tv Book TV After Words CSPAN September 28, 2013 10:00pm-11:01pm EDT
and they wrote that out of the context of the experience of all the funerals and wakes that i went to as mayor of the city of new york for police officers and firefighters and rescue workers and people who worked for the city and i never realized the importance of that lesson or the magnitude of it until after the horrible events of september 11. >> rosa parks and martin luther king jr. and inspired me to find a way. i was so inspired that in 1956 at the age of 16 with some of my brothers and sisters and cousins we went down to the public library in the little town of sure alabama trying to get a library cards trying to check out some books and we were told that the library was for whites
only and not for. i never went back to that library until july 5, 1998 for a book signing of my book walking with the wind. up next on booktv "after words" with guest host lynn davis director of the rand corporation's washington office. this week's eric schlosser and his latest book "command and control" nuclear weapons, the damascus accident and the illusion of safety. in it the author of fast food nation argues even the most unlikely of assets with nuclear weapons can happen easier than
we think. the program is about an hour. >> host: welcome. eric, here is the book. it's a fantastic cover. >> guest: that is true. >> host: that it is 600 pages. >> guest: a lot of that is footnotes. >> host: say four or 500 regular pages so tell us in a couple of words what your reader needs to take away from your book. >> the book tells a story. it tells a story of a nuclear weapons accident in damascus arkansas that occurred in 1980 and i use that story, that narrative as a way of looking at the management of our nuclear weapons really since the first nuclear device -- device was invented and i hope to remind readers that these weapons are out there and they
are still capable of being used and there is probably no more important thing that our government does then manage them because these are the most dangerous machines ever built and i think this subject has fallen off the radar quite a bit since the end of the cold war. >> host: so let's talk about the story. you are telling a story from the ground up. you chose the titan two missile explosions so why that particular explosion rather than many other incidents that you catalog and the book lacks. >> guest: my interest in writing about nuclear weapons was sparked -- i spent time with the air force after i finish writing my book fast food nation and one of the officers told me a story of the damascus accident. he had been in a missile launch and i thought it was an extraordinary story. i had never heard of it. i could not believe what
happened and the more i learned about it the more it seemed like it was a very good way to look at this much larger theme of nuclear weapons about our strategy for using them and about our management of them. it's a story in which a seemingly trivial event, as someone drops a tool that leads to a potential catastrophe. the dropping of the tool damages and intercontinental ballistic missile and creates a situation where the missile might explode and in this case the missile have the most powerful nuclear warhead the united states has ever deployed on a ballistic missile so it was quite a story and originally i thought the book would be relatively short and i was just going to tell that story but the more i learned the story got bigger and bigger because i wrote another narrative about the effort to keep nuclear weapons safe during accidents in another narrative
about the effort to control them from the command and control point of view. i hate to turn the tables on you but where were you when this missile exploded in what do you remember of it? >> host: i remembered the explosion but i was in the government and didn't have any responsibility for it. there are some nuclear accidents that i have worried about for many years in my career so let's explore a little bit what you have learned about those risks because in the case of the titan iv example and in the cases of all these other mishaps no nuclear weapon has actually exploded. >> you no nuclear weapon has detonated. some nuclear weapons have exploded and spread plutonium which is not a good thing but not as bad as the detonation. the book is a critique of a lot of the management of nuclear weapons but at the same time it
recognizes that enormous technical ingenuity, great organizational skills and a huge amount of personal courage and bravery are responsible for the fact that we have never had an accidental nuclear detonation. >> host: so you don't think there is luck? >> guest: and there is lot. if you think about the fact that we have manufactured 70,000 nuclear weapons and we have never had one detonated accidentally that's incredible management. we have never lost one. that's incredible inventory control. we never lost one to other people. but in this business anything less than perfect is unacceptable and there is no question that we have come close to having detonations on american soil and the damascus
accident is only one of the incidents. another accident that i wrote about was the b-52 bomber that broke apart over north carolina a few days after john f. kennedy's and not duration and that weapon came very close. >> host: we certainly agree we want to be 100%. >> guest: yes so i think enormous praise and credit must go to the weapons designers. must go to the ordinary servicemen who i really try to write about and there have been hundreds of books written about nuclear weapons. few of them have been written about the day in and day out management and there were people who risk their lives and lost their lives trying to prevent nuclear catastrophes. at the same time there is an inherent risk in having nuclear weapons that are capable of being used quickly and as long as weapons are maintained in
