted to cancel funding for the Trident D-5 missile and its W-88 warheads. The other 80% of the House voted to proceed with it. The Senate never took up the issue.
If our campaign had succeeded, there would have been one less American warhead for the Chinese to try to copy, if in fact that is what they did. (There is no evidence that they have done anything with the information they got.)
W-88 Design: "Oralloy" Secondary
The ultimate secret of the W-88 warhead, as with all nuclear bombs, is the mere fact that one kilogram of uranium, when completely fissioned, releases the energy equivalent of 18 thousand tons (18 kilotons) of TNT. Six kilograms of uranium would fit inside a can of soda pop. If the published descriptions are correct, the W-88 will fully fission about 26 kilograms of uranium, a liter and a half, or two wine bottles' worth. A softball bat made of uranium would weigh about 26 kilograms. The Hiroshima bomb reportedly had twice that much uranium-235, but it was only 2% efficient.
The efficiency of a uranium bomb is determined by two things: compression and neutron flux.
In the very earliest H-bombs of the mid-1950s, as soon as radiation implosion became part of the design, it became possible to achieve 100% efficiency of uranium fission at the center of the bomb where the pressures and the neutron flux were most intense. You can't do better than 100%. Since that time, the secondary of an H-bomb has been, in effect, a fuel tank. The warhead's yield is determined by how much uranium is packed into the secondary. The only design challenge is to make certain that a free neutron of sufficient power finds each uranium nucleus. This happens quite readily in multi-megaton bombs. Not surprisingly, by the 1970s when the W-88 warhead was being designed, high efficiencies were achievable in a smaller package as well. Miniaturization is the inevitable direction of any maturing technology.
One way to improve the neutron flux without packing a lot of bulky hydrogen into the secondary is to use uranium-235 throughout, instead of uranium-238. That makes all the neutrons count, the ones produced by fission as well as by fusion. Each fission event will start a new chain reaction, multiplying the useable neutron flux and reducing the need for fusion. Tom Cochran, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, thinks extensive use of uranium-235 is one of the features of the W-88. News accounts have described the W-88 as an "oralloy thermonuclear."
In the early days, uranium-235 was a rare commodity, but by 1955 when all three gargantuan gaseous diffusion plants were up and running, and consuming as much electricity as the entire nation of France, it started becoming less rare. We strip mined the Appalachian Mountains for coal to burn in separating uranium-235 from the more common uranium-238. In 1960, when the total U.S. stockpile yield reached its all-time high of 20,000 megatons, most of that potential explosive energy came from cheap uranium-238. The more expensive uranium-235 was probably used as spark plugs inside the cylindrical secondary and tertiary stages of large H-bombs, to heat the hydrogen after radiation implosion had supplied the compression. By the 1970s, when the W-88 was being designed, the stockpile megatonnage had dropped below 6,000, largely because of the substitution of smaller missile warheads for large bombs, and there was enough surplus uranium-235 to make a relatively wasteful use of it in the latest designs.
This use of uranium-235 in the outer shell, or pusher, of the W-88 secondary raised a curious environmental problem that was first noted with the Hiroshima bomb, Little Boy, in 1945. If uranium-235 is used as reactor fuel, the moderator can be ordinary salt or fresh water (not heavy water, or graphite as required with uranium-238), and the reactor can be quite small. Most research reactors use highly enriched fuel for this reason, including the one on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the heart of greater Boston, but that's another story.
Uranium-235 plus water equals a nuclear reactor, especially if the geometry of the metal allows the water to get between metal surfaces where neutrons can be moderated, or slowed down, as they travel from one surface to another. In theory, the hollow uranium-235 projectile of Little Boy could become a runaway boiling water reactor if it fell into the ocean. (Until John Coster-Mullen's book Atomic Bombs was self-published in 2002, all descriptions and graphic depictions of Little Boy had the large hollow uranium piece as the stationary target and a smaller cylindrical piece as the projectile. Coster-Mullen's contrary account comes from years of interviewing men of the 509th Composite Group who assembled and dropped the bomb.)
