Friday, June 26, 2015

Baltimore Activist Alert - June 26-27, 2015

50] Peace Vigil at the White House – June 26
51] Prosecute torturers – June 26
52] Silent Quaker vigil – June 26
53] See the film AWAKE – June 26 & 27
54] Iftar at the White House -- June 26
55] The case of Tyrone West – June 26
56] Ballroom Dancing – June 26
57] Que Viva Cuba – June 26 – 27
58] Call for an end to torture -- June 27
59] West Chester, PA demo – June 27
60] Interdependence Day at the NSA – July 4
61] Commemorate Hiroshima & Nagasaki – August 6 & 9
62] Climate chaos, poverty & war actions – Sept. 22
63] Sign up with Washington Peace Center
64] Join Fund Our Communities
65] Donate books, videos, DVDs and records
66] Do you need any book shelves?
67] Join Global Zero campaign
68] Join Peace Park Antinuclear Vigil
50] – On Fri., June 26 from noon to 1 PM, join the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in a vigil urging the powers that be to abolish war and torture, to disarm all weapons, to end indefinite detention, to close Guantanamo, to establish justice for all and help create the Beloved Community! The vigil takes place at the White House on Pennsylvania Ave. NW.  Contact Art @ or at 202-360-6416.

51] – Many anti-torture activists are fasting today. You can stay at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.  Contact Helen Schietinger at

Be at the United States Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, WDC on Fri., June 26 from 4 to 5 PM and join Amnesty International USA, Witness Against Torture, CODEPINK: Women For Peace, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, National Coalition To Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF), Center for Constitutional Rights and more outside the Justice Department on Fri., June 26 at 4 PM in commemoration of the International Day in Support of Survivors of Torture. Rally outside the Justice Department because of its repeated failure to investigate and prosecute torture by the United States.  The Justice Department has refused to act on the serious human rights violations enclosed within the Senate Report on CIA Torture and is keeping over 6,700 pages of this report secret. From waterboarding to harsh beatings, forced feeding, deaths in custody and other horrific stories that have been documented, it is truly shameful that the so-called "Justice" Department has allegedly not even read the report.  Go to

52] – There is usually a silent peace vigil on Fridays, from 5 to 6 PM, sponsored by Homewood Friends and Stony Run Meetings, outside the Homewood Friends Meetinghouse, 3107 N. Charles St.  The next vigil is on June 26. Black Lives Matter.  In front of White House on Pennsylvania Ave., WDC.

53] – As a special treat and spiritual renewal, see the film AWAKE! On Fri., June 26 or Sat., June 27 at 7 PM at Shanti Yoga Ashram,  Center for Harmony, 4217 East-West Highway, Bethesda 20814. Paramahansa Yogananda has helped people by turning their lives around for the better with the power of his being and his writings. His most famous work, "Autobiography of a Yogi.” is available at the ashram. Email

54] – At 7:30 PM on Fri., June 26 celebrate Iftar (breaking of the Ramadan fast) at the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. This is part of Witness Against Torture (WAT) in Washington, D.C.'s Torture Awareness Week. 

55] – On Fri., June 26 at 7:30 PM at Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse, 30 W. North Ave., Baltimore 21201, join a dialogue with Tyrone West's sister, Tawanda Jones, and other members of the West family. Hear updates on the struggle to gain justice for Tyrone, find out more about the weekly West Wednesdays gathering, and discuss next steps towards putting an end to police brutality.

On July 18, 2013, Tyrone West died in police custody following a routine traffic stop. West was 44 years old, unarmed, and black -- and died as a result of the brutality of the officers who stopped him. Since 2013, West's family has continually amplified the call to put an end to police brutality in Baltimore and around the world, and asked for answers about what, exactly happened to West that day, and why the officers who killed him are still at large. See Call 443-602-7585.  Go to

56] – There is an opportunity to participate in ballroom dancing, usually every Friday of the month, in the JHU ROTC Bldg. at  8 PM.  Turn south on San Martin Dr. from the intersection of Univ. Parkway and 39th St.  Drive on campus by taking the third left turn. The next dance will be June 26. Call Dave Greene at 410-599-3725.

57] – The Creative Alliance at The Patterson, 3134 Eastern Ave., Baltimore 21224,  is honored to welcome museum specialist from the Cuban National Ceramic Museum, Ana Rivero, as part of Que Viva Cuba! The weekend kicks off on Fri., June 26 at 9:30 PM with as a free Latino acoustic concert in Creative Alliance’s Marquee Lounge, where original Cuban ceramics will be sold. Cash only please! On Sat., June 27 from noon to 3 PM attend KERPLUNK, a free, hands-on ceramics workshop for kids and families. Cuban sculptures and artwork will be displayed to inspire young artists, with bilingual instruction provided.

   At 4:30 PM, Ana Yvis Rivero shares her expertise on Cuban art and its impact on old and new Havana through a lecture and visual presentation in the theater. Lecture is in Spanish with English interpretation. Then, the evening transitions to an all-out visual arts extravaganza with Annual Residents Open House, as well as the openings for The Big Show 2015 and Ruth Channing: Faunette and Her World. The night continues with the red hot Latino band, Bachata Plus+ in the theater!  Email or call 410/276-1651.

58] – On Sat., June 27 from 10 AM to 5 PM, the annual Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition Vigil will be happening in Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C. This is part of Torture Awareness Week. Commemorate victims of torture by keeping vigil, celebrating life, remembering lost friends and family, and renewing our commitment to a world where peace rules and torture is banned forever.

