Selected readings on the arms industry

Military / Arms Industry

Broad, William J. Star Warriors. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985. 245 pages.
In this well-written and judicious book, science reporter William J. Broad chronicles his week inside the nation’s most notorious “skunk works,” or crash military R & D project: the mostly-young “Star Wars” team based at California’s Livermore Laboratory. The Livermore facility is the brainchild of superhawk Edward Teller, who helped develop the H-bomb and later drove philosopher-scientist Robert Oppenheimer from public life. Shunned by his colleagues, Teller cultivated powerful friends among right- wing corporations and think tanks. Over the years, a steady flow of money from rent-a-car magnate John Hertz enabled Teller to recruit Livermore’s pallid army of young physics and math wizards. In 1982, beer baron Joseph Coors and other Heritage Foundation contacts got Teller access to President Reagan, who bought Teller’s pitch for “Star Wars” as an impenetrable high- tech “Astrodome” covering the whole country.
 
Working from unclassified materials, Broad questions the viability of the “Star Wars” concept. (His doubts have been amply confirmed; Teller, we now know, faked his optimistic claims and figures.) Broad also analyzes the complicated motives that can trap idealistic young scientists in Livermore’s golden Gulag. — Steve Badrich
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Broad, William J. Teller’s War: The Top-Secret Story Behind the Star Wars Deception. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. 350 pages.
This is William Broad’s second book on the Strategic Defense Initiative. His first book, “Star Warriors,” looked at some of the young scientists working at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which does research and design for nuclear weapons. This book focuses on Edward Teller, the father of the H-bomb. Teller was 73 when Reagan assumed office, but he still ruled Livermore unofficially through the power of his reputation and personality.
In 1981, Teller was pessimistic about the chances of avoiding another world war, particularly if the Soviets beat the U.S. in the development of an antimissile defense. Teller’s solution was to escalate the arms race further, and develop our own defense. The X-ray laser became his new passion. After convincing a gullible Reagan, Teller spent $25 billion on one of the biggest boondoggles in the history of science. Even if it had worked, many felt that it would have merely increased the risk of war.

When George Bush came into office, Teller abandoned the X-ray laser in favor of “Brilliant Pebbles,” an equally unworkable concept that at least had the virtue of being non-nuclear. By now some of the best scientists have left Livermore Labs, which the Soviets have always called the “City of Death.” That, presumably, makes Edward Teller the “Father of Death.”
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Brogan, Patrick and Zarca, Albert. Deadly Business: Sam Cummings, Interarms, and the Arms Trade. New York: W.W. Norton, 1983. 384 pages.
Interarms (formerly Interarmco and officially the International Armaments Corporation) is the world’s largest private arms dealer, and once had enough weapons in their warehouses to equip forty U.S. divisions. The sole owner is Sam Cummings, who got his start working with the CIA to procure weapons for the 1954 coup in Guatemala. By now he has left the spook biz far behind: “I’m glad to be out of it, and I prefer more humdrum deals. They’ll throw you on the chopping block well before they throw themselves, and in the end they’re just as dumb as you and I.”
Interarms still has facilities in Alexandria, Virginia, where the first warehouse began in 1955, but since 1960 Sam Cummings has resided in Monte Carlo with a country place at Villars in the Swiss Alps. His major warehouse is in Manchester, England (Cummings finds the British arms-export regulations to be less vague than American regulations). About 20 percent of his exports from Manchester are sporting guns, and the rest go to foreign governments and armies. Whether Interarms still has CIA connections is open to question, and Cummings seems to enjoy such speculation. It probably gives him a slight competitive edge when dealing with Third World governments who wouldn’t mind a piece of the CIA’s covert-action largesse.
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Fitzgerald, Frances. Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. 592 pages.
This is an extremely-detailed study of the evolution of the Strategic Defense Initiative during the Reagan years. With the resurrection of this program under the George W. Bush administration, it becomes more than just another book by a prize-winning historian. Instead, it provides clues that help us read between the lines of current Pentagon press releases.
The first clue is that all the experts conceded in the 1980s that there was no such thing as a “shield” against MAD, or “mutually assured destruction.” They pretended that there was after the administration stumbled into a PR coup. In the early 1980s, a massive global nuclear freeze movement was underway, and Reagan took a dive in the polls. When he naively began talking about a “shield” as an antidote to MAD, his numbers went up and the freeze movement died down. He kept talking, and aides scurried to make it a reality. That was Star Wars in a nutshell. The second clue is even more relevant today. It turns out that what worried the Soviet Union then, and Russia and China today, is that the U.S. is the only country in a position to develop space-based weaponry. These will be “defensive” in public rhetoric, but offensive in reality (just reprogram some chips). Someday, lasers from space may police the world on behalf of the U.S. and its elite transnationalist clientele.
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Goodwin, Jacob. Brotherhood of Arms: General Dynamics and the Business of Defending America. New York: Times Books, 1985. 419 pages.
In 1984 General Dynamics sold nearly $6 billion worth of products to the Defense Department: M-1 tanks to the Army, nuclear-powered submarines and cruise missiles to the Navy, and F-16 fighters and cruise missiles to the Air Force. It was the third largest defense contractor. In 1986 about $146 billion, or $2,400 for every family in the U.S., went from the U.S. treasury into the coffers of the nation’s defense contractors. Despite a return on equity of 37 percent in 1984, GD paid federal income taxes for only one year since 1972. A former general manager of General Dynamics, Panagiotis Takis Veliotis, was indicted on kickback, fraud, conspiracy, perjury, and racketeering charges in 1983. He split to Greece and began cooperating with U.S. investigators, providing them with a slew of documents and tapes of telephone conversations he had with other GD executives during the past decade. This book was published in 1985, the same year that GD chairman David Lewis was forced to retire, and U.S. taxpayers learned about the $9,606 Allen wrench and other wonders of Pentagon procurement.
An update: William Anders, GD’s chief from 1991-1993, sold off three billion in GD assets and slashed 63,000 jobs. But all was not lost — in that period Anders personally pocketed $44.3 million in earnings and stock benefits, becoming the highest-paid executive in the defense industry.
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Grant, Dale. Wilderness of Mirrors: The Life of Gerald Bull. Scarborough, Ontario: Prentice-Hall Canada, 1991. 209 pages.
Gerald Bull was a brilliant scientist who specialized in the physics of giant cannons. He received a doctorate at the University of Toronto at the age of 22, and on March 22, 1990, at the age of 62, he was assassinated in Brussels. Most observers believe that Mossad was responsible, because at the time of his assassination Bull was building a super gun for Iraq.
Bull’s career as a scientist included classified work for both Canada and the U.S. defense establishment. One of his research facilities straddled the U.S.-Canadian border, and another was located on the island of Antigua. Gerald Bull became a U.S. citizen, and his Space Research Corporation (SRC) evolved into a multinational arms-manufacturing and arms-dealing network that was based in Brussels. Bull got into trouble over transfers to South Africa in violation of the international arms embargo, and spent several months in a U.S. federal prison in 1980-81.

