‘Once We Move Into Space With Weaponry, Other Nations Will Follow’

Janine Jackson interviewed Karl Grossman about the weaponization of space for the May 20, 2005, episode of CounterSpin, an interview that was rebroadcast for the July 21, 2017, show. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Quartz: The US isn’t going to launch a military Space Corps—for now

Quartz (7/13/17)

Janine Jackson: US lawmakers pushing for a new branch of the military focused on “deploying extraterrestrial power” is a real thing that is happening. A recent article on the website Quartz explains that while the plans are unlikely, they do send the message that the US is “concerned about the orbital military aspirations of rivals like China and Russia.”

Dystopian? Yes. Absurdly dangerous? You bet. But new the idea isn’t. In fact, CounterSpin talked with journalism professor and author Karl Grossman about the weaponization of space in May of 2005.

Janine Jackson: The Bush administration, having declared an open-ended war that could take it anywhere on the planet, now says the planet is not enough. The front page of the May 18 New York Times brought the news that the White House may approve a new national security directive to put weapons in space.

The administration seemed eager to downplay the implications. Spokesperson Scott McClellan was quoted by Agence France Presse saying, “The plan isn’t about weaponization at all, really, just about updating space policy.” Other sources are less mealy-mouthed. The Times quotes the former acting secretary of the Air Force by saying that “strafing and bombing from space are indeed real possibilities.”

Our next guest has been writing and talking about the militarization of space for several years now. His article, “The Phantom Menace: Space Weapons Aren’t on Media Radar,” ran in FAIR’s magazine Extra! in the spring of 1999. Karl Grossman is a journalism professor at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury, and the author of several books, including The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. He’s also vice president and program director of EnviroVideo, producer of documentaries, including, most relevantly, Star Wars Returns. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Karl Grossman.

Karl Grossman: A pleasure, Janine.

NYT: Air Force Seeks Bush's Approval for Space Weapons Programs

New York Times (5/18/05)

JJ: Give us, first of all, if you will, just your initial reaction to this New York Times front-page story. I know your reaction can’t have been surprise, exactly.

KG: Well, as someone emailed me this morning, “Does it go in your ‘we told you so’ file?” Now that would be kind of being cynical about it. Actually, I was thrilled, because the way it works in our wacky nation, if it’s on the front page of the New York Times, particularly as a lead story, it becomes a reality. I’ve been writing about this issue, the weaponization of space, and digging up and presenting documents about the US military and US administrations seeking to control space, and from space dominate the planet below, for, as you say, years. In fact, it’s been almost 20 years.

JJ: So they’ll be perhaps some debate. I thought it was interesting the Times quoted an Air Force spokeswoman who said the focus is not putting weapons in space, but having free access to space. But then just one paragraph later, we heard from Pete Teets, the former acting secretary of the Air Force, who said the thing about how strafing and bombing are real possibilities. How much, if any, legitimacy should we give to this fig leaf, which apparently the White House is going to put out there, that this really isn’t about weapons in space at all?

KG: Oh, it’s just nonsense. That’s less than a fig leaf. No, Tim Weiner did a wonderful job with this piece. This is not your he said/she said, it’s investigative in nature, and Tim has experience in that field. For example, to discuss, well, what it’s called formally is hypervelocity rod bundles, but it’s being nicknamed “rods from God.” These are things made of tungsten and uranium which would be propelled downward from space, and as he writes, the impact would be comparable to the force of a small nuclear weapon. This is what’s happening, and it’s so good that, again, it’s in the Times.

That particular craziness, the “rods from God,” first time I noticed it was a professional journal, published in March, of the electrical engineers, it’s called IEEE Spectrum, cited this scheme. But he gives credit to that journal, in focusing on the cost and the problems of this issue. So it’s a good piece.

JJ: In that New York Times piece, there was one thing that leapt out at me very early on. It says that “no treaty or law bans Washington from putting weapons in space, barring weapons of mass destruction.” Now, is that really the case that these ideas, these “rods from God” and other things that we’re hearing about, are not in violation of anything?

Karl Grossman

Karl Grossman: “You’re talking about space, which is kind of a motherhood, patriotic issue for much of the US media.”

KG: It seems to me that these “rods from God”—what an expression—are weapons of mass destruction, I mean, if they’re going to hit with the force of small nuclear weapons. What does it have to be, a big nuclear weapon to be a weapon of mass destruction? No, clearly, you’ve gone then to what the Outer Space Treaty forbids with that weapons system.

As to some of the other systems, here the US thinks it’s going to sort of circumvent the Outer Space Treaty, but certainly not the intent of the Outer Space Treaty, but the letter of the Outer Space Treaty, which most nations of the world, incidentally, have ratified, and the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union were the three principals in getting it enacted in 1967. I should also note, however, that Canada, China, Russia, with many, many nations behind them, have been trying to expand the Outer Space Treaty to prohibit all weapons in space.

JJ: Another sentence leapt out at me from the Times report we’re talking about, and that was that it said, “With little public debate, the Pentagon has already spent billions of dollars developing space weapons and preparing plans to deploy them.” That construction almost makes it sound as though the public is at fault, though I don’t think that’s what he means, and people can hardly debate something that they know nothing about. In general, where have journalists been on this story?

KG: Absolutely out to lunch, totally dysfunctional. I’ve received these Project Censored awards, time and again now over the years, for reporting on the nuclearization and the weaponization of space. And I’ve said in some of the ceremonies, very nice ceremonies where you receive the award, I would much rather see what I revealed on 60 Minutes or in the New York Times. Here, happily, it’s in the New York Times. But in general, the media have been—as I wrote in that piece in Extra!—nowhere on this very, very crucial, very important issue.

Because the central fallacy of US policy—and in a way, the Times gets into this—is that once we move into space with weaponry, you have to expect that China will follow, Russia will follow, other nations will follow. We’ll lose any advantage we’d have. The money that would be spent would be enormous. And for those listening who might be big space enthusiasts, imagine that there’s a shooting war in space with these lasers and high-velocity guns and particle beams; there’ll end up to be so much debris up there, so much litter, that there’d be no way up and out for millennia, for people who feel that it’s humanity’s destiny to explore space.

JJ: Now, Karl, taking us back to the beginning, and your history in working on this, do you expect your phone to be ringing off the hook? Now the thing that you’ve been talking about seems like it’s actually unrolling in front of our eyes, do you expect calls from journalists?

KG: Just a very few, because, well, again, here you’re talking about space, which is kind of a motherhood, patriotic issue for much of the US media. Walter Cronkite; he was the original cheerleader of US space activities. Then you have nuclear. One of the things that is, unfortunately, not in the Times piece is how are they going to energize, how are they going to power these weapons up above, and my reporting has shown that the energy source of choice appears to be orbiting nuclear power, atomic power up there. So you have the taboo about reporting on nuclear power and the rah-rah space stuff, so this is not a thing, unhappily, media have jumped into and properly done a good reporting job.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with journalist and professor Karl Grossman. For information on EnviroVideo documentaries, including the very relevant Star Wars Returns, you can check out their website. It’s EnviroVideo.com. Thank you very much for joining us today, Karl Grossman.

KG: A pleasure.


This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission from FAIR.