59] –  Each Saturday, 11 AM – 1 PM, Chester County Peace Movement holds a peace vigil in West Chester in front of the Chester County Courthouse, High & Market Sts. Go to Email

60] -- The Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore will do its annual Interdependence Day visit to the National Security Agency.  We will depart at 10:15 AM on July 4 for Fort Meade, and then vigil at the NSA from 11 AM to noon.  We will then have a 6 PM potluck picnic. Call 410-366-1637 or email mobuszewski at
61] – The annual Hiroshima-Nagasaki Commemoration will begin on Thurs., Aug. 6 with a 5:30 PM demonstration at 33rd & North Charles Streets to call for the abolition of nuclear weapons and a ban on killer drone strikes and research.  Visitors from Japan will speak, and then we would eat dinner at a Japanese restaurant.

On Sun., Aug. 9, we will enjoy a potluck dinner at 6 PM.  Then Ralph Moore, a long-time Baltimore activist, will address the problems facing Baltimore.  If you are in a social change organization, you would be welcome to inform the gathering about your accomplishments. We are seeking performers.  Let Max know if you have any suggestions. 

62] -- The National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance is planning an action on September 21 or 22 in the D.C. area. We will gather at 10 AM in the office of a member of the House of Representatives to challenge him/her that the wars must end, that Mother Earth must be saved and that we must eliminate income inequality. We will occupy Rep. Paul Ryan’s office.

After delivering a letter and speaking with staff members, we will next gather at 1 PM at the White House.  There we will try to deliver a letter to the White House, raise the same issues and risk arrest. Let Max know if you can join us in D.C. for this action.

63] -- The Washington Peace Center has a progressive calendar & activist alert! Consider signing up to receive its weekly email:

64] -- Fund Our Communities campaign is a grass roots movement to get support from local organizations and communities to work together with their local and state elected officials to pressure Congresspersons and senators to join with Congresspersons Barney Frank and Ron Paul, who have endorsed a 25% cut to the federal military budget.  Bring home the savings to state and county governments to meet the local needs which are under tremendous budget pressures.  Go to

65] -- If you would like to get rid of books, videos, DVDs or records, contact Max at 410-366-1637 or mobuszewski at

66] -- Can you use any book shelves? Contact Max at 410-366-1637 or mobuszewski at

67] -- Join an extraordinary global campaign for the elimination of nuclear weapons: A growing group of leaders around the world is calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons and a majority of the global public agrees.  This is an historic window of opportunity.  With momentum already building in favor of Zero, a major show of support from people around the world could tip the balance. When it comes to nuclear weapons, one is one too many.

68] – A Peace Park Antinuclear Vigil takes place every day in Lafayette Park, 1601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 24 hours a day, since June 3, 1981. Go to; call 202-682-4282.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"One is called to live nonviolently, even if the change one works for seems impossible. It may or may not be possible to turn the US around through nonviolent revolution. But one thing favors such an attempt: the total inability of violence to change anything for the better" - Daniel Berrigan

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Are We on the Verge of a Nuclear Breakdown?

Published on Portside (

Are We on the Verge of a Nuclear Breakdown?

Nina Burleigh

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Rolling Stone

For two and a half years, Air Force Capt. Blake Sellers donned a green U.S. Air Force flight suit, and motored across barren Wyoming grassland in sun, rain, sleet or blizzard, for 24-hour shifts, 60 feet below ground, in a fluorescent-lit buried capsule. Sellers was one of the roughly 600 officers, known as missileers, who are responsible for launching America's 450 nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. Each ICBM in the arsenal is capable of rocketing to the other side of the planet in 30 minutes or less and incinerating 65 square miles. Missileers are the human beings who have agreed to render whole cities — like Moscow, Tehran or Pyongyang, but really anywhere there is civilization— into, in the jargon of the base, smokin' holes. Air Force Academy graduates like Sellers tend to dream of flying jets. In a corps full of eagles, he and his compatriots are the moles.

The route down America's underground WMD silos begins with five months of training at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. There, the first requirement is signing a document committing to end the world if so ordered by the president. But what if, somewhere along the way, a missileer has a change of heart and decides he or she is not OK incinerating millions of civilians? "They say, 'Well that's OK, but we are going to separate you from the Air Force and you will pay back everything we paid for your education,'" Sellers recalls. "In the Air Force Academy, that's $300,000. So you will be unemployed and owe $300,000."

During training at Vandenberg, pairs of missileers enter a simulated launch capsule, with swivel chairs facing a console — four black-and-green screens, and two keyboards — that resembles Matthew Broderick's workstation in the 1983 movie, WarGames. The pairs open a small metal box with two coded padlocks, and the senior member of the crew removes The Key. A grid on one of the screens displays the status of 50 nuclear missiles, 10 of which are under his or her control. The senior commander and the deputy read and repeat a series of steps and codes from various manuals. When the word "critical" flashes in small red letters on a screen, the senior missileer inserts The Key.

Together they turn three switches at once. A missile grid on the screen blinks and in each box the green letters "EN" for "enabled," changes to "LIP," for "Launch in Progress." Minutes later, the weapons enter the upper atmosphere. There is no turning back.

After a few months of key launch exercises, the nation's missileers have participated in so many theoretical Armageddons, they know the drill by heart. "Of course you become utterly desensitized to tending nuclear weapons," one former missileer says. "The first time it's like, 'Whoa!' After about ten alerts? 'Eh.'" That's when they are ready to be shipped off to the launch sites.