that status there is going to be the possibility of one going off when it is not supposed to. >> host: so you tell us the history of efforts to make the weapons themselves safer. and you then talk about the fact that in the past many of these weapons were what you call alert alert -- that is they were ready to go. lots has changed since into the cold war and you are the first to say that so do you think -- it's hard to judge but how worried should i be today about the possibility of a nuclear accident? >> guest: there is no question that the weapons that the united states has today are far more safe than the ones that we had played in the 1950s and even through the 1980s. one of the narrative threads in
the book is the effort to improve the safety of our weapons. i focus on one engineer in particular who became vice president of the sandia national laboratories who devoted his career to eliminating safety problems with their weapons and it would be nice to think he was hugely supportive by the various bureaucracies and doing that but it was a real battle. there were others like him who believed in the need for safe nuclear weapons but their eyes was this inherent contradiction between the military demands of having the weapons immediately available and reliable in the more civilian need to not have one of them detonate on american soil. i think that helped the military as well. getting back to today's weapons they are much safer. the weapons themselves are much
safer than the ones that were deployed as recently as the 1980s but i do have some concerns about the contemporary management of our arsenal particularly problems that the air force has had in recent years. in 2007 half a dozen thermonuclear weapons were loaded inadvertently onto an airplane. the plane was flown across the united states without the pilot realizing there were nuclear weapons on board and that plane sat on a the runway for nine hours unattended. there were half a dozen nuclear weapons that nobody knew were missing for a day and a half and that showed management faults that i think were extraordinary because there were many steps along the way in which standard operating procedures and even common sense were ignored. the people who removed the weapons from the bunker never
checked to see if they were nuclear weapons. they were never asked to sign a piece of paper saying that they were removing the nuclear weapons. the security guys never checked the vehicle to see if there were nuclear weapons on board. the crews unload at the weapons and never looked to see if there were nuclear weapons. the pilots never checked in that you could argue well the system worked. the terrorists didn't get the weapons. the rogue officers didn't get the weapons but he shouldn't have six nuclear nuclear weapons that don't need to be signed for. and that can't be accounted for for a day and a half. just this year we have three wings. just this year two of them have been found to have serious safety violations and their commanders have been relieved of command. the third wing that we had a few
years ago lost communication with an entire squadron of missiles and they weren't sure why it happened. it turned out to be a trivial mechanical fault but it's not good to be able to communicate your missiles for an hour and it raised the possibility are command-and-control system might be vulnerable to cyberattack. so a lot of the problems that i write about in the book have been addressed but to say that command-and-control issues have been solved with the mistake because it was something like command-and-control which is a process that's never fully achieved. the record -- the safety record is perfect until it's not. >> host: so they are still risks as long as you have
nuclear weapons and the differences from the past to the present has to do with the ways in which some dangers have a risk in some of those are not as difficult as in the past. clearly the different arsenals that is the united states and russia are different in terms of their safety and if you ask me i would probably tell you i could stay awake learning -- worrying about pakistan and india and their nuclear arsenals. i think it's important to make those differences not to say that there are problems and i don't think anybody says there couldn't be but understand the nature of the problems. >> i'd try to make that point clear in the book. we invented this technology. we have longer experience with it than any other nation and our safety mechanisms and command-and-control mechanisms are superior to those of any other nation. >> host: i would get to but they are not necessarily
perfect. >> guest: what i was going to say was given those facts is quite sobering the challenges that we face and the problems that we face. at the end of the book i look at the rate of industrial accidents of other countries as a measure of their proficiency in dealing with complex technologies and i worry about pakistan and india and north korea and should iran get one of these weapons. a u.n. inspector who became familiar with the iraqi design for their nuclear weapons which were never actually built was quoted as saying he would be worried it might detonate if it fell off of the table. that might be an exaggeration but these are very complicated machines and you don't want them
to go-round. >> host: i couldn't agree with you more. you are an investigative reporter and an award-winning investigative reporter. i have been thinking about that sort of profession and it seems to be more and more a lost art. my question now is do you agree? is your profession going out of business and second why do you continue in investigative reporting? >> guest: i think the need for my profession may be greater now in this country than it has been in 100 years. the ability for people to practice my profession and to be paid to do it is probably the worst that it has been in 100 years. the first thing that newspapers tend to cut are the
investigative reporting. the sort of investigation and i spent six years on this book but investigative reports take weeks, months. they can be legally -- there can be liabilities as newspapers have cut back. i think the investigative reporters are probably the first to go and the celebrity gossip columnists may be the last to go. so it is an endangered art but in a democracy is essential. my background academically is history so i have tried to combine those two, investigative reporting in the contemporary implications and my academic background and trying to re-look at history that maybe hasn't
been thoroughly explored. i think this book combines those both. >> host: you show yourself to be a good historian along the way. >> guest: thank you and by the way thank you very much because you know where things but true about this subject. >> host: i wonder if you are an investigative reporter for what you want to happen on the other side of the book? so i'm thinking you would probably want to see some changes. so let me place you if i can in this situation with the secretary of defense calls u.n. and says okay tell me what you want me to do given what you now understand about command-and-control in the united states nuclear arson. >> guest: let me preface the answer to that question by saying i try very hard not to
write rants or diatribes and the books that i write don't end with point by point political program. i do the best i can to allow the facts as they see them to speak for themselves to write in as calm a tone as possible so my persona and my cleverness and ideologies and at the forefront. what i'm really trying to do was take subjects that i think are very important that the mainstream media may not be addressing them particularly take very powerful institutions that are very secretive and provide information to the public so that decisions can be made on the basis of information and not on the basis of misinformation or disinformation. i'm not necessarily talking about the pentagon here.
i'm just as easily talking about mcdonald's and their marketing pushes the reality of how they procure their food. for me nuclear weapons is the subject of existential importance in the book is to remind people they are there and to provoke a dialogue not to impose my point of view. having said that -- >> host: i can imagine you don't have a few thoughts. >> guest: i do. having said that where the secretary of defense to call me in and ask for my advice which is about as likely as a meteor striking this building as we speak. >> host: you were not talking about probabilities, remember? >> guest: i would say the first thing that we need to do immediately is sparing no expense in management of nuclear weapons that we currently have.
make sure that those who work with them are -- make sure they have the testing equipment that they need. right now some of the testing tg equipment equipment we have five nuclear weapons states back to the 1970s. really in the best and that infrastructure immediately. high morale, people who are well compensated our best officers being encouraged to enter the nuclear field as opposed to the nuclear feel particularly in the air force right now seeming like a career dead-end. these are things we can do within a few years. in a bigger sense i am a great believer that the fewer weapons possessed by fewer countries is better and safer. not just in terms of accidents but in terms of the potential of nuclear war.
we have arms control agreements that are bilateral between the united states especially the soviet union and now with russia but i think we need to find a way to engage the other nuclear powers in arms control talks and there are all kinds of specific things but one of the important things about the book is the book is about a very unnerving and unsettling subject. having spent six years investigating it i am not overwhelmed with doom and gloom. i'm not apocalyptic and i don't think any of this is hopeless. if i thought it was i wouldn't have bothered to write the book. >> host: i want to come back to the writing of the book but just in a few words i was trying to capture kind of this theme. that's one of the things i tried to do so i want to try one out on you at this point. the theme might be good people,
very dangerous things in a bureaucracy that you cannot trust. >> guest: those are some of the things. i would say good people, well-intended, patriotic, dangerous things and people's behavior in bureaucracy is not always the best behavior. someone recently, i read the basic rule of success in a bureaucracy is better to be wrong than a loan. one of the engineers at sandia people that i wrote about who i think think is a true hero he was right about the problems with their nuclear weapons. he had to pay a price. he had to be alone.
he had to be a thorn in people's sides and his career might have gone a lot farther if he had ruffled feathers constantly trying to push nuclear weapons state t.. another fundamental thing i think in the book is that we are much better at creating complex technologies then we are at managing and there is just -- it's hard to anticipate what can go wrong, how it might go wrong and if it's in the autumn of bill that breaks down that's unfortunate. if it's an airliner that has some unanticipate a chemical flaw that's a tragedy for those passengers but with a nuclear weapon that goes wrong the potential impact is almost unimaginable. that is why we have to be extra vigilant with these high-risk
technologies. >> host: i don't think any of us would agree with it. >> guest: would disagree. >> host: would disagree, yeah. let's take a short break and then come back. >> host: eric you talk throughout the book about the people and talking about the heroes conquer the folks that you got to know along the way but i'm kind of interested in your story. that is, in very personal terms what it was like to write this book. to get up in the morning calm good to go do your computer to try to get the documents and talk to the people.
tell us your story. >> guest: it was an extraordinary challenge for me but it was also endlessly fascinating. nuclear weapons are the greatest national security risk in the united states and in the most important weapons in our arsenal for those two reasons it's difficult to get information about the subject. i relied on the documents that others obtained through the freedom of information act. the national security archives is a nonprofit in washington d.c.. they have done a terrific job and those were useful to me. i got some documents to the freedom of information act myself. it took a long time to get them. >> host: what was it like? you write and they don't write you back? >> guest: you write and they don't write you back and it took a couple of years but i also reached out to people who had
first-hanfirst-hand experience in dealing with nuclear weapons. many books have been written about nuclear weapons but most of them have been written about the manhattan project and national security advisers have written memoirs. very few books have been written about the day in and day out management of our nuclear arsenal but the people who do it so i really reached out to former members of the missile launchers bomber crews weapons designers technicians. a bomb squad technicians who it's their job to render safe nuclear weapons and the stories they had to tell were absolutely fascinating. this history as i learned it was amazing to me. i studied nuclear strategy as an undergraduate. i felt like i was very familiar compared to most people about
nuclear weapons and this research made me realize i was profoundly ignorant. so much of this information has only been available since the end of the cold war. i think in the decade after the cold war and maybe even still people haven't wanted to think about it because it was such a great relief that war ended without bloodshed but a lot of important details in a lot of important information has been released. i think this book is my attempt to get some of that out there to the public. >> host: do you think you have the information you need to understand it now? did you get all the documents he would have wished to have? >> guest: i say in my source notes that this book like all man-made things is flawed and
imperfect and i tried. i really tried. i felt like i had some very crucial people who were very helpful in different areas so by spending time with the people who served and by spending time with people who were in the maintenance crews and spending time with maintenance designers and never just with one but a group so i felt like at a sense. i feel confident that the central arguments of this book are accurate. almost all the facts are accurate. i really tried. i don't rely on sources. any assertion i make in the book there's a source node in the document for it. i did make mistakes. i wish i knew what they were and i would love for readers to point them out to me but --
>> host: the book is being published so people will have a chance. >> guest: was anything you found? postcode generally i do agree at the history. i think people might say perhaps he you didn't provide a big enough context for the things because it's a quick view of the history but nothing struck me along the way that i would come back to you on. >> guest: you might challenge interpretation or my own view on a broader historical issue but you didn't find any factual error that jumped out? >> host: actually i didn't but i also didn't look at every note. your regal -- reader will find that kind of note keeping in terms of what it is that you are saying and i think that is a real contribution. shifting from the notes come to the 100 pages of notes and back
to the story of the titan explosion they are going to make a movie of that? >> guest: believe me it was hard enough to make it look. >> host: it's a story, cannot the whole book. >> guest: again just putting together that story and when i contacted the air force the air force told me that all the copies of the accident report had been destroyed and they couldn't give me a copy of that. it turns out there are handful of copies but i had to find it in the university library in kansas. so quite honestly the complexity of the subject trying to get as many perspectives as possible on that accident so i tell the accident from the point of view of the guy who dropped the tool, the guys when the launch control
center, the guys who were in command headquarters in nebraska i try to tell as many perspectives as possible. that was so complicated to do that the movie of the book i will leave to someone else to worry about. it's an extraordinary story. it's an extraordinary story i think of great personal heroism. >> host: who are your heroes? that's a question i was going to have you talk about the fellow from the lab bob purifoy. >> guest: at the sandia national laboratories. william stevens who was a safety engineer who did some really pioneering work in trying to figure out how to make sure nuclear weapons won't detonate in abnormal environments like a plane crash, a fire. if they are dropped or if there's a short circuit. bob for a fully who was the vice
president of the sandia national laboratories to sa said earlier risks his career for years to champion making our weapons safer and he would never build a nuclear weapon in the united states today without the mechanisms that these gentlemen fought for years ago. but then ordinary servicemen like matthew arnold who was an explosive ordinance demolition technician, a bomb squad guy. guys like that who trained to walk over to nuclear weapons that were damaged and defuse them. i write about people like greg devlin and jeff kennedy who worked to repair men essentially who put on protective ear and went into a missile silo on the verge of explosion in order to prevent dismissal from exploding
when it had a power thermonuclear weapon on top of it. again and again. there is another and it are weapons accident that has gotten very little attention but it was a very dangerous one one in grand forks for a b-52 bomber hot on fire with four hydrogen bombs and thermonuclear warheads. the fire was being said by the fuel pump. it was extraordinary that their work gale force winds blowing the flames away from the fuselage of the bomber so the weapons for dead endangered but they realized that the heat was beginning to blister on the skin of the bomber and they had to do something and there was a fireman named timothy griffith. a wife, small children. he puts on his fire protected here climbs onto a burning
bomber and gets into the cockpit to figure out how to turn off the fuel pump and when he pulls the rights which the fire goes out like the burner on a stove going out. that is true and there were so many stories is of that even on the routine airborne alert flights that didn't have an accident. pilots and crews were putting their lives at risk on a daily basis in this country during the cold war. i think their service and their heroism hasn't been recognized and knowledge in the same way that the veterans of the vietnam war now had the memorial and the second world war and people died people were injured during the cold war in order to prevent a nuclear war as part of the process of deterrence but also in handling nuclear weapons accidents. so i tried to honor the
sacrifices of these people in the book and tell the stories of people whom i admire. >> host: so back to some of the things that you find you are somewhat critical of and that is a continuing theme about secrecy it's actually the thing that i share with you so i am wondering look -- looking at this for the cc chrissy has inherent in the government or we are going to be secretive and cover up or do you think it's something that can possibly change? >> guest: i think that the secrecy that we have in the cold war actually endangered us more than they protected us.
looking at the nuclear weapons issue there was such an intense compartmentalize secrecy within the government, cannot even keeping secrets from the public but within the government that the people who are designing our nuclear weapons didn't know how the armed services were handling those weapons in the field. the armed services didn't know some of the safety issues where the weapons that they were flying around and transporting. the risk of a catastrophic accident was made worse by some of that secrecy. they document that i got from the freedom of information act that was 200 pages the list of accidents from nuclear weapons i showed to the sandia weapons designers. these were the people designing our nick we are weapons and they have never been able to see some of these incidents which were hugely relevant to what they were doing in their designs.
what is ironic in terms of the secrecy is throughout the cold war there is no question the soviet union knew more about our nuclear weapons than the american people did. that is absurd. now i do think there are things that must be kept secret and in my book i did everything i could not to have anything whatsoever that my book that could threaten national security. i had the book read by someone with high security clearance and exporting nuclear weapons, not a member of the government because i didn't want anything in the book that could threaten national security. having said that and having gotten so many of these documents to the freedom of information act again and again overwhelmingly what had been excised with the censors had eliminated was not information that was going to threaten
national security. it was information i that was going to threaten embarrassment with national security bureaucracies. i would say there were many fewer secrets that were much more closely held. when you have that many secrets like we do now and that many people with security clearances like we do now you have the potential for a snowden or relatively low level people having access to secrets is sometime shouldn't be revealed. >> host: so it's a real tension as you suggest in the book because some secrets are very important to be kept and other secrets are not an in bureaucracies and governments tend not to want to show all the problems. that takes me back a bit to this is a fact of life and this is the way we ought to see our government but i don't think you really agree. >> guest: no i don't and
there've been periods in history where there has been greater disclosure and periods of our history where things have been held much closer to the and i can't stress enough that this sort of secrecy endangers us more than it protects us. in the book i go through a number of examples in which publicity about nuclear weapons accidents actually fled to important safety changes being made. in the research for this book i obtained documents that were heavily censored yet pertain to weapons 50 to 60 years old. no longer in our arsenal, no longer exists. i note desire to reveal specific design details that would help anyone in pakistan or india design a better weapon that we need to know this history because we need to have a thriving democracy in which
fundamental decisions about national security can be made by the american people and their representatives not by a small group of policymakers acting in secret which is so much of our nuclear weapons policy that has been made that way. >> host: so we could go on and have a longer conversation but let's go back to the people part i haven't really pulled you too much out in terms of your own working on this book so let's come back a little bit to that. do you need to do a single draft? did you produce lots of dress? how did you go about your work for the book? >> guest: i am unusual in that i don't have any research assistance. i don't even have an assistant. that may have contributed to buy the book is -- i immerse myself not in
thousands but in tens of thousands of pages of documents. i didn't read every word of every page but with the tech knowledge ec now have you can just bore through an enormous amount of material. what i was doing was i was looking for a little nuggets within congressional testimony. that might be within documents released through the freedom of information act. i read as many books as i could on the subject. >> host: were people willing to talk to you pretty easily? >> guest: some of them yes and some of them know. and most of the hard work conquer the great bulk of the hard work went into the research and then went into the structure of the book because i had a
wonderful writing teacher who stressed the history. if you put everything you know about a subject into what you write you don't know anywhere near enough about it and you should leave out 99% of what you know. that 99% is in between every line that you write sort of like this book is sort of the tip of the iceberg in what i read and what i've learned and as a result the real struggle was what do i include? what do i cut out and it's a very -- i try to interweave these different stories so researching the book and coming out with the structure and the outline was the most difficult part. some of the writing was hard because i tried to have the writing style that was very clear and simple. it's much easier to write or in
a but the subject matter particularly military issues is so full of jargon and acronyms and nuclear weapons are very complicated things. the struggle in writing it was how do i take these complex issues and write about them clearly without jargon and that was a challenge. but it didn't go through six drafts. the version that is published -- >> host: pretty much your draft. >> guest: i cut some but it's pretty much what i set out to do and some might argue you should not have set out to do that or whatever but it turned out how i set out to make it for better or for worse. >> host: let me take you to the last couple of pages because i did get to the last couple of
pages. i am intrigued by your description of watching the titan to launch as sort of the way you kind of got really interested both in the story but the whole subject. tell us about that experience. >> guest: one of the great things about not becoming a professional historian which i thought about doing and being a journalist is that i actually get to see things as opposed to just write about things that happened many years ago. one of the most memorable experiences i have had professionally was watching the launch of the titan two missile from a remarkably close range. >> host: you were there. >> guest: the officer who was my host never stood that close to the missile while it was being launched. we had our air packs in case
there was a problem with the missile and it some of its toxic fumes. the reason i was doing this was i spent time in the air force looking into the future warfare in space and a lot of people in the air force space command and missile crews during the cold war -- so i heard that damascus story fairly recently and it's truly cool incidental that i was getting to see the same missile being launched thankfully not with a nuclear warhead that with a weather satellite. they are very effective. and they actually were very reliable if you had months to plan the launch, not when you had to keep them sitting in the silo fully fueled. at any rate i have this extraordinary experience of going up into the tower even before the launch and going
i just saw in that moment that these things do happen. is unfortunate. this is something a weapons designer who used to be head of the lab said every worldbeater should be gathered in one place and enforced to watch the detonation of a hydrogen bomb. because it leaves an impression. to see these dedicated but the last time united states detonated in the atmosphere was 196251 years ago. that means young is person who has seen one of these dedicated art in their early 70's and the awesome power in destructiveness of these
weapons cannot be conveyed by the two video piscine the missile launch but it was a powerful experience into many ways encouraged the process that took years to get into the world. >> host: those who did experience a nuclear weapons test a and explosions are a very different generation even though you mention in your book and i can still remember being told to get under the desk with the drills of the '50s to those who began this the nuclear age what surprised me as a look at it as a historian as
well, there was the debate about our nuclear weapons that is what we should do about it. i don't know if you want to talk about that but it is interesting time ruby have people suggesting that we give them up. >> i think presidents obama speech calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons which csx such a radical idea harkens back to that post war moment 194546 this is a generation that aside tens of millions of civilians killed and more. 60 million people. >> did during the second
world war there was a great belief personally not to have anymore world war and after nagasaki a real conviction the world had entered the new phase in the weapons must be banned some of the top military officials of strategic air command officers who talked openly about the possibility to abolish the nuclear weapons under some form of international control in the rivalry between the united states in the soviet union and in particular the behavior of the soviet union of eastern europe as a clear threat to the freedom of the europe made that a possibility. >> go suggested we should
preempt with the weapon but let's come back to the present and how we see into the future. a couple more things you want to bring about? are there any of their heroes to talk about? >> guest: i think one of the crucial scenes of the book is again and again this feeling that things are slipping out of control. not just between the united states and the soviet union but the armed services each one seeking access to its own with the rivalries of the weapons laboratories
there were civilian military disputes in going back to what we said very well intended people and patriotic when we tried to protect united states was visions of how that could be done but these were very stressful decisions to be made in the margin of error what steps very slim. whether we could try to protect berlin with the crisis that we have. so one of the things that i write about is civilians to think they are experts but they are experts on our strategy finally getting into a position of power in being amazed when they get
access to this single integrated plan which was in war plan and it is a recurring theme weather jfk advisers come from iran who have written all kinds of theoretical works on a nuclear war and they saw the targeting of the nuclear weapons being used did when they saw the fact is were planned once it had begun could not be stopped they were stunned by years later kissinger made his career as a nuclear weapons theorist is strategist and was briefed on this single operational plan and was amazed at how destructive and how powerful. >> host: but then to take steps to include more flexibility and to those plans.
>> guest: he does everything he kiam but there is the ongoing tension that goes into the administration through george h. w. bush from those who want to get control over the nuclear strategy of targeting in the officers in omaha who actually control it to set the war plan and they have a good argument themselves they have seen how civilian interference was a fiasco and the air force felt sincerely it is up to the leadership for when to go to war so not until the end of the cold war that you have
civilians in the first bush and administration making crucial decisions about the targeting and execution of a nuclear war plant. that is extraordinary. >> host: that goes back to the secrecy that you describe not only as extending for the american public policy bureaucracy itself. diaz think things are better now? >> when garett -- kissinger to the headquarters of the strategic air command to get everything on the nuclear war plan as the president's national security adviser as an expert on nuclear weapons , the details of the plan were deliberately hidden from him. >> host: he tells the story. i think there are internal
air force the most that mention they're not telling him everything. >> host: we actually hear of the improvement. let's come back to the fundamental question of nuclear accidents so i hear you say that we need to pay attention to the possibility >> we need to pay attention we can argue how many missiles we need how many bovvers we need, but if we have missiles and bombers that they need to be well maintained the very latest that you can buy. right now the balkans of our forces as old as i am. i am 74 we have 100 nuclear
bombs. >> but they haven't upgraded. >> b-52 bombers, the b-52 bomber was designed right after the second world war for high-altitude bombing. has all sorts of new electronics and avionics the they have not built a new one since 1962 our men with the launch complex is over a century old this is not for building hundreds of new bombers or missiles but there needs to be attention to the infrastructure particularly of our nuclear forces. i am concerned about that of the cutbacks not just because of the sequestered but the nuclear enterprise has not gotten enough
attention it has been a prestigious role in the air force. we need to pay attention that is the immediate concern of mine. >> host: unfortunately time has run out by one to say that you have found in the subject of nuclear accidents in incredibly important subject. you have given us access to a history that we really needed to know and you have told a really good story. thank you very much. >> guest: coming from someone who knows this field, but that is a high compliment. thank you. >> host: good luck
>> the book tells a story of an accident in 1980 and i use that story and that their death as a way to look at the management of nuclear weapons releases the first nuclear device was invented in 1945. and i hope to remind readers that these weapons are out there. that there still capable of and there probably is no