The problem with Little Boy was ignored. However, by the time of the first Polaris Submarine, the standard primary design employed a hollow plutonium shell which could theoretically fill with water and become a reactor. Because the Polaris W-47 warhead was deployed at sea, a test was done on May 11, 1960, code-named the Stardust Program. A hollow plutonium pit was filled with water in an underground tunnel at the Nevada Test Site. The pit did not go critical.
But the secondary is much more massive than the primary. When the decision was made with the W-88 to replace the uranium-238 pusher shell in the secondary with uranium-235, the boiling water reactor problem was undeniable. If the submarine sank, or a warhead was damaged and dropped into the ocean, the secondary would go critical as soon as water got inside it. Considering the damage a nuclear war is designed to cause, such safety considerations are of course trivial, but the problem was studied, anyway.
A dozen years ago a would-be whistle-blower at the Lockheed missile factory in California leaked to anti-nuclear activists and environmentalists a collage of official document fragments warning that the W-88's oralloy secondary was unsafe when deployed in a water environment.37 In fact, relatively few of the W-88 warheads were ever built, but it was a problem with the primary, not the secondary, that was cited as the official reason.
W-88 Design: Compact Primary
If the overall uranium efficiency of the W-88 secondary is, in fact, 90%, it can deliver its designed half megaton of yield, equal to thirty Hiroshima bombs, with considerably less uranium-235 than the Hiroshima bomb carried. Nonetheless, the cone-shaped warhead compartments of multiple warhead missiles are particularly restrictive of space, and the W-88 has the most powerful secondary ever to be crammed into one. It apparently won't fit inside the narrow end of its re-entry cone.
In flight, the narrow end is the front. The more usual arrangement places the heavier, more compact secondary closer to the nose, where its mass contributes to aerodynamic stability during re-entry. the lighter, more bulky primary occupies the larger space to the rear. Reversing this scheme in the W-88 causes two problems. Ballast must be placed in the tip of the nose cone to shift the center of mass forward for aerodynamic stability, and the remaining space is not sufficient for the usual bulky, insensitive high explosive charges which implode the primary. To make the primary fit into a reduced space, a more compact high explosive, which is more hazardous to handle, had to be used.
This feature of the W-88 has caused public controversy and resulted in premature cancellation of the warhead's production. Critics charged that the more powerful, but less stable high explosive used in the W-88 is a fire hazard. For this reason, among others, in 1990 the scheduled production run of 3,000 W-88 warheads was stopped at only 400, about two submarines' worth. Various fixes were discussed, but before one could be adopted environmentalists finally succeeded in shutting down the Rocky Flats plant in Boulder, Colorado, where plutonium components are fabricated for the primary stages of all American H-bombs. In 1992, the remaining 2,600 of the intended W-88 production run was canceled. You would never guess from the Cox report that the W-88 warhead, touted as our best, is a failed design that was canceled 13% into its scheduled production run.38
Although arms controllers failed to stop the funding for the D-5 missile, environmentalists were able to limit production of the W-88 warhead and force most of the D-5s to carry the less powerful W-76 warhead. Good for them. The W-88 may be a marvelous, if flawed, piece of engineering, but it's still an H-bomb, a crude, ecologically ruinous way of making holes in the ground and killing vast numbers of bystanders. It's way less than a wonderful thing, and like all H-bombs more of a liability than an asset.
The Neutron Bomb
During 1999, allegations in the Wen Ho Lee trial-by-press-release spy case expanded to include theft of other warhead designs, including the W-79 neutron bomb. The neutron bomb was a godsend to the anti-nuclear movement in the late 1970s. It was a novel attempt to use the neutrons from hydrogen fusion as direct agents of radiological warfare. The only trick was to make the explosion small enough for the neutrons to reach beyond the effects of blast and fire. The neutron bomb is routinely described as weapon which kills people, while leaving buildings intact, a description which is true only under very narrow theoretical circumstances.
Most lay persons imagine that a neutron bomb would explode without causing any damage at all to real estate. Hardly true.
An exploding neutron bomb would produce a blinding flash and an blast with the power of a thousand tons of TNT. Nearby buildings that survived being knocked down would absorb neutrons and become radioactive, for a long time. Soldiers inside tanks, who were far enough from the bomb to be protected against the blast but close enough to absorb a lethal dose of neutrons, would die within hours or days from cancer-like radiation sickness. This prospect was so revolting that public outcry stigmatized battlefield nuclear weapons of any kind. It turns out battlefield commanders didn't much like them anyway.