There are three ICBM bases. In May 2006, Sellers reported to F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, which is jokingly referred to as "the Caribbean" because of its relatively balmy temperatures compared to the other two: Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. When he got to Warren, Sellers was still abiding by the ethics drilled into him by the Air Force Academy, where the first commandment forbids cheating. That was the first principle that missileer duty drilled out of him. 

Warren AFBAn MX or "Peacekeeper" missile (left) and two versions of the Minuteman at the entrance of F.E. Warren Air Force Base near Cheyenne, Wyoming. Michael Smith/Getty

The particulars of ICBM work are outlined in thick manuals — 50 to 400 pages long — in detailed, step-by-step protocols for dealing with everything from a maintenance issue to a simulated war order. For each event, and each fake event — because the missileers are constantly being readiness-tested inside the capsules — a corpsman or woman is expected to follow checklists of instructions, while moving between different manuals and the buttons on their consoles.

"In missiles, there is a checklist for everything," Sellers says. "That's the job, figuring out which checklist I need for this situation. So those who are good at that kind of thinking become leaders. They drink the Kool-Aid. And it is very difficult to impress on folks outside of this what that looks like. Any problem that arises, anything that happens: 'Let's put a checklist on that!'"

Monthly proficiency tests are meant to ensure missileers are familiar enough with their manuals to follow the right checklist during hypothetical alarms. (Separately, they are tested on the Emergency War Orders, a top-secret document that is so sensitive its exam is administered in a classified room reportedly called “the vault.”) During Sellers' first examination, a proctor pointed out five wrong answers on his test, and corrected a few of them on the page. Sellers was horrified. He glanced around, worrying that other test takers had noticed, and saw that senior missileers throughout the room were comparing answers. "I felt terrible," he says. "Everyone else is cheating."

That incident was the first of many, and before long, Sellers was a full participant. But maybe because his Marine Corps father had drilled a "don't cheat" philosophy into him as a boy, he never got over the guilt. "I did not talk to anyone about it," he recalls. "I should have, but I was too ashamed of it. And also, no one else is saying anything, no one else has said anything, and as far as I know all the people four or five years ahead of me are all going to get in trouble if I do say anything. And you want them to like you. Your career depends on them."

The cheating was only the most obvious problem. Sellers quickly saw that morale at Warren had bottomed out. Eventually, the adrenaline rush is long gone, and the prospect of another three years of sleepless nights following checklists out on the American tundra feels like a prison term. That might explain why a disproportionate number of nuclear commanders and missileers have recently been charged with criminal acts.

The end of the Cold War and the advent of the hot War on Terror has meant less attention and  less prestige on the job at ICBM bases. The fallout has been unusually high rates of criminality, domestic violence and security lapses. Currently, four court-martials — for drug use, rape, assault, sexual assault on an unconscious person and larceny — are underway at Minot. At Malmstrom, two missileers are being court-martialed for using and selling bath salts — a synthetic substance that can render users psychotic. And at Warren, three airmen have recently been or are due to be court-martialed for drunk driving, using and selling pot and "indecent filming of the private area of another person without consent."

Top brass is not immune either. In October 2013, Michael Carey, a two-star general overseeing the entire nuclear command, was ousted for "misconduct" on an official trip to Moscow. He reportedly started getting drunk on the flight over and didn't slow down for the next three days in Russia. He slammed at least half a dozen shots at one official lunch, was "rude" to his hosts, arrived late for appointments, and took up with two young women who, he later admitted, seemed "suspect" given that they kept showing up wherever he was. That same month, another nuclear force brass, the deputy head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), Vice Adm. Tim Giardina, was removed from his command for gambling with counterfeit poker chips at a casino in Iowa. 

Michael CareyMaj. Gen. Michael Carey oversaw the nuclear arsenal until he was demoted for drunken misconduct on an official trip to Russia. USAF

Then, a few months later, an Air Force investigation into drug use uncovered a massive cheating scandal. Two lieutenants at Malmstrom AFB in Montana sparked the inquiry after they were caught sending phone messages to 11 other officers about "specific, illegal drug use that included synthetic drugs, Ecstasy, and amphetamines." That prompted the Air Force to inspect more missileers' phones, where they found dozens of people sharing not drugs but proficiency exam answers. After an investigation, nine members of the chain of command at Malmstrom were removed.

The Air Force has ordered countless studies trying to figure out what's wrong with its post-9/11 missileers. Most of these blame burnout on what researchers call the culture of "micro-perfection" and the general "inability to accept small errors" at nuclear launch centers. But interviews with current and former missileers suggest that the monotony and perceived irrelevance of the job also led to ethical breakdowns, like cheating and criminal behavior. In 2013 researchers with the defense contractor RAND linked severe burnout to fears over job security in the post-Cold War era. They found that with a realignment of the nuclear world, there was a pervasive fear among missileers that one wrong move could end in discharge. But that fails to explain another finding from an unpublished RAND study: court-martial rates in the nuclear-missile force are more than twice as high as in the overall Air Force. 

Sellers says he found the cheating excusable because it was the only way to survive the grinding minutiae of a job that is arguably obsolete. "I don't know if it was ever prestigious," he says. "The leaders, they try to rah-rah you every day — a little at Vandenberg and then more when you get to the bases. They kind of know how shitty and awful it is. So it's 'Hey, guys, this is so important, we are saving the world every day from nuclear annihilation.'"

