This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Weather: Calamities of Nature & Weather Modification as a Weapon of Imperialism
by The Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE) & Mark Looney
CALAMITIES OF NATURE
Weather is often used as a catch-all explanation by government and business to explain rising food prices. For example, last spring it was said that meat prices rose because of monsoons, floods, droughts, hurricanes… not a word about the profit rate of agribusiness or collusion of the government with big-time grain dealers.
In fact, the “catastrophies” weren’t really so catastrophic. Total world food production increased by 4 percent in volume despite bad weather conditions. Even the supply of livestock, though diminished by bad weather last winter, decreased by only 3 percent from 1972 levels. This small decline cannot account by itself for the nearly 40 percent increase in retail meat prices which occurred in the U.S., even if it did contribute to short-term higher prices.
Here’s What Was Going On Throughout 1973:
In Asia, a monsoon failure resulted in heavy crop losses in India, China, Korea, and Indonesia. Rice and corn production was low in Thailand. There was a severe drought in the wheat-producing areas of Australia and Western Africa. Hot, dry weather in the Soviet Union cut their grain crop by 24o/o, threatening bread shortages throughout the country. In the United States, harsh winter weather early in 1973 killed cattle. Later in the year, floods hurt some grain and vegetable crops.1
Feed costs became high because, with bad weather and the American devaluations, everyone wanted American corn and soybeans. The price of corn in the U.S. rose from $1.13 in April 1971, to $3.37 one year later and to $6.14 by April 1973.2
The failure of the Peruvian anchovy crop contributed to the price increases of soybeans, corn, and meat. In 1972-3 the Humbolt current off the coast of Peru altered its course and drastically reduced the catch of rich anchovies which have long been an important ponent of livestock feed. Owners of livestock have had to find other sources of feed and are now using more corn and more of the high-protein soybeans.
Here’s How the Government Responded:
Shortages of soybeans and anchovies had been intensifying for two years. The size of the Soviet grain deal was known to the Nixon Administration during summer of 1972. The government was aware that the weather disasters threatened to create some serious shortages and that, unless supplies increased, prices would begin to rise as a result of these shortages.
Something could have been done about the situation. In the summer of 1972, the government was paying farmers to withhold 60 million acres from production. This amounted to almost 15% of all U.S. cropland. Traditionally, land was withheld in this way in order to keep surplus production from driving prices down too far and undercutting farmers’ incomes. But in 1972 it is clear that the opposite situation developed. Instead of the usual surplus of farm crops, a serious deficit occurred. Instead of falling prices, we could anticipate sharply rising prices as demand pressed against supplies.
If the government truly represented the public interest and had acted immediately, when it knew about the extent of grain shortages during the summer of 1972, it would not have been too late to prevent wheat prices from skyrocketing the way they did. If some of the acres which had been withheld had been permitted to be put into production before Labor Day, they could have been used for the fall planting of the winter wheat crop, which normally accounts for about 75 percent of U.S. wheat production.3 The government did nothing, prices rose, we paid, and the grain dealers profited.
Why did the government choose not to act? First, it was an election year and the President was courting the farm vote. He knew that he would gain most favor among the farmers if he kept supplies tight and permitted farm prices to rise. Second, the large grain dealers were making the most profits from the short supplies — both in their roles as middlemen and through their speculation on the commodities exchange. The President and his Secretary of Agriculture have had close ties to those large grain dealers, and hardly wanted to undercut the profits they were making.4
In short, calamities of nature clearly reduced the supplies of grain and livestock, but it was not necessary that these shortages cause the kinds of price inflation we experienced. The price effects of the shortages could have been regulated, but the government, because its role is to keep profits flowing and to convince us that this is in our best interests, did not take the steps to regulate the prices. The prices rose, and the weather was blamed — but, as we have tried to show, prices do not “naturally” rise because of natural disasters.
