PART THREE: LaRouche and Star Wars

"We are shaping increasingly the course of important events. . . .We play the enemy forces as a hundred-pound fisherman successfully plays a powerful sailfish or oversized tarpon."

—LYNDON H. LAROUCHE, JR., "Resisting the Pressures of 'Littleness,' " 1981

Chapter Eight

The Greatest Invention Since Fire

In a historic speech delivered on March 23, 1983, President Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, a plan for a space-based missile defense system. To most of the Washington press corps, the so-called Star Wars speech came as a bolt out of the blue. But the LaRouchians were not at all surprised. For years they had advocated their own version of SDI and were in close contact with officials who helped develop Reagan's proposal.

LaRouche began speculating about a space-based particle- or laser-beam weapons system as early as 1975. His organization included scientists who grasped the basic principles and were able to explain them in layman's terms for him. During the late 1970s he became more and more intrigued. Beam weapons seemed to fit well with his dreams of world conquest. A miracle shield against ballistic missiles would make large-scale offensive wars thinkable for the first time since the beginning of the nuclear age.

The Fusion Energy Foundation, established in 1974 as a cover for the NCLC intelligence staff's science and technology division, became the chief LaRouchian propaganda vehicle for beam weapons. In the late 1970s it gained a measure of credibility in the scientific community and the aerospace and nuclear power industries by publishing the monthly Fusion, which championed high technology. It also sponsored seminars and conferences on scientific and political topics. Its officers included Dr. Morris Levitt and Dr. Steven Bardwell, both physicists, and John Gilbertson, a nuclear engineer.

The FEF tried to cultivate Major General George Keegan, Jr. (ret.), a former Air Force intelligence chief who believed the Soviets were gaining a dangerous edge in beam technologies. When Keegan called for stepped-up research in this field, FEF members offered their support. They published a pamphlet, Sputnik of the Seventies (1977), praising Keegan and calling particle-beam weapons "crucial to this nation's survival." But Keegan was suspicious of their intentions and soon cut them off.

The FEF continued to publicize the issue on their own, with frequent articles about the latest American and Soviet advances in relevant fields of theoretical and applied physics. They recognized that fusion energy research had potential applications in the beam weapons field, and that many of the scientists for any large-scale Pentagon effort would have to come from civilian fusion research. By discussing the two technologies together, Sputnik of the Seventies was right on target: Many fusion scientists whom the FEF cultivated in the late 1970s ended up in SDI research in the 1980s.

There is no mystery about how the FEF won the respect of fusion scientists. It launched a campaign to get them more government funding. FEF staff members testified before Congress, lobbied, held press conferences, and crisscrossed the nation on speaking tours. Meanwhile, LaRouche followers at airports displayed pro-fusion posters and literature. Hundreds of thousands of Americans first learned about fusion from their encounters with these seven-days-a-week salesmen.

The FEF undeniably met a real need, and not just for a handful of scientists. OPEC oil price hikes had made cheaper energy sources a national priority, and fusion energy was the most promising long-range solution. But fusion researchers had been inept at presenting their case to the public. Thus the Carter administration poured billions of dollars into synfuel, only a few million into fusion. To frustrated scientists the FEF was a heaven-sent ally.

Support for the FEF's work was especially strong among government fusion scientists. According to Department of Energy documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the contacts began during the Ford administration. At first the FEF spokesmen made a comical impression. One DOE scientist circulated a memo describing how they had tried to convince him of the need for a new world monetary system based on the Soviet ruble. But during the Carter years the FEF proved its effectiveness in building a fusion constituency. Researchers and administrators in the DOE's Office of Fusion Energy (OFE) began to take the LaRouche foundation seriously, speaking at its conferences and praising its work. They were willing to overlook its sinister politics, including its scurrilous attacks on Energy Secretary James Schlesinger. The FEF might be nasty, but it was useful.

The relationship between the OFE and the LaRouchians had a peek-a-boo quality. This was reflected in a September 1978 letter from OFE director Edward Kintner to Stephen Dean, head of the Magnetic Confinement Systems Division, who had previously spoken at FEF events. Kintner, apparently under pressure from superiors, ordered Dean "not to appear" at an FEF meeting later that month because it was a fund-raising event and because the FEF had expressed "policy disagreement" with top DOE officials. (The FEF had accused these officials of being part of a treasonous plot.) Yet Dr. Kintner's memo also displayed a remarkable solicitude for the LaRouchians: "This [directive] by no means precludes . . . staff participation in FEF events in general. . . . Please assist FEF in arranging for a substitute speaker if possible so as to minimize problems for the FEF."

The substitute who showed up was Kintner's deputy. Dr. John Clarke. He didn't just talk on fusion technology—he gave a strong endorsement of the FEF. "You are one of the few organized groups I know of," he said, "that has the courage to stand up and advocate high technology as a solution to some of the problems of the world, and for that I think that we owe you a debt of gratitude." This statement was used in Fusion advertisements to solicit subscribers and new FEF members. When Clarke received inquiries about it, he acknowledged on DOE stationery that the quote was accurate. In a letter to a Georgia Tech professor he said that although he didn't agree with the FEF's politics, he thought they performed a "valuable function in our society."

