“An aircraft accident is a very traumatic thing … the violence alone is something to be seen to be believed”. David Corre, his hands shaking from Parkinsons, looked me straight in the eye as he said this.
It was June 2002. We were sitting in the lobby of BAE Systems, Farnborough. David had short, wispy salt and pepper hair, and spoke with a soft West Country accent that broke as his hand shook. He was 71 but still working, and regularly flew Tiger Moths and Cessnas.
In his 46 years with the aircraft industry he had worked on the designs for the iconic Concorde, and the TSR-2, a British Cold War strike and reconnaissance aircraft that was cancelled before ever going into service. “It was probably the most advanced aircraft ever built in this country,” David told me with absolute conviction. “Had it been built in numbers and gone into service, it would undoubtedly have still been in service. It was one of the most beautiful aircraft I have had the pleasure of working on.”
Eric Schlosser, (Fast Food Nation), has a new book out. Command and Control is a terrifying account of accidents, near-misses, extraordinary heroism and technological breakthroughs, in the US management of nuclear weapons. From Mother Jones preview of the book:
Just days after JFK was sworn in as president, one of the most terrifying weapons in our arsenal was a hair’s breadth from detonating on American soil. It would have pulverized a portion of North Carolina and, given strong northerly winds, could have blanketed East Coast cities (including New York, Baltimore, and Washington, DC) in lethal fallout. The only thing standing between us and an explosion so catastrophic that it would have radically altered the course of history was a simple electronic toggle switch in the cockpit, a part that probably cost a couple of bucks to manufacture and easily could have been undermined by a short circuit—hardly a far-fetched scenario in an electronics-laden airplane that’s breaking apart.
If we don’t greatly reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world, or completely eliminate them, a major city is going to be destroyed by a nuclear weapon. It’s remarkable—it’s incredible!—that a major city hasn’t been destroyed since Nagasaki. We can confront this problem or we can accept that hundreds of thousands or more will be killed. And I don’t think that’s inevitable. The book was really written with a notion of trying to prevent that.
The brilliant Adam Curtis on MI5 and the history of British Spying. Essentially it appears that the security services are completely useless and incompetent, and that MI5 - whose job it was to catch spies that threatened Britain - has never by its own devices caught a spy in its entire history.
Some choice titbits:
The creation of MI5 was “created in large part by the dreams of a socially excluded novelist, and the paranoid imaginings of the readers of the Daily Mail”.
The Daily Mail’s spy correspondent Chapman Pincher, was once brilliantly described by the historian EP Thompson as: “a kind of official urinal in which ministers and intelligence and defence chiefs could stand patiently leaking.”
Street gangs in Glasgow were breeding pigeons exclusively for the apparently successful goal of kidnapping the pigeons from the rival gangs.
One of the biggest catches of a Spy selling secrets to the Russians was uncovered when the Russians themselves told MI5:
the spy was only caught when he took some of the best of these secrets and tried to stuff them into the letter box of the Second Secretary of the Russian Embassy, Mr Gouk. Gouk was so confused by this that, instead of passing them on to the KGB, he went round to MI5 and gave them back, and told them where they had come from.