Fidel Castro showed up at my house one sunny afternoon in 1959. It was daddy in a mask. Over the months, I watched the George Washington of Cuba (The New York Times) transmute to Robespierre in about nine minutes, as I remember. I've been interested ever since.
So when Bernie Reeves of Metro Magazine, Betsy Buford and the good people at the N.C. Museum of History made Cuba and Fidel the subject of the Fourth Annual International Spy Convention, I jumped. See, I had an inside. When grandpa and grandma came visiting, the power trunk of Evert and Margaret's titanic Lincoln would disgorge Air Force rocket models and parts of the real things, programmable timers, switch panels, bearings, gyroscopes, bomb-sight lenses, you name it. Grandpa had done a job on the Nazis with an aerial bomb fuse of his design. Biddabang-biddaboom, the rocket crazy '50s and '60s took off and there was work aplenty for Raymond Engineering Laboratories.
The old Swede didn't have much to say about the spy business. "Everybody knows everting, anyvay," he'd rumble.
Not during the Cuban missile crisis. For months, the Kennedy boys seem to have been the only people who didn't know about the missiles of October. Cuban refugees at Opa-locka in Florida were blabbering about them. Sen. Kenneth Keating (R-N.Y.) gave speech after speech on the Senate floor. Time magazine ran maps of the sites in September. Nothing happened until an "accidental" discovery by a U2 flight on Oct. 22.
To this day there are questions about whether the long, cylindrical objects photographed by U2s in Cuba were even missiles at all. The funky photos of "missiles" could have been Hollywood crap. Radiation detectors were never overflown. President Kennedy ordered that the ships withdrawing the "missiles" not be searched, and on and on and on. Stop me if you've heard this one.
The next not-mystery is how by 1962, Soviet missiles came to be a threat. In 1959, legendarily primitive, sloppy Soviet manufacturing techniques made for ICBMs that could not with any assurance hit the United States, much less a "target." The Soviets couldn't manufacture miniature bearings of the size and precision needed for servocontrols in the birds. We just happened to have some of these bearings at our Cameron Park house. I thought they were some kind of jewelry when I first saw one. I had to put it under a microscope just to see what I had.
In stepped the Bryant Chucking Grinder Company of Vermont, whose Centalign B grinder was used to manufacture those bearings. Bryant obtained an export license from the Department of Commerce to ship to the USSR. The Pentagon went ape shit, as did the manufacturer of the actual bearings, who shipped 85 percent of its product to U.S. defense contractors.
"I was very much disturbed. We have attempted to demonstrate to the Department of Commerce the tragedy of these machines sold to Russia. This is folly which would undermine our defenses," said Horace Gilbert of Miniature Precision Bearings Inc. to the Senate.
Ultimately, 167 Centalign Bs were shipped to the USSR and the United States had a problem with the Soviets they hadn't had before. Ah, capitalism. Nothing new there.
In the '70s, the only trucks the Soviets possessed were obsolete World War II designs bought, oops, acquired from the Germans. Up galloped Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger on big white horses. Soon, Mack Trucks, Ingersoll Rand, American International, Chase Manhattan and others provided the only nation poised to cause the United States real problems on a battlefield with the largest, most modern automated truck factory in the world, plus a spanking new 647-mile, tank-duty military interstate highway leading from the Soviet frontier straight to the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul. You know what happened next, right? After 1979, when trucks and armored personnel carriers from Kama River blitzed Kabul and Afghanistan in record time, the CIA was obliged to respond with the largest covert operation in its history. The most heroic profiteer on the whole mess would have been the General Dynamics Stinger factory in California. Get it? Commies+Kama River=War&business opportunities.
Avraham Shifrin, of the Soviet defense ministry: "The businessmen that built the Kama River plant should be shot as traitors." I agree.
And it wasn't just the Reds. A man in Raleigh had a very bad day early in the Normandy invasion. His Rangers crawled over the freshly shattered bodies of the Nazi gun crew they had just slaughtered to examine the silenced 20 mm autocannon. Stamped on the receiver? "Made In The USA."
