Date: Tue, 24 Jun 1997 09:22:16 EST
The following is a speech given by Alan Kohn, 30-year NASA veteran,
retired in 1994, at Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice demonstration
outside the gates of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on June 14th,
Please post this to as many sites as possible. Kohn has emerged as an important whistleblower in the Cassini challenge.
"I haven't given a public speech for a long time. In the favorite
biblical phrase of the late President Johnson, `Come, let us reason
"I have great respect for Joel Reynolds, the safety director at KSC
[Kennedy Space Center]. He is a real gentleman; he was a pleasure to work
with. And I want to tell you that the pressure does not come from the
Kennedy Space Center. They're obeying orders from higher up. This is not
a little story, this is a national or even an international story. The
pressure comes from NASA headquarters. The orders come down-- and when the
orders come down, if you work for a bureaucracy, particularly a government
bureaucracy, you do what you're told, you say what you're told to say, and
you even think despite your intelligence the way you're taught to think.
I've never understood the voluntarily surrendering of intelligence and I
certainly can't put up with surrendering the moral requirements of justice
and protection for each other.
"Specifically, I was the emergency preparedness operations
officer--in NASA-ese I was called the EPO--on the Galileo and Ulysses
"I was also a member of the Radiological Emergency Force Group and
the RTG Contingency Working Group. My responsibilities were as already
defined: I was responsible for the safety of the government employees on
both sides of the river: CCAFS [Cape Canaveral Air Force Station] right
over here and KSC right over there.
"Let me tell you, they didn't even let me do that job. I was told
that the job was cosmetic, that nothing was going to happen and I should
just sit and counsel everyone in the radiation control center and do
nothing, and in case of disaster, the unlikely event of disaster would take
place, I could take all protective measures real time. The only protective
measure I could have taken at that time, of course, would have been to wet
my pants. And my own immediate management told me: lay off, keep a low
profile, don't let the public know, above all don't let the protest groups
know that there is any danger at all.
"I disobeyed orders. I provided that all the buildings should be
turned into fall-out shelters, that air conditioning be shut off, that
buildings be sealed, the doors be sealed, that people who were going to
work outside would be put in bunny suits and given gas masks with HEPA
filters. I provided washdowns. I told them no visitors.
"They brought visitors out anyway. And by the way, in the mission
control center when I said no visitors, I got an ovation from the
people....The people applauded me because they agreed with me. They didn't
agree with me publicly but the applause was enough to show me that on the
government side of those fences, there are a lot of people who agree with
you, but out of misguided loyalty they don't have the freedom-- they think
they don't have the freedom-- to speak out.
"I disagree. The first loyalty is to the public. The first
loyalty is to the taxpayer. The first loyalty is to each other, to our own
families. These are your friends and neighbors here. They feel the same
way you do but they're not going to say so....We were told by NASA that the
odds against the Cassini blowing up and releasing radiation is 1,500 to
one. Those are pretty poor odds. You bet the lottery and the odds against
you there one in 14 million--1,500 to one are unacceptable odds. You can't
in good conscience do a thing like that.
"I call for the people who live in this community to protect
themselves, their families and their children, to protect their neighbors. And I call on the people on the other side of the fence, the government
side of the fence, who have families and friends and neighbors in the area
also: don't let this launch go forward with 72-plus pounds of plutonium.
That is not really a sane alternative. I expect people to speak out
regardless of what the cost is.
"If you're going to keep quiet about an issue like this, then your
jobs aren't worth a bucket of warm spit. If you're going to give up your
soul and your conscience just to keep your jobs, the jobs aren't worth it.
"Now I'm going to tell you: they think their hands are tied, their
hands are not tied. They have a freedom to speak out, too. I had
resistance from many in management when I converted the buildings to
fall-out shelters and when I did all the other work I did to protect the
government workers. But I had a lot of support also. The support
unfortunately was quiet. I got away with doing the job I did against
opposition and then I got rewarded with all kinds of awards and thank yous
after I had done the job. That didn't take away the fact that we were
willing to risk the public doing these launches. How would we had protected
the public? We had representatives from, I forget whether it was fourteen
to seventeen government agencies including FEMA and Brevard Emergency
Management associations, and what they were going to do was they were going
to go out there and they were going to monitor the fall-out as the
plutonium fell on your heads, you here in Brevard County.
"And what could they have done to stop that plutonium from falling
on your heads if it was a real-time emergency? Exactly nothing. They
couldn't have erected an umbrella like I see out here over all of
Titusville, for example. And I saw the footprints of potential fall-outs
which depended on wind, speed and direction and height at which the
explosion took place. They call the RTG's indestructible; they're
indestructible just like the Titanic was unsinkable. And they are
committing the lie, the sin of omission, in not telling you the whole
truth. There should be public hearings. I don't see the Congress holding
public hearings. I don't see NASA holding public hearings. I don't see
anyone addressing the issues. They figure if they keep it quiet, if they
and just pacify everyone, they can get away with everything they want to
do. And they have gotten away with everything they wanted to do up until
now. It is time to put a stop to their freedom to threaten the lives of
the people here on the Earth and particularly the people here in the
vicinity of the space centers. I don't know know they can do this. I
don't know what in a democracy they think gives them the right to do a
thing like this. They have no such right. There is no right in the
government. This is not a combat situation. You are not soldiers You
cannot put at risk because someone makes a decision that nothing is going
to happen. As I said, they themselves say the odds are 1,500 to one,
wherever they got those numbers from I don't believe any numbers they give
me because they're all speculations. I have been in weapons systems
analysis groups. I've done figures, too. The figures are always phony,
they're just pulled out of a series of formulas which are nothing but
presumptions. The Titan IV has blown up before. If it blows up this time
and it releases plutonium it will be too late to do anything about it
whatsoever. I call on my former co-workers to speak up. I call on the
people who know the truth to speak up.
"If it means your jobs, so what? Who cares about a job? Health
and the lives of the public are more important than any job on this Earth
including the presidency of the United States. The job of the government
is to protect the people, not to put the people at risk. I expect better
from my co-workers and former employers. I expect honesty, I expect
complete hearings, I expect testimony, and after that I expect them to
cancel this launch until they can do it safely."