Obama and the Military – Industrial – Scientific Complex

Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address as president 48 years ago is famous for his warning of the rise of a “military-industrial complex” in the United States. In fact, the original draft of the speech warned not only of a “military-industrial complex” but of the “military-industrial-scientific complex.” Only because of the plea of Eisenhower’s science advisor, James Killian, was the word “scientific” eliminated.

The “military-industrial-scientific complex” was the far more accurate description of the complex of vested interests manipulating the U.S. then—and now. As the incoming president, Barack Obama, draws from this federal scientific establishment for appointments, the warning needs to be sounded again.

Obama has named as his secretary of energy Dr. Steven Chu, a physicist and director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a staunch advocate of nuclear power—typical of the sentiment of those in the national nuclear laboratory system. At his confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Dr. Chu declared that nuclear power “is going to be an important part of our energy mix.” He also spoke for an $18.5 billion loan guarantee program for new nuclear power plants.

As his science advisor, Obama has appointed physicist John Holdren, who in 1970 “started my career working on nuclear fusion” at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, he noted in a speech last year. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is where the hydrogen bomb, based on fusion, was developed. But, said Dr. Holdren in his January 17, 2008 talk on “Meeting the Climate-Change Challenge,” he “decided” that fusion “was not going to work by the time I died” in terms of non-military use. So he “started looking at approaches to meet our energy needs that could help more quickly.” He has long considered fission, how atomic bombs and nuclear power plants work, as a source of energy particularly to deal with global warming. This despite the overall “nuclear cycle”—which includes uranium mining and milling, enrichment, fuel fabrication and disposal of radioactive waste—having significant greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming.

Dr. Holdren, although he moved on to teaching positions at the University of California at Berkeley and Harvard and the directorship of the Woods Hole Research Center, remained “an active consultant until 1994” to Lawrence Livermore, stated a press release issued by Woods Hole upon his nomination by Obama last month as science advisor. (For more on Holdren see Jeffrey St. Clair’s profile of the scientist and his promotion of nuclear power in Born Under a Bad Sky.)

Eisenhower in the January 17, 1961 address declared: “In the council of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

And although allowing the removal of “scientific,” he then went on in the speech with other words on the issue. He said: “Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent dates. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the federal government. Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists and laboratories.”

“In the same fashion,” he continued, “the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity…The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.”

Eisenhower warned: “Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposing danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite.”

The system of U.S. national laboratories which grew out of the crash program of World War II to build atomic bombs, the Manhattan Project, was—and is—the base for much of the scientific establishment about which Eisenhower was concerned.

With the war over, the scientists, engineers and corporate contractors at the  facilities that had sprung up continued to build atomic bombs, thousands of them, and then came the drive to build an even more lethal nuclear weapon: the hydrogen bomb. But nuclear weapons don’t lend themselves to commercial spin-off. What else could be done, they asked, with nuclear technology to perpetuate the jobs and contracts which began with the Manhattan Project during the war? After the end of World War II, the Manhattan Project was turned into the Atomic Energy Commission. Under it, and at the former Manhattan Project laboratories the commission took over and the new laboratories it built, the push was on for all sorts of other things nuclear: nuclear power plants, food irradiation, nuclear-powered airplanes and spacecraft, atomic devices for excavation including their use to create harbors—anything to bring more activity and money to the scientific vested interests established during the war.

David E. Lillienthal, the first chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, used words similar to those of Eisenhower in a series of lectures in 1963 at Princeton University and in a book published that year, Change, Hope, and the Bomb.

Lillienthal said: “The classic picture of the scientist as a creative individual, a man obsessed, working alone through the night, a man in a laboratory pursuing an idea—this has changed. Now scientists are ranked in platoons. They are the organization men. In many cases, the independent and humble search for new truths about nature has become confused with the bureaucratic impulse to justify expenses and see that next year’s budget is bigger than last’s.”

He spoke about the “elaborate and even luxurious [national] laboratories that have grown up at Oak Ridge, Argonne, Brookhaven” and the push to use nuclear devices for “blowing out harbors, making explosions underground to produce steam, and so on.” They demonstrated, he said, “how far scientists and administrators will go to try to establish a nonmilitary use” for nuclear technology.

In Dr. Steven Chu, Obama chose as his energy secretary someone who has long been known for promoting nuclear power. “Nuclear has to be a necessary part of the portfolio,” he declared in a 2008 speech. “The fear of radiation shouldn’t even enter into this.” At his confirmation hearing this week, he spoke of how nuclear power produces purportedly “carbon-free” energy. Dr. Chu joined with other national laboratory directors in 2008 in a statement titled “A Sustainable Energy Future: The Essential Role of Nuclear Energy.”

He will have a key role in charting the energy future of the United States in his new role as head of the Department of Energy, an agency of 15,000 employees which runs the national nuclear laboratory system. The Department of Energy was given control of the national laboratories after the Atomic Energy Commission was dismantled in 1974 because, determined Congress, it was in conflict of interest having the power of both promoting and regulating nuclear power. The Department of Energy was given the nuclear promotional role and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission formed to regulate nuclear technology (very poorly, as it has turned out).

Dr. Chu’s Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory was an original laboratory of the Manhattan Project and then called the Radiation Laboratory. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, at which Dr. Holdren worked, was set up in 1952 as an offshoot of Lawrence Berkeley—its establishment spearheaded by Dr. Edward Teller as he sought to develop a fusion weapon, the hydrogen bomb. Essentially, he was given his own national laboratory to do that. Dr. Teller became the long-time director of Lawrence Livermore. Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore, both in California, are named after Ernest Orlando Lawrence who had been director of the Radiation Laboratory.

An extensive report on Dr. Holdren and nuclear power during the Clinton years was done by Jeffrey St. Clair in CounterPunch, titled “Nuclear Saviors: Kyoto, Gore and the Atomic Lobby. ” St. Clair describes how Dr. Holdren was “tapped” by then Vice President “Gore and Clinton’s science advisor Jack Gibbons to head a task force on energy and climate policy as part of the Presidential Commission on Science and Technology. Holdren’s panel was well-stocked with allies of the nuclear lobby…With this roster of advisors, it’s not surprising that Holdren’s report largely parrots the line advanced by the Nuclear Energy Institute [the main nuclear industry trade group], calling for increased research and development subsidies for fusion and fission, export of U.S. nuclear technology and the creation of a new Nuclear Energy Research Institute to underwrite ‘new reactor designs with high-efficiency, lower-cost and improved safety to compete in the global market.’” On fusion, “Holdren and his gang” recommended $280 million in “fusion research, a proven waste of money in terms of energy production.” The scheme, said the piece, was to “funnel fusion energy research money to places like Lawrence Livermore Lab and its mammoth National Ignition Facility.”

Dr. Holdren’s appointment is being applauded by nuclear advocate Rod Adams on his “Atomic Insights Blog” . It “provides one more reason for believing that the second Atomic Age is gaining momentum and will soon be a self-evident reality,” says Adams.

The science advisor in the eight years of the administration of George W. Bush also has national nuclear laboratory ties. Dr. John H. Marburger, III is a physicist and former director of Brookhaven National Laboratory. In November, he was back at that laboratory located on Long Island giving speeches on “science policy” including one titled “Science and Money” and a second “Science and Politics” in which he discussed in a lecture hall full of Brookhaven National Laboratory scientists “how,” he explained, “government organizes itself to take advantage of science and how scientists organize themselves to take advantage of government.” Video of the Marburger speeches is available at http://www.bnl.gov/video/video_list.asp?show=lectures

If Obama wants to think “outside the box,” the appointments of Chu and Holdren don’t make it, as does, for example, his consideration of CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta for surgeon general. Obama is pulling, most conventionally, from the scientific establishment in placing Chu and Holdren in top positions.

If President Obama—seeing the light as Eisenhower and Lillienthal finally did—ever got ready to warn about the “military-industrial-scientific complex,” would science advisor Holdren, following Eisenhower’s science advisor Killian, also plead with him to eliminate the word “scientific?” And how otherwise will he attempt to sway Obama?

Meanwhile, CLEAN, a movement of state and local organizations and individuals seeking to have the U.S. government promote the use of safe, clean, renewable energy technologies, has organized a “national call-in day to the White House” on January 21st, Obama’s first day in office.

“American energy policy is overly influenced or outright controlled by the major, non-renewable energy providers—Coal, Nuclear, Oil—and not by the United States citizenry or for our common good,” says CLEAN on its website. “This energy policy and the political climate that enables it has created a reliance on fossil fuels that now endangers our health, environment, security, and economic prosperity. CLEAN will advance this new energy future by educating and coordinating the citizenry to exercise its own power and influence and reclaim its rightful role in democratic self-determination.”For more information, go to CLEAN’s website at http://theclean.org or the website of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (http://www.nirs.org) which is participating in the initiative and whose executive director, Michael Mariotte, comments: “We want to make it known that the American people are saying yes to renewables, yes to energy efficiency…and no to nuclear power.”

KARL GROSSMAN is professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury and author of books involving NASA including The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat To Our Planet and writer and narrator of television programs among them Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens (www.envirovideo.com).





Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, and is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet, and the Beyond Nuclear handbook, The U.S. Space Force and the dangers of nuclear power and nuclear war in space. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.