The missileers corps — under the 20th Air Force, Air Force Global Strike Command — was born in the coldest days of the Cold War, in the late 1950s. Scientists in New Mexico and California were still perfecting the first rocket-launched, nuclear-tipped weapon of mass destruction (later models were named "Peacekeeper") when the Air Force began planting them in holes across 45,000 square miles of American backlands as fast as they came off the assembly line. In the half century since, about 30,000 men and women have held the job of missileer, signing on for tours of four years or longer.

Today, fresh recruits just out of ROTC or the Air Force Academy undergo almost the same training as when President Kennedy presided over the Cuban missile crisis. The principle drilled into them from Day One is a mission called "deterrence." Like the swivel chairs and the 1980s consoles, deterrence — mutually assured destruction — as a defensive strategy has gone the way of the Soviet Union, atomic bunkers and schoolhouse duck-and-cover exercises, but the same mighty missiles are ready to eliminate the same targets over Russia. When I met with a group of Sellers' former missileer colleagues who still work at F.E. Warren, each repeated, like a mantra, "Our mission is deterrence." 

MissileerA missileer adjusts the launch knob in a capsule near F.E. Warren AFB. Jim Sugar/Corbis

Deterrence means that any nuclear strike on America is guaranteed to provoke a devastating response, whether or not the nation is reduced to smoldering ash first. In an era when the perceived threat is far more diffuse — stateless terrorists or rogue nuke states like North Korea that might act irrationally — having ICBMs aimed at Russia is no longer the defense it once was. "People often fail to realize that in a crisis leaders put nuclear forces on higher alert and run higher risks of triggering a nuclear war by accident," says Bruce Blair, a former missileer who co-founded the anti-nuke advocacy group Global Zero. "North Korea is believed to be prone to risk-taking and provocations that could escalate and override deterrence."

Meanwhile, the nuclear family has grown to include not just North Korea, which conducted its first nuclear weapon test in 2006, but sworn enemies Pakistan and India, whose mutual nuclear war, which has been a threat for decades, we could do little to deter. There are now nine nuclear nations, and at current rates, another nation goes nuclear about every decade. (The current nuclear negotiations with Iran aim to buck this trend.)

No one in the U.S. government seems to know how to respond to this new existential question, besides throwing more money at the program. The Obama administration, unable to fend off entrenched political and military-industrial interests — tens of thousands of people work in production facilities and in the government apparatus — has ordered up billions of dollars worth of new weapons and upgrades, despite the fact that the president is on record admitting their reduced strategic need. Last year, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the modernization program would cost $355 billion over the next eight years.

All of which amounts to a game of brinksmanship that Eric Schlosser, author of Command and Control, a history of America's nuclear weapons, has described as humanity's collective death wish. Over the years, safeguards have failed so spectacularly that even an atheist might suspect divine intervention. A hydrogen bomb fell out of a plane in 1958 and leveled a South Carolina home without detonating. Another bomb accidentally parachuted towards Goldsboro, North Carolina in 1961, but failed to activate. A warhead shot into the air in Arkansas in 1980, after its silo exploded; it traveled 100 feet but didn't detonate. As recently as 2007, workers at Minot AFB in North Dakota accidentally loaded six nuclear-tipped missiles on a plane that crossed the continent to a base in Louisiana — the error was discovered only after the plane landed. On October 23rd, 2010, 50 missiles in the fields around Warren went "offline" for nearly an hour. The Air Force blamed the incident on a circuit glitch. 

Most experts say America's nuclear bombs will not accidentally detonate. The fact that they have fallen from the sky and landed in people's backyards over the years without detonating seems to confirm that notion. But the human element will always be a hazard. Even the presidential part of the nuclear equation is subject to error. Carter and Clinton both reportedly lost the launch code cards that presidents are expected to have on them at all times — Clinton for months, according to a former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Carter allegedly sent his out with a suit to the cleaners.

HydrogenbombA hydrogen bomb accidentally parachuted into a North Carolina meadow in 1961. USAF

Sellers is now a 32-year-old telecoms employee and MBA student in Denver. Last summer, he drove me around his old stomping grounds, the grassland around the Colorado-Wyoming border where the WMD are planted east of F.E. Warren. He knows these back roads in his sleep, having driven them twice a day for over two years, and steers his battered Volvo easily over the bumpy gravel. Some of the launch-control capsules are a three-hour drive from base, past cows, tractors, fields and the occasional agricultural hamlet. Residents here are accustomed to Humvees and armed men in camo passing through, or having their roads closed when WMD are being moved.

Sellers, a burly, dark-haired and affable video-game nut, is third-generation military, on both sides of his family. One grandfather can be seen in an iconic photograph of Eisenhower in Europe during the Second World War. His mother's father was a chaplain in Korea. His father served in Vietnam. Sellers grew up in Florida, near the Navy Seal Museum, watching Cape Canaveral rocket launches in real time from his backyard and binge-watching Top Gun. Like most missileers, he did not feel called to the job of pulling crew duty in an underground capsule, babysitting 50 ICBMs for 24 hours at a time. The Air Force chose that duty for him, just months before he graduated from the Academy, because a shellfish allergy disqualified him from a career as a pilot. He sucked it up. "The Air Force perspective is you should be so jazzed about serving your country you should not care where we put you," he says. "If I complained, they would have thought I was a spoiled baby."

The Missile Alert Facilities aboveground look like any other prefab family home, with the exception of the barbed wire and radio towers outside. But inside, they are not exactly homey [1]. They have kitchens and lounges, but they also have shelves of grenades and assault rifles, and each one houses an elevator shaft leading to the capsule. Over the course of a four-year tour, officers pull about 225 alerts down below— night and day, winter and summer, and always at the edge of the End of the World.

