Famed Whistleblower Reveals Extent of US Missile Miscalculations During Cold War

Renowned activist and whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon papers in the early 1970s, spoke with Radio Sputnik Wednesday about the alarming nuclear war plans the US had during the Cold War era, plans he had a role in overseeing.

“When I went to the RAND Corporation as a summer consultant in 1958, it was the height of the missile crisis, or the beginning of the missile crisis,” said Ellsberg, author of a new book, “The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner.

The working theory at the time when he started at RAND was that “the Russians, who actually launched an operational ICBM in 1957 before we were able to do it, were ahead of us in nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles,” he said.

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“By 1961, we had about 40 such missiles. The US Air Force, in particular, was projecting that [Russia] had several hundred, and the head of US Strategic Air Command, General Thomas Power, believed at that time they had 1,000. With 1,000 missiles, or even several hundred, the idea was that they could totally eliminate our ability to retaliate, and they could launch a first strike in which there would really be no retaliation against the Soviet Union,” Ellsberg explained to Loud & Clear hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou.

“The reality at that time, in late 1961, turned out to be that they had four ICBMs to our 40 — not several hundred and not 1,000. General Power was wrong by [a multiple of] 250 times, not 250 percent, but 250 times the number of missiles they actually had, which meant that we had a great superiority,” the author continued, noting that superiority doesn’t mean “very much in the nuclear era.”

But it meant something in the moment, he said. The calculus then became that if the US struck first with 40 missiles, “there might be no retaliation against the United States,” Ellsberg said. “There could be some cruise missiles on submarines, but their four missiles would be knocked out very easily by a single strike.”

“That did not mean, however, that the NATO alliance” would be safe. Ultimately, if the US struck first, much of Europe, including parts once belonging to the Soviet Union, “would have been annihilated in terms of our planning, as my book shows, by radioactive fallout from our own strikes on East Europe and on the USSR.”

The US considered escalating the Berlin Crisis of 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, but ultimately, Ellsberg argues, a first strike would have resulted in European and NATO allies being annihilated by “Soviet medium-range missiles, intermediate range missiles, short-range missiles, everything.”

“We actually contemplated that if we launched a first strike, we might get off scot-free.”

Another startling feature of US nuclear weapon policies included the transfer of responsibility for launching nuclear war responsibility from the Pentagon and White House to theater commanders during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations.

Ellsberg’s publication of the Pentagon papers, a US-government commissioned history of the Vietnam War, exposed top-secret government actions to expand the scope of the Vietnam War by bombing Cambodia and Laos and a systemic pattern of lying by the US government to hide the escalation.

Reprinted from Sputnik News.