CBS ‘60 Minutes’: Military ‘Can’t Trust Weapon that Doesn’t Kill’

NewsBusters.org - Media Research CenterIn a story on Sunday’s CBS "60 Minutes," on a new non-lethal ray gun developed by the Pentagon, anchor David Martin explained why such a weapon is not yet on the battlefield: "Pentagon officials call it a major breakthrough which could change the rules of war and save huge numbers of lives in Iraq. But it's still not there. That's because, in the middle of a war, the military just can't bring itself to trust a weapon that doesn't kill."

However, Martin later explains that part of the reason for the weapon not being deployed in Iraq is due to political concerns over the potential abuse of such a weapon, especially given the extreme play past abuses have gotten in the media. He talked to Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, Sue Payton:

MARTIN: But sending the ray gun to Iraq was, in the words of one Pentagon report, "not politically tenable." "Not politically tenable." What does that mean?

PAYTON: Well, I -- unfortunately, we have had something called Abu Ghraib.

MARTIN: Abu Ghraib, American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners. After these pictures surfaced, there was no stomach for even the momentary pain of the ray gun.

PAYTON: You don't ever, ever, ever want a system like this to be thought of as a torture weapon.

In other words, Abu Ghraib, a story broken by "60 Minutes II" in 2004 and hyped by the mainstream media ever since, is the reason why innocent lives are being lost in Iraq.

Martin later talked to Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department officer and former Marine, Sid Heal, who furthered the idea of a military obsessed with killing:

MARTIN: Heal was once the Marine Corps' point man for nonlethal weapons. He took them to Somalia in 1995 after America's ill-fated attempt to relieve the famine there had degenerated into a shooting war.

HEAL: It's very difficult to make a case for a humanitarian operation if the only way you have of imposing your will is by killing the people you're sent to protect. Heal tried to teach Marines to use everything from sticky foam to lasers. I was a bugle in the orchestra. I was playing the same music, but it wasn't sounding the same.

MARTIN: Were they listening to you?

HEAL: A major came up to me and said that the Marine Corps wasn't overly thrilled with the whole nonlethal concept. And his idea was, is that the Marine Corps' idea of forced escalation went from M16 to F-16. How many people could we kill and how fast we could do it.

At the end of the segment, Martin talked to Colonel Kirk Hymes, the officer in charge of the ray gun project, also known as the Active Denial System:

HYMES: The Active Denial system, being new technology, is going to have a lot of stigma around it.

MARTIN: I've never heard anybody use the word 'stigma' with respect to a new weapon. If this system could kill people, it would be easier to field.

HYMES: Lethal weapons have an easier time getting into our system.

MARTIN: You're going up against the culture of your own military?

HYMES: Absolutely.

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

DAVID MARTIN: What if we told you the Pentagon has a ray gun, and what if we told you it can stop a person in his tracks without killing or even injuring him? Well, it's true. You can't see it, you can't hear it, but I can tell you first hand, you feel it. And we're going to show you how it works tonight. Pentagon officials call it a major breakthrough which could change the rules of war and save huge numbers of lives in Iraq. But it's still not there. That's because, in the middle of a war, the military just can't bring itself to trust a weapon that doesn't kill. It's a gun that doesn't look anything like a gun. It's that flat dish antenna which shoots out a 100,000 watt beam at the speed of light, hitting anything in its path with an intense blast of heat.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Roger, I'm ready for a 100 percent shot, three seconds on the CLT.

MARTIN: Watch what happens when the electromagnetic beam, made up of very high frequency radio waves, takes on that black board. The operator uses a joy stick to zero in on his target. The effect is instant but visible only with an infrared camera and seen on this laptop. The ray gun fires, and there it is, that flash of white-hot energy.

KIRK HYMES: We are now stepping into the Buck Rogers scenario.

MARTIN: Buck Rogers? This is a ray gun?

HYMES: This is for all intents and purposes a ray gun.

MARTIN: Colonel Kirk Hymes is in charge of the ray gun, which is being tested at Moody Air Force Base in south Georgia. The targets here are people, military volunteers creating a scenario soldiers might encounter in Iraq. Angry protesters advancing on American troops, who have to choose between backing down or opening fire. Off in the distance, a half-mile away, the operator of the ray gun has the crowd in his sights.

MAN: Individuals, this is your final warning. Leave the area now.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN B: We will not leave. You leave! You leave!

MARTIN: Unlike the soldiers on the ground, he has no qualms about firing away because his weapon won't injure anyone. He squeezes off a blast.

MAN B: Oh. Get out of here!

MARTIN: The first shot hits like an invisible punch.

MAN B: We're not leaving.

MARTIN: The protesters regroup, and he fires again

MAN B: Still here!

MARTIN: And again. Finally, they've had enough. The ray gun drives them away with no harm done. Officially called the Active Denial System, it does penetrate the body, but just barely. So what happens when that beam hits me?

HYMES: It's absorbed in the top layer, 1/64th of an inch, which is about three sheets of paper that you'd find in your printer.

MARTIN: And it's hitting what inside that 1/64th of an inch?

HYMES: Right within that 64th of an inch is where the nerve endings are.

MARTIN: You have to feel the ray gun to believe it, and there's only one way to do that. To me, it felt like scalding water. What makes this a weapon like no other is that it makes you instantly stop whatever you're doing, but the second you get out of the beam, the pain vanishes, and as long as it's been used properly, there's no harm to your body.

SUE PAYTON: Huge breakthrough, huge game changer. Hello, there. How we doing?

MARTIN: Sue Payton is an assistant secretary of the Air Force and the Pentagon official in charge of buying the ray gun.

PAYTON: We have war fighters that are in harm's way, and, you know, they don't want to kill innocent people. You pick between a bullet or a bull horn, not a good choice.

MARTIN: Payton's close encounter with the ray gun was two years ago. She was a big shot from the Pentagon, so they dialed down the power of the beam. Payton was having none of that.

PAYTON: Bring it on!

MARTIN: She wanted a full blast and she got it. What did you think of the system?

PAYTON: I loved it. I started giggling.

MARTIN: Giggle is not the usual response to pain.

PAYTON: Well, I giggled after I got zapped. And you giggle because you realize that you're OK, and you realize that it had the effect that we want it to have.

MARTIN: The impulse to run the other way is so strong, anyone who keeps coming has to be considered a threat.

PAYTON: It could be used to read someone's mind in effect because you immediately know what someone's intention is. If they continue to come at you, then you're fairly sure they're not a tourist; they're probably a terrorist or an adversary who wants to do you harm.

MARTIN: So far, the ray gun's been tested only against make-believe adversaries, protesters whose rage is about as real as the placards they're carrying. You have to wonder if a more determined enemy could beat the beam. I've got several layers on, but the beam is still coming through my clothes, so I'm going to try some shields here. This is a piece of plywood. See how far this gets me. Oh! It leaves too much of your body exposed. They got my -- they got me down in my feet, so I'm going to try this mattress here. It'll cover up more of my body. OK. Let's see. No. Ah. Ooh. It hurts, but I--it--you can keep going. That's enough. So that did protect me somewhat, but that's a half mile to get to where the -- I'm trying to go, and you kind of give yourself away if you're walking around with a mattress.

MARTIN: No one gave any thought to using the ray gun when the US first invaded Iraq. But as the invasion turned to occupation, American troops started going eyeball to eyeball with Iraqis, and couldn't tell who was the enemy and who was just angry. Twenty civilians were killed in April of 2003 when soldiers from the 82nd Airborne fired on threatening crowds in Fallujah. That prompted this e-mail to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from a senior military scientist who knew what the ray gun could do. "I am convinced that the tragedy at Fallujah would not have occurred if an Active Denial system had been there." Days later, a three-star general wrote: "Having ADS"-- the Active Denial system --"in the field today would impact operations in a very critical way." Would this save lives in Iraq?

PAYTON: It would save huge numbers of lives.

MARTIN: You ever look at what's happening in Iraq and say, `We got to get this thing there faster.'

PAYTON: Absolutely.

MARTIN: But sending the ray gun to Iraq was, in the words of one Pentagon report, "not politically tenable." "Not politically tenable." What does that mean?

PAYTON: Well, I -- unfortunately, we have had something called Abu Ghraib.

MARTIN: Abu Ghraib, American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners. After these pictures surfaced, there was no stomach for even the momentary pain of the ray gun.

PAYTON: You don't ever, ever, ever want a system like this to be thought of as a torture weapon.

MARTIN: But Sid Heal, a former Marine who has followed the ray gun's progress for nearly decade, says the potential for abuse is not what's holding it up. It's something else.

SID HEAL: Cowardice.

MARTIN: Cowardice.

HEAL: Yeah. There's no other way of saying it. You could try to save people's life with a nonlethal option and fail, and it'll still be noble. But failing to try is cowardly. That is completely unacceptable.

MARTIN: Heal was once the Marine Corps' point man for nonlethal weapons. He took them to Somalia in 1995 after America's ill-fated attempt to relieve the famine there had degenerated into a shooting war.

HEAL: It's very difficult to make a case for a humanitarian operation if the only way you have of imposing your will is by killing the people you're sent to protect. Heal tried to teach Marines to use everything from sticky foam to lasers. I was a bugle in the orchestra. I was playing the same music, but it wasn't sounding the same.

MARTIN: Were they listening to you?

HEAL: A major came up to me and said that the Marine Corps wasn't overly thrilled with the whole nonlethal concept. And his idea was, is that the Marine Corps' idea of forced escalation went from M16 to F-16. How many people could we kill and how fast we could do it.

MARTIN: The nonlethal weapons Heal works with at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department today are no more advanced than what he had in Somalia 13 years ago. What's your best stopper here?

HEAL: Sponge grenade.

MARTIN: Sponge grenade.

HEAL: It's accurate out to ranges that exceed any of our other stuff. You could easily go to 50 yards with this one.

MARTIN: Is that your longest range?

HEAL: Yeah, and matter of fact, that's the longest range right now anywhere in the world.

MARTIN: Fifty yards.

HEAL: Fifty yards.

MARTIN: The stuff that we're using in the field right now is very close range. That's one of our biggest complaints. And one of the ray gun's biggest advantages. It can stay out of harm's way, yet still control a crowd. The one system we don't see out here is the Active Denial system. Could you use that?

HEAL: Could we use it? Absolutely.

MARTIN: Sid Heal wants to use it to control prison riots. The Navy could use it to fend off Iranians with their go-fast boats harassing American warships in the Strait of Hormuz. The State Department could use it to protect American embassies, like the one attacked by protesters in Belgrade. Yet the Pentagon is spending just $13.1 million on the ray gun this year out of a $475 billion defense budget. Around here, $13.1 million is peanuts.

PAYTON: Absolutely peanuts. You're right.

MARTIN: Why, if this is a breakthrough technology that can change the rules...

PAYTON: Yeah. Yes.

MARTIN: Why peanuts?

PAYTON: Yeah. Well, we don't have enough money to do the things that are the here and now. So it's extremely competitive. Yes, $13 million is chump change. I regret that.

MARTIN: Could you have fielded it sooner if you had more money to spend on it?

PAYTON: Yes.

MARTIN: A report by the Pentagon's Defense Science Board says the military is reluctant to spend much money on Active Denial until it has proven itself in the field. Sounds like a catch-22. You can't get real money until it's fielded.

PAYTON: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: But you can't field it until you get real money.

PAYTON: Yeah. That's exactly the way it is.

MARTIN: Colonel Hymes, who's in charge of all nonlethal weapons for the Pentagon, says the ray gun will be ready to go to Iraq this summer. But it's swimming against the tide of conventional military wisdom.

HYMES: The Active Denial system, being new technology, is going to have a lot of stigma around it.

MARTIN: I've never heard anybody use the word 'stigma' with respect to a new weapon. If this system could kill people, it would be easier to field.

HYMES: Lethal weapons have an easier time getting into our system.

MARTIN: You're going up against the culture of your own military?

HYMES: Absolutely.

MARTIN: The ray gun's been tested on humans more than 11,000 times over 10 years. The early tests, recorded with an infrared camera, were against people in their underwear so scientists could measure skin temperature. Their backs were turned so their eyes would not be exposed. Out of 11,000 tests, there have been six cases of rashes and blisters and two of more serious second-degree burns. It's now cleared for full power on any part of the body. Some people claim they've been able to stand in the beam for four or five seconds. So, how long can I take the heat? Here goes. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one...

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC