Thursday, May 4, 2017

UNWITTING: Setting the stage for harassment

Chapter Four: Chung's Way
(The Secret War on William Pierce)

In June 1955, about a month after an unsettling talk about Communism and government surveillance with Lilian Hartwell, a new boarder at his home in Syracuse, Bill Pierce attended a Saturday evening cocktail party in town. Students and faculty members were there, including Math Department Chairman Kibbey and Kai Lai Chung, a professor and probability expert who introduced himself to Pierce as the son of a Taiwanese official.
       Kai Lai Chung was no typical member of the Syracuse faculty. Pierce had no way of knowing it, but he was from Hangzhou, a right-wing Kuomintang stronghold until the People's Liberation Army invaded the city and placed it under Communist control on May 3, 1949. 
       At that point the group, known as KMT, retreated to the island of Taiwan. There they used brutal tactics against suspected communists and developed a secret police force to conduct surveillance of political opponents. It continued as the ruling party on Taiwan until reforms instituted from the late 1970s through the 1990s gradually loosened its grip.
       Chung entered Tsinghua University in 1936, a well-connected 19-year-old who initially studied physics. In 1940, he graduated from the Department of Mathematics of National Southwestern Associated University, where he subsequently worked as a teaching assistant. During this period, he studied number theory with Lo-Keng Hua.
       Hua had produced some important work while at Cambridge University, establishing his fame in the international math community. Nevertheless, after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1938, he chose to return to China, where he was appointed full professor at Tsinghua even though he lacked a degree. With much of China under Japanese occupation Tsinghua, Peking, and Nankai University had merged into the Southwest Associated University in Kunming, capital of the southern province Yunnan. Despite his academic isolation during the war years, Hua produced some first-rate mathematics.
       After Japan bombed Changsha, the remaining staff, faculty and students at Tsinghua fled a thousand miles to China's remote and mountainous southwest and joined with others to create the National Southwest Associated University, known as Lianda. For the next eight years, they worked in makeshift quarters that were often subjected to bombing campaigns by the Imperial Japanese forces. Despite shortages of food, equipment, books, clothing and other essentials they nevertheless ran a modern university, making Lianda University famous nationwide for producing and hosting most of China's prominent academics, scholars, scientists and intellectuals.
      One of the most promising students was Chung, who was ultimately chosen in 1944 for the Boxer Rebellion Indemnity Scholarship Program, a highly competitive, US-funded project that brought Chinese talent to America. Chung arrived at Princeton in December 1945 and obtained his Ph.D. there two years later. His dissertation, “On the maximum partial sum of sequences of independent random variables,” was written under the supervision of John Wilder Tukey and Harald Cramér. 
      Cramér, a Swedish mathematician and actuary who specialized in statistics and probabilistic number theory, was Chung’s Ph.D. advisor. Math chair at Stockholm University at that time, Cramer was also the first Swedish professor of Actuarial Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics. In 1950, he became President of Stockholm University.
      More intriguing was Chung’s other advisor, John W. Tukey, who helped to design the first H-bomb. The program was headed by his friend John Wheeler. In 1945, John von Neumann had enlisted Tukey for a computer development project funded by the Defense Department. Mathematicians were essential to the development of nuclear weapons, especially to test the feasibility of a design through calculations.
      Within a decade Tukey’s promising protégé Chung had taught at some of the leading US schools, moving between University of Chicago, Columbia, UC-Berkeley and Cornell University. In short, Chung had traveled in elite academic circles for years, a loyal anti-Communist who had benefited from those connections. Arriving at Syracuse University, he made contact with another, very different mathematician -- Bill Pierce.
      Shortly after Pierce accepted a drink from Chung at that off-campus party in Syracuse, he began to experience extreme effects. “I felt that I was going to pass out,” he told me. “The next day I was too sick to move, with severe pain in my jaw and head.” The landlady was away, but the overly solicitous Mrs. Lilian Hartwell brought him breakfast and medicine. 
      “I managed to teach my classes, but for the rest of the term my mind was hazy, as though from an anesthetic,” Pierce said. “It would be nearly five years before I discovered what had happened, and almost ten before I could prove it.”
      What exactly was he alleging? And more important, could he prove it? Basically, Pierce claimed that Chung had drugged his drink, knocking him out and setting the stage for “auditory harassment” through a miniature transmitter implanted to replace a filling in one of his teeth.
      It sounded highly unlikely, more likely delusional – that is, until Pierce opened his briefcase and pulled out correspondence with the chief of the Physical Sciences Division of the Department of the Army, a page from Dental Abstracts, and a US Air Force report titled, “Application of Miniaturized Electronic Devices to the Study of Tooth Contact in Complete Dentures.” 
      The response from the Army official said yes, it was possible to hear voices or radio programs through tooth fillings “because of the various materials used in fillings together with accidental ingestion of other particles near the fillings, and the subsequent chance of rectification of signals generated by strong radio waves.” Of course, this wasn’t conclusive. But a notice in Dental Abstracts added another piece to the puzzle with this announcement: 
      “A radio receiver smaller than half a sugar cube has been developed by U.S. Army electronics engineers who say it easily can be further miniaturized. Besides being tiny, a significant feature of this short-wave superheterodyne is its variable tuning.” In other words, the Pierce's claim wasn’t unreasonable: the intelligence community could actually have a tiny, tunable short-wave receiver the size of a tooth. 
     Still, could it be implanted in someone’s mouth? The Air Force report indicated that this had already been done with dentures, mainly to study tooth contact. One photo showed a tiny transmitter with a diameter less than the average tooth. 
      The intelligence community even had a street name for this type of harassment device – shark-bite.

