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Project ELF RIP
The curtains are about to close on an epic drama in the north woods of Wisconsin and Michigan. On Friday, September 17, the U.S. Navy announced intentions to close its two ELF (extremely low frequency) communications sitesone in the Chequamegon National Forest near Clam Lake, Wisconsin; the other in Michigans Upper Peninsula, near Republic in the Escanaba State Forest. The announcement drew immediate cheers from anti-nuke watchdogs who have protested the sites since plans for the installations hit the drawing boards. The Associated Press reports the Navy, admitting what opponents have claimed for yearsthat their technology is outdatedchose to close and dismantle the sites because Project ELF no longer serves its purpose adequately.
Improvements in communications technology and the changing requirements of todays Navy make the ELF communications system no longer necessary, claimed Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command spokesperson Steven A. Davis. Previously, military advocates proclaimed Project ELF a necessary tool in maintaining secure communications with the United States global submarine fleet.
During the first Gulf War, messages sent from ELF transmitters alerted submarine fleets in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere to military orders. While the Trident submarines could not respond and communication was limited to quick pulses of coded information, the ELF antenna could direct commanders to surface at appropriate coordinates to receive more detailed instructions via other communication technologies.
The low-energy waves, with wavelengths much longer than radio wavesan average wave being 2,500 miles longrequire an enormous antenna. In Clam Lake a collection of 600 40-foot towers spaced throughout sensitive wetland habitats created 2 perpendicular power lines each running 14 miles. Waves generated here penetrate the ocean to depths unreachable by radio and other communication waves. Requiring a million watts of power to generate a two-watt signal, the installation composes a very large radio transmitter.
Captain Daniel Donovan, Deputy Director for Naval Communications in 1982, told Discover magazine, ELF would have to send only a few code letters to summon a missile sub nearer the surface for firing commands.
Useful only in a first-strike scenario, communications from the transmitter would alert submarines to begin operations, leading to a potential launch of their nuclear weapons. The antennas location, easily discerned by anyone with Internet access, almost guaranteed a quick strike against northern Wisconsin, endangering the lives of people nearby. Given its incredible energy budget, a simple three-digit code would still require 30 minutes to be transmitted by the antenna, an incredibly slow process allowing enemies even more time to destroy the facility.
Dr. Helen Caldicott, in The New Nuclear Danger: George W. Bushs Military-Industrial Complex, argues that weapons employed by the Trident fleet are designed to foil the intent of START II (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which was specifically designed to eradicate first-strike weapons capable of destroying missile silos. Project ELF, thus, had its role in escalating the post-Cold War defense build- up, increasing the chances for nuclear annihilation.
Though low-frequency communication facilities were first hypothesized in the 1950s, the Navy only proposed its Project Sanguine in 1968, once scientific advances would allow such an installation. The Sanguine proposal, which eventually devolved into Project ELF, originally recommended a 6,000-square-mile grid of lines blanketing northern Wisconsin. The extensive, shallow granitic bedrock drew the Navys attention to the region as the rock, working analogously to the hollow chamber of a monstrous guitar, would contribute to the devices effectiveness.
In the face of public opposition, the Navy tried in vain to find less politically-charged sites elsewhere, including Texas, before returning to Wisconsin and Michigan with the streamlined Project Seafarer. Then President Carter stepped in and, heeding strong local opposition, had the Navy further scale down the proposed installation. The Navy returned with specs for the current assembly that remained shelved until Reagan assumed office.
As Wisconsinites organized opposition to a proposed mine near Crandonan opposition that finally won its epic battle a year ago grassroots anti-ELF sentiments also spread through rural communities, eventually alerting Madisons activist community. The northern economy, built around logging and tourism, was not predicted to breed insurgents. Activists worked to educate their neighbors throughout the state. Protests on-site began in 1981eight years before the facility went on-linewith activists pulling survey stakes. Northern Wisconsin became a hotbed of protest.
A 1971 Navy study determined that electromagnetic fields associated with ELF caused stunted growth in rats. The military sat on the details of these findings until 1976, even as concerned citizens worked to unearth information on potential health impacts of the ELF waves. The Navy convened the Ad Hoc Committee for the Review of Biomedical and Ecological Effects of ELF Radiation to analyze their research in 1973. The committees members raised concerns over potentially serious health problems related to the technology, though their worries carried little weight with militarists desiring a different message. The ad hoc committees findings only reached the public once Senator Gaylord Nelson, an environmentalist and progressive Democrat, raised a stink and released the report himself.
The battle over scientific findings continued for years with the Navy searching for experts willing to vouch for ELFs safety while the publics suspicions grew. Various figures, such as Dr. Creig R. Kronstedt, released reports describing the potential impacts on humans, suggesting ways that low-frequency waves interfered with neural activity. Others suggested that stray voltage reduced milk production in dairy cows. Speculation proved ubiquitous and though few hard facts surfaced, public relations eclipsed the scientific pursuit of reliable information. To this day, anyone expressing concerns over health problems stemming from exposure to various forms of long-wave energy is likely to be denounced as a conspiracy theorist. In effect, the citizens occupying lands surrounding the Clam Lake and Republic installations served as human guinea pigs in a massive study of the long-term effects of electromagnetic radiation on living beings.