There are U.S. companies too numerous to list who aided the Nazi war effort--IBM, GM DuPont, ITT, ad nauseum. Though seldom reported, Dumbya's grandiddy, Prescott, made a bundle supplying the Nazis with gold, oil, steel, coal and shipping well into 1942, until the U.S. government seized the assets of Bush's Union Bank under the Trading with the Enemy Act. They predictably recovered the assets after the war and rolled it into the Bush family trust. They've been financing their political lives with Auschwitz slaves shoveled into ovens ever since.
Wednesday, CIA technology specialist Gene Poteat gave a talk. This dude knew the ins and outs of this stuff better than anyone. I wanted to know what the CIA did with these frequent collisions between security and the free market, like those bearings.
It was a long, jargon filled, rambling sort of question, which was finally born with the gracious aid of Reeves. I commend Poteat. He didn't waffle. He told of an advanced computerized milling machine that McDonnell Douglas sold to China, used to mill silent submarine props. "It's an old story," he said. "It's the American way."
A handful of greasy paper always trumps the security of the American people. Pissed? You should be.
"Wheh wuh da jets?" Danny asked me. The fifth grader knew a lot about interceptions.
"Someone told them to fly the wrong way."
He looked down, thinking. "Why? Who told dem?"
Five years later, 36 percent of Americans (according to a Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll with a 4 percent margin of error) believe the federal government either assisted in the 9/11 attacks or didn't stop them because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East. So I think it is appropriate to update where we are with the new Pearl Harbor. A review.
In a time of peculiar stock trades, warnings from Israel, France, Germany and even Russia, 19--oops, 12 (seven have turned up alive)--guys known to be trouble penetrate three security systems, successfully hijack four out of four airliners and strike three of four targets.
Then, something that has never before happened three times in the same day: Three steel buildings fell from fire. The centers of the buildings lost all their compressive strength at the same, exact instant, falling in the time it would take a rock to drop. Massive center columns collapsed into Tinkertoy pieces exactly the length to be trucked off on trailers and carried into the global scrap metal market, never examined. WTC 7 wasn't even struck, yet "no steel was recovered from WTC 7," according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal agency that researches building safety standards.
Between the strike and global collapse, the World Trade Center's South Tower failed in 56 minutes. Balance that against the Meridian Plaza fire in Philly, which burned for 19 hours. In 1975, a fire burned over several floors in the South Tower for three hours. "It was like a blow torch," said a firefighter.
NIST saw "no evidence of exposure to temperatures over 600 degrees Celsius for any significant time." On that day and that day only, major structural steel melted at 600, not 1,770 degrees. Photos show molten, dripping steel weeks after the collapses. I challenge anyone to reproduce that with kerosene, flame retardant office furniture and paper in under an hour.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: The NIST released a seven-page, question-and-answer summary last week of the 10,000-page report on its investigation into the World Trade Center collapses that concludes, "In summary, NIST found no corroborating evidence for alternative hypotheses suggesting that the WTC towers were brought down by controlled demolition using explosives planted prior to Sept. 11, 2001." You can read it at wtc.nist.gov/pubs/factsheets/faqs_8_2006.htm.]
After the South Tower hit, Hani Hanjour wrested control of American Airlines Flight 77 and flew for a leisurely and unchallenged 37 minutes to the most protected airspace on planet Earth. Formerly, airplanes straying from a filed flight plan by more than three miles or 15 degrees were intercepted by whomever was closest; in the case of golfer Payne Stewart, Eglin Air Force Base in Florida--in under 15 minutes. In July 2001, interception orders were changed, routing them through Rummy's office.
A man who "could not fly a plane at all" pitched the 757 into a treacherous maneuver called a slip turn. The craft fell sideways at 3,000 feet per minute, maximum for a Boeing of that size, trimmed off and vanished into the unpopulated, just renovated Army wing of the Pentagon without even kissing the lawn.
Rumsfeld sat at his desk.
For Danny's safety, I want the incompetent bastard led off in handcuffs.
Correction: The melting point of steel was incorrect in Peter Eichenberger's column last week. It is about 1,700 degrees Celsius.