May 1 2007

Letters to the Editor

The Eichenwald Storm

I appreciate Jessica Wakeman’s coverage (1-2/07) of the storm provoked by my opinion piece that ran in Salon for several hours last summer until it was removed following Kurt Eichenwald’s threats to sue Salon and me. Overall, Wakeman accurately reprised the issues. An omission and an error, however, need clarification.

Wakeman mentioned that Salon‘s lawyer told me I libeled Eichenwald. But she didn’t add that I disagreed with the lawyer. I wrote an open letter (published in CounterPunch, 9/23/06) protesting determinations that Salon made about my article without allowing me decision-making input.

Wakeman erred when she quoted me as saying that “Journalism 101” requires that reporters always look at child porn images when covering the topic. Certainly they can elect not to look. And given how legally risky looking is, I recommend that they avoid child porn like the plague, but also demand that the government create a process to allow legitimate research. That was the point of my Salon piece.

Meanwhile, if reporters include detailed, visually oriented descriptions of illegal imagery in their published work without having examined it directly, Journalism 101 tenets dictate that they must clearly attribute the viewing to another source and not imply that they, themselves, looked. To do otherwise is misleading and unethical.

Debbie Nathan

New York City, N.Y.

China, the U.S. and Space Warfare

In the March/April 2007 issue of Extra!, Karl Grossman writes about me: “Where exactly has McDowell been as the U.S. has ratcheted up its space warfare program over the past two decades?”.

In fact, I have been active and loud in critiquing that program and arguing that the weaponization of space does not serve U.S. interests. I agree with many of your criticisms of U.S. policy and military adventurism, and am well familiar with the egregious U.S. space policy. Nevertheless, I stand by my specific statement that “this [the Chinese anti-satellite test] is the first real escalation in the weaponization of space that we’ve seen in 20 years.

Thanks to efforts by progressive activists, scientists such as David Wright and Laura Grego at the Union of Concerned Scientists, the few remaining liberal lawmakers in Congress and some astonishingly sensible senior military and defense officials at the Pentagon, the efforts of the Reagan administration and its successors to move from development of space weapons to deployment have been stalled since 1986. It is a fact that this is the first actual in-space anti-satellite test since then. (There is one rumored anti-satellite test by a ground-based U.S. laser, but the evidence for that is equivocal.)

The U.S. has come out with plenty of rhetoric about space weapons, and lots of (mostly fairly insane) proposals, and probably built test hardware on the ground, but they haven’t actually flown anything in the ASAT realm for 20 years. (Of course there have been anti-ballistic missile tests by the U.S., and the ABM treaty is now in tatters, but that is a somewhat separate issue.) There is a big difference between talk and actions; the U.S. has been talking, China has now acted.

I believe that the Chinese test is a big mistake on their part, responding to U.S. intransigence on a space weapons treaty and opening the way for the U.S. to use China-bashing as an excuse to deploy their own systems. I hope I am wrong and that it will instead lead to renewed effort for a treaty, but I am not optimistic. In fact, an anti-satellite capability does make some strategic sense for China as an asymmetric response to the space support role of U.S. systems, which is one reason why the U.S. should support efforts towards an ASAT treaty instead of opposing them.

A little googling would have revealed that I have not been shy in calling the Pentagon on its violations of the U.N. registration convention for space objects. It behooves me to be equally critical of the Chinese when they deserve it. I do not mean to imply that China’s space policy is “worse” than that of the U.S., but I do not apologize for claiming that this is a serious and negative development.

Jonathan McDowell

Editor, Jonathan’s Space Report

Somerville, Mass.


I write to clarify a couple of key points regarding the Chinese missile destruction test. I agree with the major points of the article, as U.S. military ambition is the primary driver of space weaponization and is underreported. However, in contrast to Mr. Grossman’s claim, the New York Times article (1/19/07) did make repeated references to the U.S.’s opposition to space arms control, and to China’s likely motivation of using the test to attempt to force the US into negotiations. The Times also discussed recent U.S. national space policy, and our isolation on the subject. Give the Times credit; they did a decent job here.

There is another concern by many interested observers about China’s test, which is that the test produced an extremely large cloud of debris reaching to relatively high altitudes. Some of this debris is likely to impact and damage one or more low-Earth-orbit satellites; thus, this test has led to a substantial increase in the pollution of space, which is not in anyone’s best interests.

Craig Heinke

Dept. of Physics & Astronomy

Northwestern University

Evanston, Ill.


The think tank survey in the March/April 2007 issue misstated the number of citations for three think tanks. The Hoover Institution’s 2006 total is 827, not 1,007, and its 2005 total is 1,007, not 695. The Aspen Institute’s 2005 total is 334, not 382. The Reason Foundation’s 2006 total is 346, not 446, and its 2005 total is 164, not 324. The rankings for the three think tanks were presented correctly in the article.

Based on these corrections, there was a 5 percent decline in 2006 among all think tanks, rather than the 4 percent stated in the article. Conservative think tanks declined by 10 percent, not 7 percent, and centrist think tanks declined by 5 percent rather than 6 percent. A corrected version of the article will be available online.