One of Bull’s close associates was Gen. Arthur Trudeau, who was chief of U.S. army intelligence from 1953-55 before he retired from the army in 1962. SRC had other spooky connections, and apparently did some work for the CIA. Author Dale Grant presents evidence that one aspect of the CIA’s policy in Angola in the 1970s involved secretly supplying arms to South Africa.
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Hartung, William D. And Weapons For All. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. 341 pages.
According to William Hartung, a professional researcher, the problem can be traced back to a little-noticed Nixon speech in 1969. A new policy was inaugurated that cranked up the volume of U.S. arms transfers to foreign regimes from less than $2 billion per year in the late 1960s to $17 billion per year by the mid-1970s. During the 1970s, U.S. companies sold to the Chilean junta and to the Shah of Iran. In the 1980s it was Stinger missiles for the mujahaddin in Afghanistan (the CIA budgeted $55 million to try and buy them back in 1993), and arms for drug-running contras and secret missiles for Iran. Prior to the Gulf War, we armed Iraq. Flushed with our Gulf success, the Pentagon sent experts to the 1991 air show in Paris to plug U.S. weapons. There they rubbed shoulders with State Department officials, arms industry executives, and corporate lobbyists.
On occasion Congress has tried to impose some control with arms export laws, but nothing has worked. By 1993, the U.S. had entered into agreements to supply over $31 billion in arms and training to 140 nations. The author, writing after Clinton’s first year, is already skeptical of White House rhetoric about curtailing the defense industry. (By now it’s clear that this skepticism was justified. One question now, in late 2001, is whether the war against terrorism will affect the situation one way or the other.)
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Kaufman, Richard F. The War Profiteers. New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1970. 282 pages.
This book was written during the Vietnam war by Richard F. Kaufman, then an assistant to Senator William Proxmire (Kaufman was last spotted at the Woodrow Wilson Center). Here he soberly analyzes the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned against, and in the end it becomes clear why Vietnam went on for as long as it did — it was in the financial interest of powerful people to keep it going. By the last chapter one is convinced that neither Congress nor the President has the power needed to curtail military spending in a meaningful manner, even assuming that they wanted to.
The contracting and procurement system, nominally designed to protect the public interest, has been utterly corrupted. Pentagon officers cannot wait for early retirement, at which point they get hired by defense firms. In 1969, over two thousand retired officers were employed by the top 100 contractors — triple the number when Eisenhower made his farewell speech. The laws against conflicts of interest are toothless, and there is enough money at stake to make sure they stay that way. Cost overruns, along with zero accountability for weapons that don’t work, are built into the system with a wink and a nod, if not in writing. If Vietnam had not been conveniently available to prime the procurement pump, it’s probable that some other war would have been invented to take its place.
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Rich, Ben R. and Janos, Leo. Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1994. 370 pages.
In a hangar at the Burbank, California airport during the Cold War, Lockheed’s super-secret, windowless facility went by the name of “Skunk Works.” Ben Rich arrived in 1954 as an engineer, succeeded Clarence “Kelly” Johnson as director in 1975, and retired in 1991. Rich’s first assignment was the CIA’s U-2 spy plane. This was followed by the SR-71 Blackbird, a plane that broke records for speed and altitude. His crowning achievement was the F-117 stealth fighter. Essentially undetectable on enemy radar, this fighter proved effective in laser-guided bombing runs during the Gulf War. Rich was assisted in this autobiography by co-author Leo Janos, who also helped with the autobiography of test pilot Chuck Yeager.
This book is not for those who are interested in the dirty laundry of the Cold War. Rich is an engineer and manager, and doesn’t pretend to be a geopolitical strategist. His book is useful primarily as aviation history, and as a window on the defense industry, with its problems of procurement and over-classification. Skunk Works employees were given the freedom to turn out some impressive engineering over the years. Rich notes that the trend these days is toward increasing supervision and bureaucracy. U.S. corporations should follow the Skunk Works model, he feels, to maximize their capacity for innovation and better compete in the global economy.
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Sampson, Anthony. The Arms Bazaar. New York: Bantam Books, 1978. 401 pages.
“The Arms Bazaar” is his critical history of international arms merchants. Beginning with founders like Nobel and Krupp, Sampson works forward through the postwar “military-industrial complex” to our contemporaries who have turned Lebanon (and now Bosnia) into arms marts, and laboratories. Along the way, Sampson details the subterfuge, bribery, and power politics that inevitably shadow the arms trade. Sampson emphasizes the difficulties of controlling this industry. But he acknowledges that “the ordinary citizen” is right to lump the arms trade in with the slave trade, and be appalled at both.
The son of a research scientist, Oxford-educated journalist Anthony Sampson writes elegant and exhaustively-researched books about powerful and often secretive elite groups: South Africa’s white leadership, Britain’s ossified elites, a multinational pirate corporation, the world oil industry, the international arms trade, international bankers. Without truckling, Sampson is able to get far enough inside such circles to show us how the world looks through their eyes — while also providing a wealth of information that makes independent judgment possible.

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