Next: Mastering Minds
Chapter One: Wrong Turn
Two: Naming Names
Three: Unwanted Voices

Friday, April 21, 2017

Making Peace with the Planet Won't Be Easy

It had arrived again, the day that newspapers, TV and magazines had been hyping. April 22, Earth Day, or, as it was known in 1990, "The Dawn of the Environmental Decade." But despite the sunny skies and big promises to "clean up the planet," I was uneasy.
   Should I have been more content? Maybe. After all, the news that we faced a crisis of global, potentially catastrophic proportions was finally reaching the masses. I had been urging people to take individual and collective action since the first Earth Day twenty years before. Yet most of the "save the planet" messages, and even an emerging eco-consciousness, felt unsettling rather than reassuring.
       On the previous Friday, for instance, CBS's Dan Rather had reported that we were making headway in reducing smog over many US cities. Really? In most urban areas residents faced smog levels up to 150 days a year. Rather's report and others seemed misleading. The idea that environmental protection laws passed after the original Earth Day had produced real gains provided a false sense of security.
Ecological Security Logo 
      Newspapers congratulated themselves for using recycled paper. But there was no sign of reducing the amount of mindless pap promoting a "consumer society" that perpetuates waste and pollution. And of course, major corporations touted their newfound commitment to environmental protection while conveniently omitting their toxic crimes.
      Time Warner sponsored The Earth Day Special and promised to do its part. But what about Time magazine? asked my son. He knew that its 30 million glossy copies were produced on non-recyclable paper every week. 
     Too cynical? It was Earth Day, after all. Time to forgive and recycle, right? But I just couldn't buy into the "we can do it" mood. Something simply wouldn't leave my mind. Reality. Things were getting worse, not better. The hype no longer convinced me that "we will do it," at least until we understood was was really wrong.
      Celebrating Earth Day was educational and fun. But I wasn't impressed, and either was the planet.
      Maybe the problem was too much information. For several months I had been part of a local environmental task force. We'd looked into what Burlington, Vermont could do to create more "ecological security." That phrase, used to name a conference I'd organized to bring together the peace and environmental movements, was an attempt to refocus locally at the end of the Cold War. Our insecurity, it suggested, stemmed from diverse threats to the natural world. The Task Force was expected to create a factual record and come up with bold yet feasible remedies.
      We managed to develop a respectable list of first steps, among them proposals for a local ban on the use or sale of all products producing CFCs, the creation of citywide bike lanes, buying development rights to the delicate Intervale area, establishing a collection and storage facility for hazardous wastes, and a community panel to oversee biotechnology operations at the university. Like lists of "simple things you can do" being distributed at the time, such changes were clearly necessary. Still, on reviewing their work, some Task Force members felt defeated.
      Had we succeeded only in developing another laundry list, while failing to identify the underlying problems? Wouldn't other actions by the government and private interests negate the improvements we suggested? No funds for recycling had been included in the new Public Works budget. And despite a stated commitment to explore alternative transportation, the city administration still proposed new roads and the expansion of others. Some even thought it advisable to build a road over the edge of a recently closed landfill. Without limits on development and changes in energy production, even not-so-simple things would have a negligible effect.