In 1987, Morton Halperin, who was a key member of The Progressive's legal defense team, wrote Nuclear Fallacy, a book proposing the de-nuclearization of all conventional military forces. His proposal was quietly adopted by (the first) President Bush, unilaterally. Today all battlefield nuclear weapons, including the neutron bomb, have been removed from service. The army and the surface navy are nuclear free. What exactly is it about our experience with neutron bombs that the Chinese would like to imitate?
If the Senate is really worried about other nations copying our warheads, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty would have been ratified immediately. No nation is likely to stockpile an untested H-bomb, no matter how much information its designers have garnered from spies or magazine articles. The Senate's refusal to ratify the test ban treaty calls into question the sincerity of the spy hunt. If Chinese nuclear weapons are a serious problem for the United States, why not take a simple step which places a huge obstacle in the path of all future Chinese nuclear weapons developments?
I began my adult life as a member in good standing of the warrior class, a U.S. Air Force jet pilot. I understand that culture and its potential usefulness to a civilized society, but I don't see a role for nuclear weapons. True, a nuclear weapon will destroy any fixed target whose location is known, but at the prohibitive cost of starting or escalating a nuclear war. For decades I have challenged anyone to describe a bad situation which will be improved by the detonation of a U.S. nuclear weapon. To my knowledge, there is no military predicament for which nuclear weapons are the appropriate tool. And if they can't actually be used, a smart adversary will realize that any nuclear threat is a bluff, unless we are prepared to do something colossally stupid just to prove we weren't kidding.
America is the greatest nation in history, but somehow, ten years after the end of the Cold War, we can't seem to live from one day to the next without thousands of nuclear warheads on hair-trigger alert, poised to annihilate scores of millions of civilians and poison their lands. It is not a measure of our greatness. It's a measure of how deeply we embrace violence �- ultimate, pointless, suicidal violence. We encourage the world to copy our free-market economy and our democratic institutions, but we quake in fear that "rogue" nations might copy a tenth of one percent of our nuclear deterrence. As the nation responsible for foisting these God-awful machines onto the world, America has the moral responsibility to lead the world, by example, away from Armageddon.
The reason unilateral disarmament is effectively banned from political discourse is that it would work.39 It is the only practical way to reduce the only military threat to the United States. Its logic is so compelling that it must be dismissed, ridiculed, or suppressed. The advocates of nuclear deterrence are not willing to declassify the war plans and argue their efficacy in open debate, because popular support for the system might not survive a close examination of what would actually happen when "the balloon goes up" and the "boomer" submarines launch their missiles. Secrecy hides our folly.
I once heard Daniel Ellsberg describe nuclear weapons as portable Nazi death camps. He was giving a speech before having himself arrested at the Rocky Flats plant, and he was serious about the analogy. When the word "holocaust" is overheard in a conversation, the conversants are most likely talking about the Nazi genocide program, nuclear war, or the recent civil wars in Cambodia or Central Africa. What ties those items together is the deliberate wholesale slaughter of a large population of civilians, and an effort to destroy their culture and social infrastructure. Nuclear war fits well into that definition, with the added feature that it poisons a significant portion of the earth's surface.
If industrial civilization lasts another thousand years, during all but a few of those years the complete story of the W-88 warhead and all other such devices will be available on the Internet. Such information cannot be permanently suppressed. Whenever someone invents something that works, other people will figure out how it was done.
Nonetheless, I am confident that all nuclear weapons will have been banned from the earth, and that foolproof controls will have been imposed on the critical nuclear materials. The global public consensus for this nuclear weapons abolition will be based on widespread understanding of the technology. In my opinion, these are necessary conditions for human survival, and our generation has the responsibility to make it happen.
We are finally beginning to learn what the H-bomb people were thinking in the 1950s. They were initially caught up in the excitement of the race, and later in a squabble over who deserved the credit for success, or the blame for any delay in achieving it. I suspect that future generations will study the period with a feeling of dread and disgust. They are unlikely to be eternally grateful to the people who claim to have saved the West from Communism by threatening to destroy the world. By their efforts to preserve nuclear abolition, future generations will honor, instead, the people who figured out how to drive a stake through the heart of the H-bomb.