After two years at F.E. Warren, Sellers could complete a launch exercise in less than a minute, between scenes of Mad Men or bites of a burger. Once missileers learn their checklists by rote, many of them have hours of idle time on their hands. Some binge-watch TV, or read; a few study for advanced degrees. Inside the capsules, little has changed since the Cold War, from the constant vibration and foot odor to the eight-inch floppy disks in the consoles. "It's absolutely all the same whether it's Christmas Day or the Fourth of July," Sellers says. "You are in a constant state of jet lag. You are up at 1 a.m. under fluorescent lights. After a year and a half I was never fully awake or fully asleep. You reach this zombie state."

Sleep deprivation is known to induce hallucinations and impair judgment. The CO2 levels in the silos don't always meet OSHA standards either. The combined effect may make missileers groggy and even impulsive and aggressive. The Air Force has revealed that two missileers once stayed in a malfunctioning capsule breathing noxious fumes for hours, rather than ask their leadership for help, and were hospitalized. Crew partners are paired for at least eight months at a stretch. Privacy is obviously limited in a 170-square-foot capsule behind four-foot-thick walls, so teams get to know one another extremely well. And what happens in the capsule stays in the capsule. "The trust between members of a good crew is near-unbreakable," one missileer says. "Eating, sleeping and working in such intimate quarters for months together builds an incredibly strong relationship." 

Missile crewMissileers in a launch control capsule at Minot AFB in North Dakota consult their manuals. Master Sgt. Lance Cheung/USAF

According to Sellers and others, missileers stash all manner of personal contraband in what one called "weird cubbyholes" whose original Cold War purpose in the silos, Sellers says, has been forgotten. The cubbyholes hide porno, DVDs, and often a banned group journal filled with black humor and complaints about commanders, written under pen names, called a "log book." Sellers says he once filled out a page with the five stages of grief that Air Force officers suffer when they are assigned to ICBM duty. The little books are unique to the missileer corps, and disapproving commanders occasionally descend, seize and confiscate. Six months later, someone starts one anew.

Condoms have also turned up in capsule cleanups. Women have served as missileers since the Eighties, and heterosexual missileers have more opportunities to hook up underground. But conditions for romance are hardly ideal in capsules that smell like locker rooms. One missileer said the cootie factor alone would have made capsule sex impossible for him. Germophobes are on high alert for other things besides the Russians. One crew member wrote on a missileer chatroom recently: "After change-over the first thing I did was break out the Clorox wipes and clean every surface I knew I would touch."

At Malmstrom, the plumbing system in some of the capsules was so degraded that the recycled air was "90 percent rotting sewage," one ex-Malmstrom missileer says. The two-man crews went down with instructions to defecate in buckets and urinate in jugs, and bring it all back up at the end of 24 hours. "You're thinking, 'They're not going to tell us how important we are up here,'" he says, "while we're literally sitting over rotting shit!" When he complained about having to work "over this two-foot pool of sewage," his commander told him to "suck it up," and reminded him that American troops in Third World countries were dealing with far worse. He couldn't argue with that. 

From the antique black phones in their bunkers, missileers also command enlisted men and women upstairs — "cops," in the lingo — who patrol cow pastures with automatic weapons, grenades, even a camouflage chain saw. Whenever sensors detect movement in the fenced perimeters where the missiles are buried, the missileers must decide whether to dispatch security teams to investigate. In the grasslands around Warren, the sensors have almost never been activated by anything human — with the exception of some anti-nuke nuns who snuck onto the missile field and banged on the concrete caps with hammers in 2003. The security officers' main duty is to scare off rabbits, cats and antelope. And since Air Force regulations prohibit shooting them, airmen grow adept at gently shooing small mammals away from the nuke sites, no matter if it's a fine summer day or a Great Plains blizzard.

Projecting authority from 60 feet underground by antique telephone is one of the main challenges of the job, according to Lt. Kathryn Congdon, a 30-year-old missileer currently stationed at Warren. Tensions arise over who has it worse — the officers down below in their chairs or the armed grunts dispatched into blizzards to chase rabbits. "A lot of times, it's tough for me to know, how severe is this?" Congdon says. "I can't get that vibe from them over the phone and when I first got here that was like, 'Hey, wake-up call.' You gotta be able to tell if they're telling you the truth or what's going on. We lead through the phone." 

Warren Air Force BaseA diagram of a Mission Alert Facility at F.E. Warren AFB. Library of Congress

The man at the helm of the nation's missileer command is Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, a former missileer himself, who lives and works at F.E. Warren in Wyoming. Since taking the job in 2013 (after his predecessor, Maj. Gen. Carey, was removed for that drunken binge in Moscow), Weinstein implemented some changes, including making the tests pass-fail and getting money to upgrade the decaying capsules. Weinstein acknowledges that a culture of "micromanagement and perfection" damaged morale among missileers. But he also insists that deterrence remains as relevant as ever. "The only existential threat to the United States of America is a nuclear weapon," Weinstein says. "That's the only thing that can fundamentally change who we are. The only force that is out there 24 hours a day protecting this nation is the ICBM force." 

Bruce Blair, the anti-nuke activist, says Weinstein's fixes have meant "the trappings of missileer life are definitely being improved." But he says fixing clogged sewers is not enough. "Nothing is being done that will alter the basic problems that missileer duty is painfully tedious, so mind-numbing that you can just feel yourself become almost comatose during alert duty."

Sellers had lots of time to think in his subterranean hole. He still had to "pucker up" for inspections or when nukes were being moved around, but the edge was off. Fake attacks came in at all hours with flashing lights and buzzing sounds — practice nuclear-war alerts often designed by commanders at the base or STRATCOM in Nebraska — requiring him to flip through his manuals and perform a series of button-pushings and nozzle-switchings on the console to reset the system. In practice, though, he typically just deactivated the alarm using a button called the "plunger."

One time, sitting in one of the swivel chairs, his crew partner dozing, Sellers let his mind wander. What if, he thought, this is all an experiment or an elaborate ruse? Maybe there aren't even real nukes planted in the fields out there. Or maybe, just maybe, the control capsule does not control them at all.

He now compares the "deterrence" mission that every missileer learns is his or her duty to a fantasy plot point. "It reminds me of the wall in Game of Thrones," he says. "There was this threat long ago and they built the wall and it's long been forgotten, and all of the dirtbags get sent to the wall. It's allegedly this super-prestigious thing, but it's really not. That reminds me so much of missiles."

At Malmstrom in northern Montana, where temps often fall below zero in the winter, missileers similarly joked that they might be subjects in a grand Pavlovian experiment. "We were always looking for the secret camera in the capsule, like somebody was studying us," one officer recalls. The alarms always seemed eerily timed to go off just as they were slacking off. Like, nothing going on, and then, just as the crew stares up at the capsule's 17-inch TV for the Super Bowl kickoff, "out of the blue, 15 things would break and alarms are going off in the capsule and you're just pushing buttons not sure what's going on."

MalmstromOne crew at Malmstrom AFB in Montana temporarily made do without indoor plumbing. USAF

The Air Force is aware that life on remote bases is hard to endure. Commanders organize what Sellers calls "mandatory fun" — like luau parties in the dead of winter — funded by car washes and bake sales because taxpayer money can't be wasted on goofing off. At Warren, mandatory fun included a requirement that missileers participate in the annual Cheyenne Frontier Days festival, a two-week jamboree replete with live country music, bull-riding and calf-roping contests. Off-duty missileers man the Air Force's beer-selling booth. And during one of these festival weeks, in July 2009, Sellers inadvertently ended his career.

After a 24-hour shift, he showed up for his Frontier Days booth duty, but didn't feel like attending the next day's mandatory administrative Commander's Call, an all-hands-on-deck rundown of official updates and announcements. So, after two years of obeying orders, he went home to his apartment and slept through it instead. Sellers later sent a letter to his commander, Lt. Col. Mark Schuler, explaining why he had missed the meeting. "I decided the best course of action would be to simply not attend," Sellers wrote, "and with any luck move on so that I could continue to stave off mental disaster and keep pulling alerts."

The Air Force has a self-reporting scheme called the Personnel Reliability Program, or PRP, that requires missileers to monitor their peers' and their own fitness for duty. New missileers are required to pass a mental health evaluation to become "PRP certified," and the list of reasons to be decertified, or to "go down on PRP," is long and specific. Seeing a specialist for a sprained ankle; getting a wisdom tooth removed; taking any medication stronger than Tylenol; dumped by girlfriend; cheating on wife; dog hit by a car; or a sick parent are all acceptable excuses for missing a shift or two. "PRP is intended to work so that only the most reliable people work with nuclear weapons," says Schuler. "If a commander ultimately deems you reliable, and if you win back his trust, you can go back on duty." And like the silos and the checklists, the program has been around since the beginning of the nuclear age.

Sellers says he was first "PRP certified" — that is, deemed reliable to work around nukes — by an officer whose training to assess his mental health and fitness seemed to consist of a series of PowerPoint slides. "It is so cursory!" Sellers says. "It was basically, 'Are you a problem child? Do you have any relationship issues?'" Depression, anxiety and alcoholism are probably the chief mental-health bugaboos on the bases, but it's a rare missileer who self-reports any of those categories. "Hanging over all this," Sellers says, "is, you know, that if you want to get decertified, you can say, 'Yes, my dog died.' 'My girlfriend broke up with me.'"

Of course, "going down" means someone else, someone equally dog-tired and sick of being in the capsule, must pull double-duty in the interim. "You can say that you don't have the right mind, but if you do that, then your boss will look at you like you're a coward or you can't handle it," one former Malmstrom missileer says. "You feel terrible doing it because there is a special place in hell for those who burn the backup."

Another missileer recalls being on shift when his relief unexpectedly went down on PRP. "I was down there once, underground for 72 hours —straight," he says. "I couldn't take the vibration anymore. I had to go stand in the concrete entryway where the restroom was, just so I could feel not vibration anymore. It was making me nauseous and antsy."

Sellers had broken an unwritten code mentioning "mental disaster" in his letter. Schuler had temporarily decertified Sellers after he missed the Commander's Call, and now he called him in for a meeting. Sellers told Schuler everything — from his frustration with the endless tedium to his guilt over the rampant cheating. According to Sellers, Schuler, who holds five master's degrees in subjects that include business, organizational management and military operational art, was famous around the base for his devotion to protocol. He sent Sellers to a base psychologist for what Sellers describes as a "whistleblower rundown." "Your behavior and expressions do not appear grounded in reality," Schuler wrote in his report of the meeting. 

Air Force clinical psychologist Capt. Sheri Fluellen wrote that Sellers was not a "safety risk to himself or others." She also found that "member has shown significant frustration when placed in situations when his abilities are not maximized and when his logic is not acknowledged." She diagnosed him with "adjustment disorder" and recommended that base commanders "encourage" Sellers to "seek psychotherapy to expand his coping skills and to improve his communications skills with leadership."