      Despite the best intentions, the Ecological Security Task Force had fallen into a trap described by Barry Commoner in his book, Making Peace with the Planet. Environmental degradation was built into the design of the modern means of production, he argued, and therefore traditional "control" approaches to environmental protection are bound to be inadequate. Trapping or even destroying pollutants merely postpones or shifts the problem. The only way to eliminate a pollutant is to stop producing it. Once produced, it's too late.
      What this suggests is the need for a radical set of changes in lifestyle and production practices. Not to minimize the "every person can make a difference" viewpoint, big institutions do have the biggest impacts. At the local level, government, the university, the hospital complex and the commercial sector would all have to take major steps to reduce waste, stop using or producing non-recyclable or toxic materials, and re-use as often as possible. Voluntary action alone wouldn't cut it.
      You'd have to be living in an oil drum not to see the problem. Air pollution, the Greenhouse Effect, ozone depletion, hazardous waste, acid rain, vanishing wildlife, garbage islands, and more. Plus the dangerous drift of society. Natural products replaced by synthetic petrochemical creations; natural agricultural fertilizers by chemical alternatives; trains, trolleys and buses by private, inefficient and polluting cars; reusable goods by throwaways. Shops, vehicles, factories and farms had become seedbeds of pollution.
      And this was before we understood the phrase "climate change" or began to experience "extreme weather." 
      Although its charge stopped at the city line, the Ecological Security Task Force recognized that the problems did not. They could only be addressed through regional and broader cooperation. Looking only at the bottom line, corporations had produced much of the mess. But the public was being asked to handle the clean up. In general, environmental laws passed since the first Earth Day had not dealt effectively with what industry produced.
      When General Electric proudly proclaimed that it would review the environmental impacts of its products and spend $200 million on protection, it was important to keep in mind its rarely mentioned 47 contaminated toxic waste sites, past radiation experiments, toxic releases and status as one of the world's major nuclear contractors.
      The challenges are enormous. But what can make a difference is an active, even angry citizenry. And this was another reason for my Earth Day blues. Despite all the study and talk, I could not see the groundswell of popular outrage that was needed for a successful movement. Sure, recycling was catching on and the state was "environmentally conscious." But being conscious isn't enough. There must be real demands, ones that force all levels of government to use their purchasing and regulatory powers to eliminate polluting technologies and products, and also rapidly develop alternatives. In particular, the planet and its inhabitants cannot afford the squandering of resources, both material and human, that more than $1 trillion a year in world military spending represents.
       We also need alliances that force businesses and governments to prevent pollution at the source. And it won't get easier as we go along. Steps like halting the production of toxic chemicals or the use of nuclear energy won't be embraced with nearly the enthusiasm of a general "save the planet" campaign. Every time people press for an ecological goal, the response is bound to be a competing economic need. After postponing action for so long, the clean up won't be cheap.
      So yes, I am skeptical. It's easy to tell ourselves that "minor" sacrifices will be enough, or that corporations will factor in the environmental impacts as they assess the balance sheets. But these artificial entities are designed to make money, not to protect anything. Under the current capitalist system, they are machines that use the air, water and land without calculating the long-term costs. Meanwhile, most people in the developed world have not truly acknowledged that their lifestyle is built on environmental waste and degredation. As Paul Erhlich put it, there aren't too many people, just too many rich people. 
      Will we wake up in time? Are we finally getting serious? These days I wouldn't bet on it. But I look forward to being wrong.