In September 2001 the Lac Courte Oreilles band of Chippewa began pressuring the Navy to determine the nature and extent of health and environmental problems created by the antenna system. Holding treaty rights as their trump card, band officials argued that a minimal three million dollar would be needed for a study examining conditions such as cancer rates in the four-county area surrounding the project site. Navy spokesperson Richard Williamson told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that testing would be money wasted as 5 universities in proximity to the Great Lakes had already spent $25 million on research that identified no major effects from the ELF antenna.
The Navy required their detractors to provide the burden of proof that the system caused health problems. Such a burden would require an incredible investment of time and money, two luxuries least available to the working people of the northern Midwest. Whenever evidence surfaced of alleged health effects, the Navy countered with the required contradictory message.
Ultimately, the Navylike pharmaceutical companies or food purveyorsshould have been forced to prove their systems safety. But the Navys secrecy, alongside their perceived need to implement Project ELF, prevented them from assuming an ethically responsible role. Though both sites were shut down on September 30, resulting cancers and other health problems may not surface for some years with victims unable to trace their misfortune to the antenna.
During the debate over the 1996 Senate Defense Appropriations bill, Wisconsins two senators, Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, succeeded in getting the Senate to pass an amendment putting an end to Project ELF. Hawks such as Rep. Bill Young of Florida (R-FL) and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) restored funding in a joint House-Senate conference, stressing ELFs role in national security. A year later, Feingold, who had fought the antenna installation diligently on the Senate floor for years, introduced a bill to end the project, that was costing up to $15 million every year.
State of Wisconsin also fought Project ELF. In 1984, Wisconsin won
a lawsuit against the U.S. Navy. Federal Judge Barbara Crabb ordered
the site decommissioned but an appeals court overturned the finding,
ruling in favor of the Navy and keeping the facility operational.
The Clam Lake site became a Mecca for anti-nuclear activists with notable protests and numerous arrests making the front pages of newspapers throughout the region for decades. Since 1991, more than 500 arrests have been made on the ELF site. For example, on Sunday, August 8, 1999a recurring date for protest chosen in memory of the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasakia dozen protesters from a crowd of 65 were arrested for trespassing on the site. Many participants had endured a 4-day, 53-mile peace trek from the courthouse in Ashland, Wisconsin where legal battles over ELF and protesters rights had also waged for decades.
Bonnie Urfer, a local activist working with the group Nuke- watch, said that Ashland County stopped issuing trespassing tickets in 2000, leaving the federal government to take up the slack. In later protests, Forest Service officials, having jurisdiction over the National Forest lands, issued tickets, adding meaning to their agencys popular description of federal forests, Land of Many Uses.
A dozen protesters in 2003 wound up in federal court in Madison on trespassing charges, each fined $150. Federal Magistrate Stephen Crocker, threatening jail time to repeat offenders, sentenced Duluth resident Michelle Naar-Obed to 30 days in a federal prison. Naar-Obed, who has a history of civil disobedience, informed the magistrate that she had recently witnessed the direct consequences of militarization upon the innocents of Iraq and suggested he avoid placing his judicial stamp of approval on such acts. Crocker reminded Naar-Obed that the court did not determine whether or not military actions are correct.
When activists found a way to take the antenna assembly off-line, protests took on a whole new meaning. In 2000, two Luck, Wisconsin residents, Urfer and Michael Sprong, cut down three poles with hand-held saws. They patiently awaited law enforcement to take them into custody. Urfer and Sprong were the fifth team to cripple the multi-million dollar device with tools available for less than ten dollars in any hardware store.
To counter Project ELF, Nukewatch formed in 1979 in the small town of Luck. The group organized regular anti-ELF actions while also carefully monitoring shipments of nuclear materials throughout the United States by train, truck, and other vehicles.
Urfer explains that, despite the closing, Nukewatchs activists have mixed emotions over the Navys announcement. Most people are extremely skeptical of the reasons that the Navy gave, she reports, noting several more credible reasons for the Navys abandoning the sites. Speculation centers on the belief the Navy wishes to appear frugal to improve its chances of garnering more funding for operations in the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, plus any potential incursions into Iran, Syria, North Korea, or elsewhere. Some think that the Navy finally realized that the ELF site proved too vulnerable, so leaders opted for a higher number of low-frequency installations around the globe.
Others believe that another related technology, developed in the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program, with its misleading acronym HAARP, may prove more effective in communicating with their underwater fleet. The HAARP website appears to justify the suspicions with its self-description: HAARP is a scientific endeavor aimed at studying the properties and behavior of the ionosphere, with particular emphasis on being able to understand and use it to enhance communications and surveillance systems for both civilian and defense purposes.
Urfer, asked to estimate the affect Nukewatchs peaceful protests had on the Navys decision, minces no words. I think our part in its probably zero, she offers, adding, Were not even spit in the bucket when it comes to a campaign in this country. She notes that other actions, including the fight to close the School of the Americas, dwarf Nukewatchs actions in Wisconsin. But, Urfer adds, Nukewatch has planty of potential actions ahead.
Douglas J. Buege frequently writes on environmental issues, focusing on northern Wisconsin. Hes currently writing a history of the American chestnut and efforts to restore it.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.