In response, Lt. Col. Schuler permanently stripped Sellers of his missileer certification and kept him in menial jobs on the base, including one in which he literally polished the knobs on commanders' doors. "All the disciplinary issues with Sellers was about reliability," Schuler says. "First, this was a temporary concern, then it became permanent." Schuler notes that Sellers had a previous infraction as well, for riding in a government vehicle that was damaged on an unauthorized road. "My duty as a commander was to not allow any individual to be around nuclear weapons if he's not reliable," Schuler says. "The actions I took with Capt. Sellers were based on a series of observations and evaluations by myself and others based on his overall reliabililty." 

Sellers still has a handwritten note listing one day of duties toward the end of his career at F.E. Warren.

It reads:

Blake – 1 Please take trash out that is by the back handicap ramp door – 2 Dismantle candy canes for fliers – Toss fliers – Put candy canes out in bowl for customers – 3 Finish gym floor – 4 Sweep/mop lobby cafĂ©.

In March 2014, two years after Sellers was discharged, the missileer scandals, including the mass cheating revelations, made the news. Lt. Col. Schuler was eventually removed from his command. 

Blake SellersSellers believes he was punished after a "whistleblower rundown." Photograph by Chip Kalback

Sellers remains angry that the Air Force treated his genuine job concerns as a mental-health issue. He is also paranoid that the NSA will track him and his fellow former missileers now that they have spoken out. He says he's having a hard time adjusting to civilian life and is finding that the very specific skills he developed in the capsule are not transferrable to the real world. He does value certain aspects of his experience at F.E. Warren, though. Working around America's WMD program, he says, gave him a "higher tolerance for stress and working with assholes." 

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Baltimore Activist Alert - June 23-24, 2015

34] Cuba Advocacy Days – June 23 & 24
35] Iranian Public Opinion on the Nuclear Negotiations – June 23
36] Crisis for Haitians -- June 23
37] Stop Fast Track Rally at Ben Cardin's district office – June 23
38] Worker Justice in the Global Apparel Industry – June 23
39] Peace vigil – June 23
40] No JHU Drone Research – June 23

34] – Join a Cuba Consultation 2015 in Washington, D.C. on Tues., June 23.  Then on Wed., June 24 there is an Advocacy Day with congressional visits.  These events are sponsored by the Latin America Working Group (LAWG) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).  Contact the Latin America Working Group, 2029 P St. NW, Suite 301, WDC 20036.  Call 202- 546-7010 or email

35] – On Tues., June 23 at 9:30 AM, The Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland and the University of Tehran's Center for Public Opinion Research are hosting a discussion Iranian Public Opinion on the Nuclear Negotiations with Steven Kull, University of Maryland; Suzanne Maloney, Brookings Institution; and Trita Parsi, National Iranian American Council, at the Carnegie Endowment, Root Room, 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW, WDC.  Go to Call 301-405-7601.

36] – Come to the AFL-CIO, 815 16th St. NW, WDC on Tues., June 23 from 10 to 11:30 AM for a discussion on the ongoing crisis facing Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrant workers as the Dominican government threatens mass deportations. The conversation will also be an opportunity to share strategies on how unions and allied organizations can work together to fight this injustice. Panelists are Maritza Vargas, Secretary General of SITRALPRO, the union for workers at the Alta Gracia Project in the Dominican Republic, Wade McMullen, Staff Attorney for Partners for Human Rights at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights, and Lauren Stewart, Senior Program Office for Dominican Republic and Haiti, Solidarity Center.  RSVP at

37] – Stop Fast Track Rally at Ben Cardin's district office, 10201 Martin Luther King, Jr. Hwy., Suite 210, Bowie on Tues., June 23 from 10 to 11 AM.  Contact Maya Goines at or at 202-251-9879. Visit

38] – On Tues., June 23 from 12:15 to 1:15 PM in the United Methodist Building, Conference Room 1 & 2, 100 Maryland Ave. NE, WDC, join the International Labor Rights Forum for a brown bag lunch on Worker Justice in the Global Apparel Industry. Hear from ILRF's long-time ally, Kalpona Akter, from the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity and Maritza Vargas, a garment worker and union leader from the Dominican Republic! They will discuss how workers in the apparel industry are raising their voices and organizing for safe jobs, a living wage, and the right to form unions and collectively bargain without retaliation. Go to

39] – Each Tuesday from 4:30 - 5:30 PM, the Catholic Peace Fellowship-Philadelphia for peace in Afghanistan and Iraq gathers at the Suburban Station, 16th St. & JFK Blvd., at the entrance to Tracks 3 and 4 on the mezzanine.  The next vigil is June 23.  Call 215-426-0364.

