On Tuesday night, at an event called Putting U.S. Nuclear Policy on Trial, all the members of the Vandenberg 15 spoke out against U.S. nuclear policy. The Vandenberg 15 are a group of protesters who were arrested in February for trespassing during a protest of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) test launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Though the government dropped all charges a day before their court date, the group still decided to celebrate their act of civil disobedience. The event was symbolically held on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis.
Among the speakers and members of the 15 was Daniel Ellsberg, who gained fame in 1971 when he leaked classified defense documents to The New York Times — they came to be known as the “Pentagon Papers.”
Besides U.S. nuclear policy, Ellsberg openly discussed the presidential election, and the possibility of a war with Iran. “There is a better than 50 percent chance that a President Romney would give us war with Iran,” he said. Ellsberg reasoned that the same people who pushed hard for war with Iran during the Bush administration are now advising Romney on foreign policy. Ellsberg called a potential war with Iran a “catastrophe,” saying, “If Iran makes a nuclear weapon, that would be bad. But there is something worse. That is if the U.S. and Israel go to war with Iran.”
Ellsberg spared no criticism for President Obama, saying that “Netanyahu has the trigger to full-scale U.S. attack on Iran. Obama would not be able to resist if Israel were to attack.” Ellsberg also lamented that the only way to be sure that Iran has no nuclear capability would be to use tactical “earth-penetrating” nuclear weapons in order to destroy any underground facilities. “We could have a nuclear war on our hands in less than a year,” he stated.
Ellsberg relayed a few shocking stories about Vandenberg’s role in the Cold War. In 1962, when president Kennedy learned that the Soviet Union had nuclear warheads in Cuba, he made sure that Minuteman missiles were ready to launch from the base. Apparently, they were not prepared. In order to get ready quickly, Ellsberg said, someone rewired the missiles on the fly, bypassing the security measure which requires four command centers to authorize a launch. Later on, a glitch in the Minuteman missile’s design was discovered which could have launched 50 nuclear bombs accidentally, he claimed.
Currently the U.S. has 450 Minuteman III ICBM’s on high alert, many of which are at Vandenberg. Another test launch is scheduled for November 14.