Every story about Los Alamos eventually gets around to quoting Oppenheimer on the occasion of the world's first nuclear explosion, July 16, 1945: "I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita... 'Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.' I suppose we all thought that, one way or another." I read two English translations of the Bhagavad-Gita, obtained from Hare Krishna panhandlers in U.S. airports, and I couldn't find that line. The only reference to world destruction in the Bhagavad-Gita comes in verse thirty-two of chapter eleven, which is usually translated: "The Lord said, 'I am Time grown old to destroy the world, Embarked on the course of world annihilation.'"40
Time, not death, is the destroyer of worlds. When Oppenheimer watched the Trinity fireball rise into the New Mexico sky, what he saw was time running out. Time will eventually destroy our world. The sun will inflate and consume the earth. Before that, a comet the size of Hale-Bopp may collide with the earth, or a killer virus may sweep the planet. The only world-destroying event we have control over is nuclear Armageddon; it will come when we allow it.
Right now we have time to retake the test we failed in 1950, but we don't have forever.
Clean and Dirty H-Bombs in the Megatons per Meter Age
The Tewa shot barge, in 20 ft of water at Bikini, waiting to be blown up by Bassoon Prime, inside the large rectangular cab (right). Its twin, Bassoon, was the "humanitarian" H-bomb with all its nonessential uranium removed to reduce fallout. Bassoon had exploded on May 27, 1956, as the Zuni shot. Bassoon Prime is the dirty version, with the uranium put back in. Both devices had three stages, a primary at the bottom, a secondary in the middle, and a tertiary at the top. The diagonal light pipes measured the radiation flow time from primary to secondary, providing data to improve the weapon codes. At five megatons (333 Hiroshimas) the Bassoon Prime explosion, on July 20, was the largest of the Redwing series. Although its potential yield was several times greater, it was tested at less than full yield for environmental and public relations reasons. AEC photographs as published in Swords of Armageddon, Chuck Hansen, editor, 1995, pp V-384,5.
1. A reasonably complete set of court documents for U.S.A. vs. The Progressive, et. al. (heavily redacted), along with my research notes, is on file under my name in the National Security Archive at George Washington University, Washington, DC. My memoir of the case, The Secret that Exploded, Random House, 1981, is out of print but is available in libraries and on the Internet used book market. "The H-Bomb Secret," as published in The Progressive, is posted at: http://www.progressive.org/hbomb. On March 4, 2004, a 25th anniversary symposium on the case was held at Cardozo Law School of Yeshiva University in New York City. The proceedings were published in the Cardozo Law Review, Vol 26, No 4, March 2005. My slide show on the quest to find the secret (law review pages 1366-1378) is at https://sgp.fas.org/eprint/cardozo.html. My accompanying essay, "Born Secret," on some of the legal and political aspects of H-Bomb technology (law review pages 1401-1408), is posted separately as a .pdf file at https://sgp.fas.org/eprint/cardozo.pdf.
From A Convenient Spy; Wen Ho Lee and the Politics of Nuclear Espionage,
by Dan Stober and Ian Hoffman, Simon & Schuster, 2001.
2. For a synopsis of events in the Wen Ho Lee case, see Dan Stober's articles in the San Jose Mercury News, December 17-18, 2000 and his book, A Convenient Spy; Wen Ho Lee and the Politics of Nuclear Espionage, by Dan Stober and Ian Hoffman, Simon & Schuster, 2001.
3. Sourcebook on Atomic Energy, Third Edition, by Samuel Glasstone, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Krieger, 1979, pp. 473-477.
4. The Franck Report was published as Appendix B in Brighter than a Thousand Suns, by Robert Jungk, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1958, pp 348-360, (posted on the web at www.fas.org/sgp/eprint/franck.html).
5. On the letterhead of Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, Princeton, NJ, January 22, 1947, (posted on the web at www.fas.org/sgp/eprint/einstein.html).
6. April 16, 1954. In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer, USAEC, MIT Press, 1971, p 251.
7. Freeman Dyson, Weapons and Hope, Harper and Row, 1984.
8. "Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Secrecy," Task Force Chairman Frederick Seitz, Office of the Director of Defense Science Research and Engineering, July 1, 1970, (www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/dsbrep.html). Since World War II, there have been half a dozen major studies and numerous periodic reports on government secrecy. The 1997 "Report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy," chaired by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, is the most recent to call for more openness (sgp.fas.org/library/moynihan/index.html). Its Appendix A gives a history of government secrecy.
9. Our understanding of this point was confirmed as the case developed. Born Secret: The H-Bomb, The Progressive Case and National Security, A. DeVolpi, G.E. Marsh, T.A. Postol, and G.S. Stanford, Pergamon, 1981, pp. 132-8, 258-9. The "classified at birth" doctrine was explained in "Plaintiff's Statement of Points and Authorities," March 8, 1979.
10. Joint Reply Brief of Appellants Knoll, Day, and Morland, in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, filed August 31, 1979, quoted passage released for public filing September 4, 1980, p. 45-6.
11. Ibid., quoted passage released for public filing September 24, 1979, p. 47.
12. Posted at https://sgp.fas.org//eprint/bethe-kidder.html
13. Transcript, September 13, 2000, p. 58 (irp.fas.org/ops/ci/whl_plea_transcript.html).
14. Richard L. Garwin, "Why China Won't Build U.S. Warheads," Arms Control Today, April/May 1999 (www.armscontrol.org/act/1999_04-05/rgam99.asp?print). Dan Stober, "Shrinking the H-Bomb, Miniaturization Key to Warheads," San Jose Mercury News, April 8, 1999, p. 1A. William J. Broad, "Spies Versus Sweat, The Debate Over China's Nuclear Advance," New York Times, September 7, 1999, p.1. The first realistic depiction of a spherical secondary appeared in U.S. News and World Report, July 31, 1955, and was reprinted in the 1999 Congressional Cox Committee report. Sam Cohen said it gives away the secret. "Check Your Facts: Cox Report Bombs," by Sam Cohen, Insight Magazine, v.15 no. 29. August 9, 1999. Cohen describes himself as the inventor, in 1958, of the neutron bomb. Concerning the W-87 diagram in the 1999 Cox Report, Cohen complains, "Why would the United States... [publish] a detailed, classified design of one of its most advanced models in an unclassified congressional report?" He describes the diagram as "an extremely useful blueprint... The data are missing, but any competent nuclear physicist could use this schematic to work back to the actual design." According to Steve Aftergood, of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, Cohen later acknowledged that he had failed to see the copyright notice which clearly identified the W-87 diagram as a reprint from a 1995 issue of U.S. News and World Report. See Aftergood's Secrecy & Government Bulletin, no. 80, August, 1999 (www.fas.org/sgp/bulletin/sec80.html).
15. David Wise, "Inside the Chinese Spy Mystery," Gentleman's Quarterly, November 1999, p. 293.
16. Kenneth C. Bass III, "Secrecy on Trial," Washington Post, Outlook Section, Sunday, September 17, 2000, p. B7. The document which was actually cited by the government in its decision to drop the case is the Hansen letter, posted at https://sgp.fas.org/eprint/percy.pdf.
17. (1) Joe Manning, "H-Bomb's Secrets are Few," Milwaukee Sentinel, April 30, 1979, p. 1, and "H-bomb Material Readily Accessible," May 1, p. 1; (2) "The Secret of Laser Fusion," Fusion (by the editors), March/April 1979; and (3) Uwe Parpart, "Implications of the Rudakov Disclosures: The Soviet Union is on the Verge of a Strategic Weapons Breakthrough," New Solidarity, October 15, 1976. The New Solidarity article, which predated mine by two years, but which I had not seen, featured a diagram showing separate stages inside a common radiation case. The text explained the concept of radiation implosion. It was mailed to me anonymously from the Naval Weapons Lab in Washington after The Progressive case became national news. Rosengren and Grayson argued that it should not moot the case because the author thought radiation implosion was a new development that would put the Soviet Union ahead of the United States and because the article contained nonsense about the use of anti-matter in H-bombs. They made other arguments about it which are still classified.
18. The 700-page Cox Committee report, which was released to the public in May of 1999 but available to Congress earlier in the year, tells of an unrecruited "walk-in" in Taiwan in 1995 who offered to spy on China for the United States and presented a Chinese warhead design in lieu of a resume. The similarity of this design to the U.S. W-88 warhead triggered the hunt for a spy in the U.S. who could have provided China with the information. Wen Ho Lee became the chief suspect. The CIA now believes the volunteer spy was a "directed walk-in" who was working for China and only pretending to offer to work for the United States. He was not hired for fear that he would be a double agent. (spp.fas.org/starwars/congress/1999_r/cox/ch2bod.htm)
19. Declaration of Walter Goad in USA vs. Wen Ho Lee, July 21, 2000, (irp.fas.org/ops/ci/goad.html)
20. Declaration of Harold Agnew in USA vs. Wen Ho Lee, May 27, 2000, (irp.fas.org/ops/ci/agnew.html).
21. To make them seem more valuable, weapon codes are sometimes called "legacy codes," a phrase I find as offensive as "stockpile stewardship." It reminds me of the March 16, 1962, letter from Stanislav Ulam to AEC chairman Glenn Seaborg, in which Ulam complained about being slighted in Edward Teller's book. Ulam identifies the book as "entitled, I think, �Aftermath of Hiroshima.'" The actual title is "Legacy of Hiroshima." Ulam may have subconsciously choked on the word legacy, which implies an asset rather than a calamity. I think aftermath is probably a better word than legacy for both Hiroshima and weapon codes. The whole business represents a dimming of the human prospect, and I would rather not put nice names on it.
22. Harold Agnew, Wall Street Journal, May 17, 1999, Letter to the Editor, p. A27 (irp.fas.org/ops/ci/agnewwsj.html)
23. Chuck Hansen, The Swords of Armageddon, 1995 (www.uscoldwar.com)
24. Carey Sublette, "The High Energy Weapons Archive, A Guide to Nuclear Weapons," (http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/). "Nuclear Weapons Frequently Asked Questions" is at the bottom of the home page.
25. See Jeremy J. Stone, Every Man Should Try: Adventures of a Public Interest Activist, March 1999, Public Affairs (New York).
An editor at Atlantic Monthly, who is married to my high school sweetheart, had nice things to say about my manuscript when he turned it down. A year after it was first posted here, a much shortened version of this article was eventually published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November/December 2000, Vol. 56, No. 6, pp. 51-55.
26. (1) "Thermonuclear Weapons Program Chronology," Atomic Energy Commission, early 1950; (2) "Policy and Progress in the H-Bomb Program, a Chronology of Leading Events," Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, January 1, 1953; and (3) "Comments Concerning the H-Bomb Development," Department of Defense Military Liaison Committee to the Atomic Energy Commission, April 21, 1954.
27. Hans A. Bethe, "Memorandum on the History of Thermonuclear Program," May 28, 1952, Assembled by C. Hansen on 5/12/90 from three different versions, declassified with deletions in 1990 (nuke.fas.org/guide/usa/nuclear/bethe-52.htm); and "Observations on the Development of the H-Bomb," 1954, fully declassified in 1980, published in Los Alamos Science, 1982, and reprinted as Appendix II in The Advisors, Oppenheimer, Teller, and the Superbomb, by Herbert York, Stanford University Press, 1976, 1989, with a historical essay by Hans A. Bethe (nuke.fas.org/guide/usa/nuclear/bethe-54.htm). The same story from the Russian perspective is told in German A. Goncharov, "American and Soviet H-bomb Development Programmes: Historical Background," Physics-Uspekhi 39 (10) 1033-1044 (1996), translated by A.V. Malyavkin (nuke.fas.org/guide/russia/nuke/goncharov-h-bomb.pdf). A different translation, by James Wood, was published in Physics Today, Vol. 49, No. 11, November 1996. These three documents are the best insider accounts of H-bomb technical development.
28. Chuck Hansen, The Swords of Armageddon, 1995, pp. III-38,39, for Alarm Clock fission.
29. Quoted passage is from the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy Report cited in Reference 28, above, p. 65. This key passage is still missing from the version available from the Department of Energy Archives, but Chuck Hansen has restored it by comparing differently censored versions.
30. The term "channel filler" was declassified in 1998, and the idea behind spark plugs and fissile pushers was declassified in 1991 with the statement, "fissile... materials are present in some secondaries." (Items V,C,1,f and V,C,2,o, respectively, in sgp.fas.org/othergov/doe/rdd-7.html) However, in Chuck Hansen's historical document collection, in places where I would expect these concepts to be discussed, the text is still deleted. On September 20, 1979, a few days after the government dropped its censorship case against The Progressive, Edward Teller made explicit reference to the spark plug, "There was no question in my mind how the super should be made. We needed a primary, we needed a secondary, we needed a spark plug. The secondary had to have cylindrical symmetry because that was the symmetry natural to the process. The energy transfer had to go by radiation in order to make it as close to simultaneous as possible. All this was clear to me." From Stanley A. Blumberg and Louis G. Panos, Edward Teller: Giant of the Golden Age of Physics, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1990, p. 130.
31. Articles on fallout by Ralph Lapp in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: (1) "Radioactive Fallout," 11:2, February 1955, p. 45; (2) "Fallout and Candor," 11:5, May 1955, p. 170; (3) "Radioactive Fallout III," 11:6, June 1955, p. 206; (4) "Global Fallout," 11:9, November 1955, p.339; (5) "The �Humanitarian' H-Bomb," 12:7, September 1956, p. 261; (6) "Strontium Limits in Peace and War," 12:8, October 1956, p. 287; (7) "Sunshine and Darkness," 15:1, January 1959, p. 27; (8) "Local Fallout Radioactivity," 15:5, May 1959, p. 181; (9) "Fallout Hearings: Second Round," 15:9, September 1959, p. 302; (10) "What is the Price of Nuclear War?" 15:10, October 1959, p. 340, letter p. 349; (11) "Rockefeller's Civil Defense Program," 16:4, April 1960, p. 134.
32. Strauss statement on July 19, 1956, quoted in Hansen, The Swords of Armageddon, 1995, p. V-220.
33. Hansen 1995, pp. V-120-238, for the Bassoon device and test, and pp. VI-379-382 for the Mk-41. In Ralph Lapp's fifth article on fallout, reference 30 above, he described the fission of U-238 as the third stage of a three stage device: fission, fusion, and more fission. He was correct in principle, and he may have heard that Bassoon was a three stage device. However, he did not know the three stages were separate and that each stage � primary, secondary, and tertiary � employed the fission, fusion, fission sequence as it detonated in turn. There was some confusion on this point in the public literature for the next dozen years or so.
34. Carson Mark, letter dated April 20, 1954, to General K.E. Fields, USAEC, quoted in Hansen, 1995, p. V-15.
35. Samuel Glasstone, Editor, The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, USAEC, June 1957, paragraph 9:97, p. 428. The Glasstone interview is reported in my book, The Secret That Exploded, 1981, p. 100.
36. Ibid, p. 93.
37. Posted at https://sgp.fas.org/eprint/w-88sand.htm.
38. Hansen, 1995, pp. VII-428-434.
39. After the Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, two former Cold Warriors called for unilateral nuclear disarmament: Paul Nitze, "A Threat Mostly to Ourselves," New York Times, October 28, 1999, op-ed; and Stansfield Turner, "A Way Out of Nuclear Stalemate," Washington Post, November 1, 1999, p. A27. Unfortunately, such sentiments are a luxury of retirement; people still in power dare not broach such ideas.
40. The Bhagavad-Gita, 11:32, translation by J.A.B. Van Buitenen, introduction by Alexandre Piatigorsky, Element Books, Rockport MA, 1997. Of the six translations I have seen, only one translates this passage as Oppenheimer did. In all the others, the word "kalah," or "kalo" in the line "kalo �smi loka-ksaya-krt pravrttah," is translated as time not death. Generally, where the word death appears in English translation, such as 9:3, 9:19, 10:34, and 13:9, the Sanskrit word is mrtyuh, not kalah. Obviously, time and death are related, as in John Maynard Keynes' famous statement, "In the long run, we are all dead."