40] – Vigil to say "No Drone Research at JHU" each Tuesday at 33rd & North Charles Sts. Join this ongoing vigil on June 23  from 5:30 to 6:30  PM.  Call Max at 410-366-1637

To be continued.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs  

Baltimore Activist Alert - June 23 - 27, 2015

41] Torture Talk – June 23
42] Charleston – June 23
43] Why were the atomic bombs dropped – June 23?
44] Film UNFREEDOM – June 23
45] Torture Conference – June 24
46] Torture Survivors' Week – June 24 - 27
47] Film "Taxi to the Dark Side" – June 24
48] Justice for Tyrone West June 24
49] Climate Chaos – June 24
41] – Go to the Friends Meeting of Washington, 2111 Florida Ave. NW, WDC 20008-1912 on Tues., June 23 from 6 to 8 PM to participate in Torture Awareness Week. Join Amnesty International USA Mid-Atlantic Region, National Coalition To Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF), Center for Constitutional Rights, Witness Against Torture and CODEPINK: Women For Peace for a panel discussion on the many ways that torture is written into current law, and how it is inflicted upon people both domestically and abroad. Experts and organizers from a wide variety of backgrounds, from anti-torture to prison abolition work, will be discussing how solitary confinement, police torture, surveillance of Muslim communities and CIA torture intersect to create a culture where torture is permitted and legally justified to perpetuate state violence. Go to

42] – Be at Busboys and Poets, 5th & K Sts. NW, WDC on Tues., June 23 from 6:30 to8:30 PM for a special A.C.T.O.R. to discuss the recent massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, SC. Featured will be Dr. Stacey Patton, senior enterprise reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education, adjunct professor of American history at American University, Erika Totten, community organizer and founder, Unchained, Reverend Dexter U. Nutall, pastor, New Bethel Baptist Church.  A.C.T.O.R. is a monthly discussion series that provides the opportunity for people to come together and speak openly and honestly about issues of race. The intent is that each person walks away from the discussion feeling something: challenged, educated, uncomfortable, enlightened, refreshed, reassured and hopefully inspired and moved to action! Regular discussions take place on the first Sunday of every month at 14th & V Sts. at 5 PM with a new topic and a Busboys and Poets-sponsored facilitator. Go to

43] – In conjunction with the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Exhibition, from 7 to 9 PM on Tues., June 23 at American University, Katzen Arts Center, Third Floor, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, WDC, a symposium will bring together a panel of prominent historians to reflect on the decision to drop the atomic bomb and its implications. Contact 202-885-1300.  Go to

44] – At Bloombars, 3222 11th St. NW, WDC 20010, on Tues., June 23 from 7 to 9 PM, BloomBars and Dark Frames present a controversial thriller on religious fundamentalism and intolerance—“Unfreedom” (2015, 102 min), by Raj Amit Kumar.  It is an urgent contemporary thriller about a society torn apart by political, religious, and sexual turmoil. Shifting between New York and New Delhi, the film juxtaposes two powerful and unflinching stories about religious fundamentalism and intolerance, one of which follows a Muslim terrorist attempting to kill a liberal Muslim scholar, while the other is about a young woman who defies her devout father and escapes an arranged marriage because she is secretly embroiled in a taboo lesbian romance. In this searing portrait of the polarized world we live in, all four characters go to their absolute limit—and beyond—in their struggle to defend their deeply-held and conflicting viewpoints on freedom, faith, family and love. (In English, this film is for a mature audience only). The suggested donation is $10. Enjoy free organic popcorn. See

45] – Attend a Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, Inc. (TASSC) Conference on Torture at Aquinas Hall, Catholic University (near the Brookland Metro).  The entrance for cars is at Michigan Ave. NW and 4th St. NE, WDC. The conference is on Wed., June 24 from 9 AM to 5 PM.  From 2 to 4 PM, there will be a meeting to plan for lobby visits. At 4 PM go to Capitol Hill.  Go to

46] – From Wed., June 24 through Sat., June 27, join TASSC in celebrating its 18th Annual June Torture Survivors' Week.   The TASSC vigil will be on June 27th at Lafayette Park across from the White House. Go t0

47] – See a documentary film:  "Taxi to the Dark Side," an academy award winning film about torture practices by the U.S. on Wed., June 24 at 6:30 PM.  It is the part of the Charm City Film Series, which is once a month, on the 4th Wednesday, at the Baltimore Ethical Society on W. Fayette St. Contact Joe Adams at 410-812-1447 (mobile). Enjoy complimentary refreshments and snacks.  There will be pizza for sale.

   The film is an in-depth look at the torture practices of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, focusing on a taxi driver in Afghanistan who was tortured and killed in 2002. An intelligent, powerful look into the dark corners of the War on Terror. Timely in view of the recent release of the Summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on CIA Torture. Directed by Alex Gibney, it won the Academy Award, Best Documentary Feature, 2008.  RSVP at Max will lead a discussion after the screening.

48] – On Wed., June 24 at 6:30 PM, demand justice for Tyrone West and for all victims of police brutality outside the CITY STATE'S ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, 120 E. Baltimore St. Come support this important struggle. This is the 100th week - and the 100th rally - since the brutal death of Tyrone West.  Email <>.

49] – Join health professionals, parents, and concerned citizens for our “Moms and Docs" Climate Change Roundtable. If you've been paying attention to recent reports that we're kicking off the hottest year on record (again), you know that global warming isn't only a threat for the distant future: it's a present reality. You might not know that climate change isn't just about melting ice caps and polar bears: it's an urgent threat to our health in Baltimore. Asthma, sore throats, and allergies – all are getting worse with hotter, longer summers. Not to mention the spread of diseases like Lyme's.

Hear from the experts why the acting on climate is essential for our health, why Maryland needs to switch to 100% renewable energy, and upcoming opportunities to take action. RSVP at snacks will be available, and a Q&A period will be held at the end.

Hear from UMD-Baltimore's Dr. Sara Via, Baltimore writer and mom, Dr. Lauren Poltier, Environment Maryland, Mom's Clean Air Force, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Sierra Club and Thurs., June 25 from. 6 to 8 PM at 2640 Space, 2640 St Paul St., Baltimore 21218.

To be continued.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs