Wednesday, 16 May 2018

NORAD's 60th Birthday

     I worried that I was a bothersome nuisance in a wheel chair, propelled by Major Leslie Wenzel and retired Darrell Levitt, yet I was thoroughly spoiled here in Colorado Springs during the Friday-Saturday, 11-12 May, celebrations eulogizing the uniqueness, importance, and accomplishments of NORAD.  All this was due to my daughter, Barbara, and I being invited as Guests of Honour.
Embellished with positive greetings from the US president and Canadian prime minister and with numerous speeches by top Canadian and American political and military leaders, the celebrations started off Friday with a dinner and ball of some 600 attendees at the Broadmoor Hotel and ending Saturday at Peterson Air Force Base with a cake-cutting event and several flypasts by the 9-plane Canadian Snowbirds aerobatic team. 
It took 3 of us to handle the sword that cut the cake:  Our popular NORAD commander, General Lori Johnson, was joined by the youngest current member and by me as the oldest NORAD  survivor. 
The Joint Canadian-U.S. Military Group recommended the formation of NORAD in late 1956. It was approved in Feb 1957 with HQ at Ent Air Force Base, in downtown Colorado Springs.  The annual cost of $5.5 billion included the Nike-Zeus program and 3 Ballistic Missile Early Warning sites (BMEWS).
Canada and the United States signed the North American Air Defence Command 12 May 1958 thus placing the security of their people into each others’ care.   
Since then there have been 24 US commanders and 24 Canadian deputy commanders of the US and Canadian personnel intermingled at the many NORAD establishments in North America.
In 1963 I was among the group that moved NORAD HQ to the Cheyenne Mountain underground site and began operations there. Canada’s underground bunker, built 1959-63, is in North Bay, Ontario.
I was to take geology courses from the professor who had recommended the location to NORAD.  As he was just a professor, NORAD chose to employ expensive advisors who later came up with the same answer.     
My first NORAD connection came in 1958 when I was transferred to Air Defence Command in St. Hubert, Quebec, and in 1959 when I relieved the CO at the Mid-Canada Line site of Bird, Manitoba.  This was followed by 13 months as military commander of the 500-mile-long DEW-Line (Distant Early Warning) sector with its main site in Cape Parry, NWT and four satellite sites, two either side.   Here I made many friends among the Inuit, the subject of a different blog.  From the DEW line I was transferred in 1963 to NORAD HQ in Colorado Springs.
So, what is my assessment of NORAD?
It is a fine organization that, for the sake of human survival, needs to be a leader among the millions of concerned activists and scores of institutions that are striving for a safer world with greatly-reduced armaments.
In my memory, at the working level, US-Canadian integration was great and many friends were made.  There also were many marriages.  USAF personnel were superb at ignoring the inferiority complex we got when they had vast sums of money to spend, or squander, on projects we could only dream of.  Matching population differences,  our share of the cost is 10%.  Being much smaller the RCAF often got things done faster and I was to be part of this.  The USAF, nervous about its secrets, often used a NOFORN (No Foreign Eyes) stamp to deny us access to such documents.  Nevertheless, I got to write or revise several Noforn documents.    Our USAF friends would stamp the Playboy Magazines “Noforn” to emphasize their attitudes to Noforn.
One night when, as a major, I was the duty controller under a USAF colonel, some Soviet activity was reported by the USN.  I was summoned to the guarded intelligence room for a briefing, then ordered not to inform my USAF boss because I had a higher security clearance than he did.  Fortunately, the Soviet activity proved innocuous.  But, it was an awkward night as my boss was curious as to why I had been summoned.
One day, when I was on the Dew Line, a submarine surfaced briefly off our western shore.  I scrambled my entire air force which consisted of one Beaver.  We flew for an hour but found no trace of the sub, so I sent a brief message to St. Hubert and Colorado Springs: “Sub surfaced. Beaver scrambled. Sub fled.”  Of course I followed it with a detailed report but I never got a reply telling me whether it was one of ours or one of theirs. 
On the DEW Line we were totally unarmed so a small landing party from a sub could easily destroy us.  In my report I requested a few of those surplus WWII rifles.  A year after I left the DEW Line they arrived.
We did get the feeling that the Soviet threat was overblown to justify our huge expenditures on defence.  We would get scripts written in Colorado Springs for exercises which contained errors that lessened the time that threats could be reported and analysed.  My attempts to insert corrections were ignored as the script ran its course.  I did manage to correct this when I was moved to NORAD HQ and put in charge of writing exercises.
    Our human world is playing a dangerous game. Embracing nuclear weapons gave us the MAD era - mutual assured destruction.  Threats, real or inferred, make us nervous and prone to miscalculations.  
Close calls have been frightening, but we know only about those that have been declassified.
On 05 October 1960, the BMEWS site in Thule, Greenland, advised NORAD they had detected a massive Soviet launch, accuracy 99.9%.  This would allow us 10 minutes to decide on a retaliatory launch.  The NORAD commander was off flying and could not be reached, leaving Air Marshall Roy Slemon, RCAF, in charge.  He quickly determined the locations of USSR leadership that implied a launch was most unlikely, so he called off the alert.  Later it was determined that Thule, the rising moon, and a Soviet launch site were aligned and that the BMEWS pulses were bouncing off the moon.   Thule crews did not realize that their radar pulses could reach as far as the moon although the Australians had accomplished this feat earlier.    
On 27 October 1962 USN ships harassed Soviet naval ships off Cuba.  One of these, sub B-59, dove to escape and remained submerged for several days, unable to communicate.  To force it up the USS Beale dropped dummy depth charges.  Believing them real, the sub commander, along with his political adviser, ordered a nuclear torpedo launch.  Fortunately the sub-flotilla commander, Vasili Arkhipov, persuaded B-59 to surface and await orders.  The same day Captain Maltsby’s U-2 got lost and strayed 480 km over Chukotka peninsula and were met by Soviet nuclear-armed MiG interceptors.  US F-102As were then scrambled to escort Maltsby out.  On 01 May 1962 Gary Power’s U-2 was shot down deep over the USSR.  He survived as a prized prisoner.
In 1983 Lieutenant Stanisav Petrov, on duty in Moscow, got a warning that US missiles were headed their way.  He decided against a counter strike due to a gut feeling it could not be true. 
Soviet restraint saved us then.  How serious were flaws at NORAD?   
At 0300, 09 Nov 1979, Zbigniew Brzezinski, security advisor to President Carter, was awakened by a NORAD phone call that the USSR had just launched 250 missiles towards the USA.  A second call warned it was now 2,200.  Knowing that everyone he loved would soon be dead, Brezezinski concentrated on ordering a counter strike to ensure Russia would suffer the same fate.  Ten US and Canadian jets were scrambled and “Looking Glass”, the SAC command post, was airborne without Carter who had not been informed.   
A third phone call advised that no other detection system had seen a launch so things were put on hold.  It was discovered that a computer glitch had fed a training exercise into the live stream.  NORAD then spent $16 million to prevent such errors. 
Eric Schlosser’s 2013, 656-page, book, “Command and Control”, gives us a terrifying look at nuclear weapons, delivery systems, problems of ageing, human and computer failures.  He tells of the Pentagon admitting 32 close calls but claims he uncovered over a thousand mishaps, many serious.
The Domesday Clock of the Atomic Scientists is now set at 2 minutes to midnight.  Blame is put on a number of factors including: climate change, cyber warfare threats, misinformation, and nuclear-armed world leaders.
Sadly, the US spends more on the military than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, the UK, and Japan combined.  Yet the current administration has boosted it even more (now $610 billion).  What a dangerous waste of funds that could do so much good elsewhere.  And, oh yes, do not overlook the immense funds earmarked for nuclear updates.  Our expenditures force those who mistrust us into boosting their militaries.  Yes, we have many groups with different ambitions, but slow diplomacy is much safer, cheaper, and less destructive.  The Military is built to be the servant of a country’s leaders, but the military does the fighting, the suffering, and the dying, so deserves a strong voice.  History gives us many examples of armies revolting against leaders in favour of the masses but this violence too often led to further upheavals.  Violence begets violence.
Today, how can the US military, in good conscience, support leaders who aid war criminals like the Israelis in their slaughter of the oppressed Palestinians, the Saudi Arabian crimes in Yemen, dictators in Indonesia, Latin America, the Philippines, and misguided wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria?  And, withdrawing from the beneficial Paris Environmental Agreement and the Iran Nuclear Deal warns the world not to trust the world’s greatest military power.   This demands change.
NORAD, you have the people, the brains, and the structure to work towards remedying all this.
Go for it!
Ye Olde Scribe

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