SELLING THE RAIN
WEATHER MODIFICATION AS A WEAPON OF IMPERIALISM
As economic competition among many disadvantaged nations heightens, it may be to a country’s advantage to insure a peaceful, natural environment for itself and a disturbed environment for its competitors … Such a secret war need never be declared or known by the affected populations… The years of drought and storm could be attributed to unkindly nature.
— Dr. Gordon J.F. MacDonald, former member of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality5
Let me say this before rain becomes a utility that they can plan and distribute for money. By “they” I mean the people who cannot understand that rain is a festival, who do not appreciate its gratuity, who think that what has no price has no value, that what cannot be sold is not real, so that the only way to make something actual is to place it on the market. The time will come when they will sell you even your rain.
— “Rain and the Rhinocerous” by Thomas Merton.6
Modern weaponry in the twentieth century has increasingly shocked us with its vast array of sophisticated scientific instruments of death. From the ruins of Hiroshima to the jungles of Indochina, we have seen the results of the misuse of science and the misappropriation of resources. Out of the Pentagon labyrinth have come a series of horrors from H-bombs to guava bombs. We should expect more additional horrors to appear unless we cut off funds for the war machine. Vietnam served as a testing ground for some of these weapons and countless other new armaments for the United States. It is important to look at Vietnam in a larger sense, as the proving ground of US imperialism for control of Third World. Not only are weapons tested but the Vietnamese people are tested, world opinion is tested, American soldiers and the American public are tested. One lesson that I feel we learned from Vietnam is that overt American military involvement (soldiers, pilots, etc.) will not be as easily tolerated or as successful as covert involvement (aid to Saigon, advisors, etc.). While drafting American youth to fight and die in Vietnam proved in the long run unsuccessful, funneling aid to Saigon has continued, even though at reduced levels. As the war progressed, human involvement was replaced by more sophisticated technological involvement. A policy of covert warfare for the Third World by the US seems feasible for the future. Chile and Allende were good examples of how this new secret warfare will work.
Weather modification, more specifically rain modification, was a complicated scientific weapon that the American military experimented with in North Vietnam, South Vietnam and Laos from 1967-1972. Due to the efforts of Senator Clairborne Pell and the Chicago Science for Vietnam Collective a wealth of information on military weather tampering in Indochina and elsewhere was collected during hearings held in the summer of 1972 and early 1974. Pell’s chief motivations were to flush out information on what occurred in Indochina to enlighten world opinion and hopefully to enact international treaties banning weather and environmental warfare. After much lying (Laird once told Fulbright that they never used weather modification in Indochina) and stalling, a secret, now unclassified session was held between Pell, Sen. Case, and military brass on March 20, 1974, regarding Indochina.7 This hearing revealed the Pentagon soaked a total of $21.3 million in flying 2,602 rainmaking sorties over Indochina between 1967-1972.8 In October 1966, Lt. Col. Ed Soyster testified, the Pentagon ran a series of tests to determine if they could increase rainfall over parts of Indochina. Col. Soyster stated that the program was to determine if increased rainfall could further soften roads, cause landslides, wash out river crossings and in general augment poor traffic conditions. By November 9, 1966, the tests were completed and it was concluded that cloudseeding to induce additional rain over infiltration routes “could be used as a valuable tactical weapon.” On March 20, 1967, the Pentagon began cloud-seeding operations over North Vietnam using WC-130 weather reconnaissance and RF-4C photo reconnaissance aircraft. According to the hearings, rainfall was increased by over 30% in selected areas. Apparently the first time weather modification was actually used in Vietnam was over Hue in 1963 by the CIA.9
In beginning to uncover the US military weather modification operations we need to extend thanks to the Chicago Collective of Science for Vietnam. Their report “The Big Gun is the Rain” issued in April 1972, uncovered Project Blue Nile — one of the numerous research projects on weather modification funded by the US government.10 Project Blue Nile focused on Vietnam and involved the RAND Corporation, University of Illinois, Yale, Nuclear Research Associates, Systems Science and Software, and TRW, Inc. Obviously the Air Force was involved extensively in weather modification work in Indochina and remains quite involved in this area today. Air Weather Service is the umbrella weather agency of the Air Force that has been writing detailed reports on the weather of other countries since the mid-1940’s. Global Weather Control in Offet, Nebraska and Scott Air Force Field in East St. Louis are two important bases for Air Weather Service. The Air Force’s Cambridge Research Laboratories at Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass., coordinates much of the research activity on weather modification for the Air Force and worked closely with Air Weather Service on the Indochina weather modification.
The Navy is also heavily involved in weather modification activities. Their work headquarters is China Lake Naval Base, China Lake, California. Pierre St. Amand, the director of weather modification research at the base testified before Senator Pell a year ago in describing their work. Rain control is top on their agenda. Yet they also have been able to clear fog, reduce hail, influence cloud formation, snow, lightning, etc.11 Overseas this base has cleared fog in the Panama Canal, produced rain in India in 1967 (after droughts), produced rain in Okinawa and the Philippines in 1969 and 1971, respectively. Afghanistan, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Iran, Kenya, Libya and Taiwan also petitioned this base to assist in weather modification work. Australia, Brazil, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Philippines, Russia, France, Canada and Italy all have active weather modification programs. Yet the United States seems to have the most developed knowledge, techniques and practice — since we have been actively testing for the last forty years. The first appropriation of $9,000 for making experiments by Congress to the Agriculture Department was made in 1891.12 There are also numerous weather modification corporations engaged in work both in the US and overseas. Over 60 countries have contracted for the services of these corporations.13
It is important to realize how extensively the US military is involved in weather modification efforts. Both the Air Force and Navy maintain their own weather satellite system. Several very sophisticated satellites have been kept aloft for the last nine years. The Navy’s Fleet Numerical Weather Control in Monterey, California and the Air Force’s Global Weather Control serve as the command bases for these operations. High over our heads the military weather satellites are providing both visible-light and infrared imagery for day and night cloud surveillance in addition to making vertical temperature profiles.14 This data from the satellites is received at secret ground stations around the world and is converted to digital computer format at the two base stations. When this system was revealed three years ago, then Under-Secretary of the Air Force John McLucas revealed that “certain aspects of the data system remain classified.”15
NASA satellites have contributed a great deal to the military’s understanding of weather. (NASA is an agency that is heavily dominated by the military despite any outward “civilian” appearances.) Many of the first satellites in the 1950’s were weather satellites. A total of 22 TIROS and ITOS weather satellites were launched. Weather rockets are launched frequently by NASA at Wallops Island, Virginia. Most mysterious of all are the ILLIAC 4 weather modification computers operated jointly by DOD and NASA at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffet Field, California. These computers were an outgrowth of Project Blue Nile and were installed in 1973. Their purpose is to study how human-made changes in the weather effect the global climate. Manned spaceflights such as Skylab also collected information on weather. At the NASA LBJ Space Center in Houston, Texas, displays and movies refer to the use of this information on weather modification research. NASA has collected a lot of detailed data on how the sun affects the weather.
Numerous unclassified documents indicate that the Army is also heavily involved in weather modification research at places like the Army Electronics Command Base at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and various missile bases such as the Army Missile Command at Huntsville, Alabama, and the US Signal Missile Support Agency at White Sands, New Mexico. The whole US government weather scene is dominated by the military. The “civilian” US Weather Service was created by the Army Signal Corps. Today the Weather Service and its parent organization the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are overflowing with old and active Air Weather Service-Air Force people. Dr. George Crossman, present Director of the Bureau, worked computerizing the Air Force before he came to the Weather Bureau. Now the Weather Bureau is being totally computerized by Crossman.
Meteorological schools are also swamped by the military with scholarships, jobs (DOD is the largest employer of weatherpeople) contracts, consultant fees, etc.
Controlling rain has been at the top of the list for the military — not only increasing it, but stopping it. A great deal of work has been done on cloud dispersion which results in droughts. In the late 1940’s, the Air Force discovered to the disgust and anger of Texas and Arizona cattle ranchers that drought could be created through overseeding. Weather modification expert Gordan MacDonald confirms this fact in his article “How to Wreck the ‘Environment” from Unless Peace Comes:
Preliminary analysis suggests that there is no effect 200-300 miles down range but that continued seeding over a long stretch of dry land clearly could remove sufficient moisture to prevent rain 100 miles down wind. This extended effect leads to the possibility of covertly removing moisture from the atmosphere so that a nation dependent on water vapor crossing a competitor country could be subjected to years of drought. The operation could be concealed by the statistical irregularity of the atmosphere. A nation possessing superior technology in environmental manipulation could damage an adversary without revealing its intent…16
Why would the United States government have such a strong interest in controlling the rain? Perhaps the answer was supplied by Pierre St. Amand, Director of the Navy’s China Lake Base before Senator Pell’s committee on January 25, 1974:
Strategic use would be use that tended to upset the economy of another country for a long period of time, or to cause extensive damage to the crops of that country.17
Is it a coincidence that the world has been having a lot of strange weather lately which has been very damaging to some foreign crops? In the last few years many countries throughout the world have been experiencing bad weather which has reduced their crop production and made them more dependent on the US for food. In 1973, the Soviet Union was motivated to make the largest grain purchase in history largely due to drought. By 1973, Dr. A.H. Boerma, Director of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization released information that the world is faced with a serious shortage of rice and wheat due to droughts in 36 countries18. Six Western African nations have been the focal point of world concern because of their drought. In this region countless acres of crops, millions of cattle and many lives have been lost19. Floods and droughts have also hit Asia hard since 1973 affecting crop production in· Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the People’s Republic of China. Last summer floods destroyed rice and jute crops in India and Bangladesh leaving many peasants without food or income. Northeast Brazil20, which is traditionally a drought area experienced floods last spring. Drought hit the Mexican state of Sonora last summer killing 100,000 head of cattle21. Low rainfall in West Germany in 1973 affected vegetable yields in northern and central areas. Droughts in Cyprus in 1973 destroyed grain production and hurt other crops.22
Meteorologists around the world have concluded that indeed the weather in the past few years has been strange and that major changes in the world’s weather are underway. Reid Bryson, director of the Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, testified before Congress in 1973 that the bad weather which began to slash food production in 1972 “is not just a passing chance combination of circumstances. The evidence is now abundantly clear that the climate of the earth is changing. It would appear that we are at the end of an era — the era of surpluses and the era of benign climate.” Bryson continued by testifying that changes are not likely to effect US food production, but severe cutbacks are possible in Africa, South Asia and China where mass starvation could occur.23
Dr. H.H. Lamb, a European climatologist, believes that the greatest change in world climate since the 1700’s is occurring24. One theory is that the present warming trend, which usually lasts for 10,000 years, is over. Other theories exist, yet little attention has been given by meteorologists to the possibility of human interference.
This global change in weather comes at an unusual time historically — a time that could lead nations to use weather modification as a weapon. We live in an era when nations are struggling over control of all kinds of resources. Such a struggle has occurred many times historically, but now we find the world in a new situation with minerals that will be depleted relatively soon in the future and a world population that is scheduled to double by the end of the century. Complicating this situation is the obsolete and dangerous US capitalist economy which gobbles more than its share — 40%-50% of the resources for 6% of the world’s people. Even more resources will be needed in the future if this economy is to survive. Growth will not be controlled under the present system: thus we can expect more conflict between the US and the Third World. For quite some time the US government has been concerned about this predicament. Twenty years ago a Senate Interior Committee report concluded that there was no doubt that Washington knew that if mineral-rich nations cut off their supplies, “to a very dangerous extent, the vital security of this nation (capitalism) would be in serious jeopardy.”25 Increasingly, Third World nations are demanding control over their resources and are nationalizing US companies that formerly controlled them. Ignited by the example of the OPEC countries, such efforts have spread to the bauxite countries, banana countries, tin and many others. In response, the chiefs of US imperialism — Ford and Kissinger — have waved swords at the oil countries. Yet using swords had limited results in Indochina. Perhaps controlling the world’s food supply would be a better weapon.
In 1972 Radio Havana charged that the CIA had modified Cuba’s rainfall to affect her sugar crop. The Thai government had modified weather against liberation troops in its northeast sector according to hearings held before the House last September. Rhodesia was accused by her neighbors of weather warfare in 1973.26
The US Senate in July of 1973 passed a resolution calling for an international treaty to ban weather modification and other environmental warfare. This resolution is still pending in the House. In the UN, efforts to achieve a treaty were sparked by the Soviet Union and several other countries this Fall. Such UN efforts have been weakened by the US in the past as with the Stockholm Environmental Conference in 1972 where the US delegation weakened a clause in a resolution to evaluate and disseminate information on weather modification.
We mentioned earlier that severe droughts have affected the world’s wheat and rice production. Today the US is the largest producer of wheat and rice. It controls a larger share of the world’s food than the Arabs control of oil. US agricultural exports have skyrocketed from $8 billion in 1972 to $20 billion in 1974. Use of this food has become more overtly political in the last few years. Bangladesh was threatened with a suspension of food aid unless it stopped selling gunny sacks to Cuba. The Allende government was denied wheat that was urgently needed shortly before the coup. After the Pinochet junta took power, the wheat aid was delivered. Indochina was formerly the world’s largest rice producer but was surpassed by the US after the use of military defoliation. Last September Ford gave his ominous UN speech warning that “energy is required to produce food and food to produce energy.”
Obviously a great deal more work needs to be done in this area by concerned radical scientists. We need to establish contact with scientists and GI’s involved in this work and find out exactly what is going on. The results of our work need to receive widescale public exposure. One thing is clear — your government is discussing using brutal weapons to decide who shall eat or die. Do you want this done in your name?
To give food aid to countries just because people are starving is a pretty weak reason.
— Denny Ellerman, US National Security Council staffperson, Washington Post, December 9, 1974.27
Starvation, hunger and food shortages will unleash and sharpen all the basic contradictions. The imperialists will respond with solutions like population control, war and greater monopoly power. But hunger is too stark and the conflict irreconciliable. The situation could well define the coming period.
— Prairie Fire, Weather Underground.28
- Fortune Magazine, July 1973, p. 184.
- National Food Situation, United States Economic Service, August 1973, p. 19.
- Working Paper on Meat Prices, Art Larsen, New American Movement, Los Angeles, August 28, 1973.
- URPE fact sheet on “Commodities Speculation.”
- Weather Modification, hearings before the U.S. Senate, 93rd Congress, January 25, 1974, p. 52.
- Merton, Thomas, “Rain and the Rhinocerous” from Raids on the Unspeakable.
- Prohibiting Military Weather Modification, hearings before the U.S. Senate, 92nd Congress, July 26 and 27, 1972, p. 7.
- Op. cit., Weather Modification, p. 93.
- Op. cit., Prohibiting Military Weather Modification, p. 14.
- Recon, October 1974 (P.O. Box No. 14602, Philadelphia, Pa. 19134).
- Op. cit., Weather Modification, pp. 32–50.
- Halacy, D.S. Jr., The Weather Changers, Harper & Row, 1968, p. 65.
- Ibid., p. 99.
- Aviation Week & Space Technology, December 3, 1973, pp. 52–55.
- Avaiation Week & Space Technology, March 13, 1973, p. 18.
- Op. cit., Weather Modification, pp. 57–58.
- Ibid., p. 41.
- Washington Post, June 12, 1973.
- Washington Post, June 17, 1973.
- Washington Post, April 23, 1974.
- Washington Post, June 20, 1974.
- Weather, April 1974, p. 306.
- Washington Post, June 17, 1973.
- U.S. News & World Report, Sept. 3, 1973.
- Elements, October 1974/Institute for Policy Studies Newsletter.
- Weather Modification as a Weapon, hearings before the U.S. House of Representatives, 93rd Congress, Sept. 24, 1974.
- Washington Post, December 9, 1974.
- Prairie Fire, Weather Underground.