Shortly after Clarke's speech, a senior scientist from the DOE's Office of Energy Research addressed an FEF conference in Pittsburgh. Scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Princeton University's Tokamak fusion reactor project also participated. Fusion crowed that the event was attended by representatives of major corporations and that it "marked a quantum jump in FEF's stature as the political leadership of the scientific and engineering communities." While this was an exaggeration, it suggested the hidden agenda behind the FEF's touting of high technology.

In 1979 Stephen Dean left the government to set up Fusion Power Associates, a nonprofit firm backed by energy and defense corporations. This was a setback for the LaRouchians inasmuch as it co-opted their "leadership" role on fusion. But Dean and the LaRouchians continued to have a warm relationship. In August 1979 he appeared on the podium with LaRouche at a U.S. Labor Party rally in Lansing, Michigan. He also accompanied the FEF's Uwe Henke von Parpart on a FEF-arranged trip to India, where they met with fusion energy buff Indira Gandhi and other notables.

When Dean was questioned about the FEF at a 1980 U.S. Senate energy hearing, he testified that "fusion community people attempt to treat the variety of different people that come to us equally and respectfully, independently of whether we agree with their political views. . . . Some of the comments and positions taken by the FEF are in fact positions we support on the merits." He added in a 1984 phone interview; "I don't think they've done the country any harm. It makes life exciting to have them around."

OFE scientists were not the only ones impressed by the FEF. By 1980 it claimed thousands of dues-paying members and over 80,000 Fusion subscribers. FEF director Levitt spoke at West Point on the military applications of fusion power, and Uwe Parpart gave a presentation at Lawrence Livermore. Almost $2 million in donations poured in during fiscal 1980-81.

John Bosma, editor of Military Space magazine, explained the enthusiasm for the FEF as being partly due to the "top drawer" technical expertise of Fusion magazine. He had worked for Boeing Aerospace in Seattle in the late 1970s, and recalled senior managers and engineers "waving [Fusion] around and saying, 'This is great stuff.' "

Another key to the FEF's success was its championing of nuclear power at a time when antinuclear sentiment was sweeping the nation. The 1979 Three Mile Island near-disaster alarmed millions of Americans. Environmentalists staged large demonstrations at nuclear power construction sites such as Seabrook in New Hampshire. Hollywood's The China Syndrome, starring LaRouche hate figure Jane Fonda, portrayed nuclear engineers as liars and murderers.

The nuclear power industry was dismayed and angered. The FEF played on this by charging a giant plot to undermine American world leadership in science and technology. Fusion blamed the Three Mile Island incident on saboteurs. It offered slogans and bumper stickers for an industry counterattack: "More Nukes, Less Kooks" and "Feed Jane Fonda to the Whales." It also suggested that the United States should emulate the Soviet Union's hard line against “zero-growthniks." The February 1980 issue hailed a Soviet government scientist, A.P. Aleksandrov, who had attacked scientists opposed to building nuclear plants near cities. Said Aleksandrov, as quoted by Fusion: "Nuclear plants are very safe."

The FEF provided an opening wedge for other activities. LaRouche's intelligence staff prepared reports for power companies on antinuclear activists. His 1980 presidential campaign committee solicited donations from executives of nuclear power and aerospace corporations. Dozens of scientists and engineers (including a top man from Three Mile Island) signed a full-page Fusion advertisement backing LaRouche for President.

Although some FEF supporters were turned off by its strident attacks on Darwinism, rock music, and Isaac Newton, it continued to grow. One reason was its support for a 1980 congressional bill to establish fusion power as a major national energy goal. The bill's sponsor, Representative Mike McCormack (D.-Wash.), envisioned a development push modeled on the Apollo Project. He estimated it would cost about $20 billion. In a speech before the House he predicted that the development of fusion energy would be "the second most important energy-related event in human history—second only to the controlled use of fire."

McCormack didn't need the LaRouchians to tell him this. Many distinguished scientists had urged increased fusion funding. Nevertheless, the sweeping nature of the McCormack bill was not dissimilar to that of a 1976 fusion research and development draft bill prepared by the FEF. During the late 1970s, FEF staffers sent a steady stream of proposals to McCormack's office. They attempted to mobilize support for his 1980 bill through speaking tours and press interviews, encouraging a barrage of postcards and telegrams to Congress. Simultaneously they attacked the Senate version, accusing its sponsor, Senator Paul Tsongas (D.-Mass.), of attempting to sabotage fusion development.

The campaign for the McCormack bill proved to be a dry run for the LaRouchians' beam weapons campaign. FEF director Levitt warned that the United States was falling dangerously behind the Soviet Union in industry, education, and defense. The McCormack bill could create a "strategic focal point" to mobilize the nation for a historic comeback. "Fusion is strategic militarily," Levitt said.

In November 1980, President Carter signed the Magnetic Fusion Engineering Act, which set the goal of a successful magnetic fusion demonstration plant by the year 2000. Although the bill provided only token funding, the FEF hailed it as a historic step. After Ronald Reagan assumed office, the massive fusion funding McCormack had envisioned went into SDI instead, and many fusion scientists shifted into SDI research. The FEF and LaRouche uttered nary a word of protest. They recognized that SDI offered a far better opportunity to push their ideological agenda.