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Interview with Gene Habiger, April 29, 2016

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:37 - Joining the United States Military

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Partial Transcript: Gene, I know you've spent some years in Georgia...

Segment Synopsis: Habiger, a former Air Force general, talks about his decision to join the army while he was in medical school which he recalls eventually led him to be stationed at Fort Ord, California. Habinger explains that he was later transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia for infantry training, where he would came to meet his future wife. Habinger describes his transition from the United States Army to the U.S. Air Force. Habinger talks about how he came to work in the intelligence sector of the United States Air Force where he taught soon-to-be Vietnam soldiers about survivalist methods nearing the Vietnam War.

Keywords: Air Force; California; Fort Ord, California; Georgia; USAF; University of California; Vietnam War

00:06:22 - Michigan's Wurtsmith Strategic Air Force Base

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Partial Transcript: Were there any events in early years in the Air Force that led you to strategic air command?

Segment Synopsis: Habinger talks about how he came to fly B-52's after completing pilot's training at Michigan's Wurtsmith Strategic Air Force Base. Habinger recalls how living in Michigan, with its stark contrast to the climate of Georgia, proved to be a culture shock to his young family. Habinger talks about his experience being "on alert" while at the base, which essentially meant he underwent a series of first response drills in the simulation of nuclear attacks.

Keywords: Air Craft Commander; B-52; Dr. Strangelove; US Strategic Air Command; USAF; Wurtsmith Air Force Base, Michigan

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00:12:21 - Working with the Pentagon

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Partial Transcript: What did you do in the Pentagon and some of the other places...

Segment Synopsis: Habiger talks about his experience working with the Pentagon during his days in the United States Air Force. Habiger explains that the B-1 bomber's construction was constantly contested by the United States government at the time, due to the implication that with the ending of the Cold War, the plane would be both unnecessary and expensive. Habiger explains how he came to observe the effects of politics on the military's actions while he was stationed in the Pentagon. Habiger talks about how, with the ending of the Cold War, the idea of a "peace dividend" arose, which called for a significant military funding reduction by the United States Government in the effort to boost economic growth.

Keywords: B-1 Bomber (Rockwell B-1 Lancer); Carlucci Commission; Cold War; Peace Dividend; Pentagon; Program Objective Memorandum (POM); USAF

00:17:39 - Closing military bases / The Carlucci Commission and Congress

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Partial Transcript: Carlucci Commission didn't have the congressional oversight...

Segment Synopsis: Habiger talks about how the Carlucci Commission, an organization which was responsible for the closing of Air Force bases in the effort to boost the economy, infringed on their powers when they cut military funding. Habinger explains that politicians and citizens had become accustomed to the bases and protested their closing, which eventually led to politicians implementing complex criteria as impediment measure for the Carlucci Commission. Habinger explains how the expensive remediation of military bases in accordance to the United States environmental standards led to additional unnecessary bases being left in operation.

Keywords: Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC); Carlucci Commission; Department of Defense

00:22:45 - Nuclear threat during the Cold War

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Partial Transcript: So, let me get back to the idea of the Cold War...

Segment Synopsis: Habiger explains his belief that at the end of the Cold War, and the United States victory over it, did not impart severe enough consequences on the Soviet Union. Habiger talks about his wish for the United States to have been more stern in their opposition to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Habiger expands on this point by relaying his ideal circumstance in which the United States would have forced the Soviet Union to surrender all nuclear arms during the Cold War, which he believes would have led to an expedited nuclear weapon reduction in the United States.

Keywords: Cold War; Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI); Russia; Soviet Union; nuclear weapons; terrorism

00:29:10 - Becoming Commander-in-Chief / The nuclear weapon deployment process

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Partial Transcript: Before we go there, let's talk about your years...

Segment Synopsis: Habiger explains how he was nominated by Bill Perry, the former Secretary of Defense, to become the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Air Force. Habiger recalls how the position was both humbling and intimidating as his position was given the immense power in regards to his position in the line of approval for the use of nuclear weaponry. Habiger describes how he and other military officials often acted out the process of employing the use of a nuclear weapon during his time as the Commander-in-chief.

Keywords: Air Force Space Command; Bill Perry; Operation Looking Glass; Pentagon; President of United States; Secretary of Defense; United State's Strategic Command

00:36:37 - The "football" to authorize nuclear attacks

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Partial Transcript: Gene, just tell us quickly how the term football came to represent this...

Segment Synopsis: Habiger explains the term "football", the nickname given to the black briefcase which contains the tools needed by the president to authorize a nuclear attack. Harbinger talks about the chain of command for the handling of the football in the case that the president were incapacitated. Habiger talks about his belief that the United States was in the possession of too many nuclear weapons around the 1980's. Habiger recalls the process of reducing the number of the United States' nuclear weapons.

Keywords: Dmitry Sergeyevich Peskov; Madeleine Albright; President; President pro temp of the Senate; Speaker of the House of Representatives; Strategic Air Command; Unified Command Plan; Vice President; football

00:44:46 - Handling of nuclear weaponry

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Partial Transcript: Let me back up and say that the Office of Secretary Defense...

Segment Synopsis: Habiger talks about the variety of plans created by the United States government concerning the handling, deployment, and number of nuclear weapons. Habiger recalls the reasoning he used against other military officials to justify lowering the number of nuclear weapons that the United States possessed. Habiger talks about his unprecedented interactions with Russian military officials shortly after the end of the Cold War. Habiger recalls his interchanges with General Mikhail Sergeyevich Vinogradov, particularly his experience showing the General the nuclear weaponry at the time.

Keywords: General Mikhail Sergeyevich Vinogradov; Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP); The Office of Secretary Defense; ballistic missiles

00:52:09 - Communications with Russian officials

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Partial Transcript: Sergeyevich had a real issue with his political...

Segment Synopsis: Habiger expands on his experience working with Russian General Mikhail Sergeyevich Vinogradov to share the nuclear weaponry storage methods employed by both countries. Habiger recalls gifting General Sergeyvich with a basketball signed by Michael Jordan shortly before the general had to return to Russia. Habiger describes his later interactions with other Russian officials.

Keywords: Chicago Bulls; Chief of Security; Francis E. Warren Air Force Base; General Mikhail Sergeyevich Vinogradov; Secretary of Defense; William Cohen

00:59:59 - Nuclear security in the United States and Russia

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Partial Transcript: And what was the objective of opening up the Russians this way?

Segment Synopsis: Habiger explains how in the 1990's, he and Russian generals frequently interacted with one another in the effort to display the level of security each country had in nuclear security. Habiger talks about his experience visiting Russian nuclear weapon storage sites as the first non-Russian to do so. Habiger recalls the similarities between both Russia and the United States security in regards to nuclear weaponry.

Keywords: Russia; nuclear weapons; security

01:05:59 - The Department of Energy

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Partial Transcript: Did you retire after that assignment?

Segment Synopsis: Habiger talks about how he assisted the Secretary of Energy in handling the "Wen Ho Lee case," in which Wen Ho Lee, a Taiwanese-American scientist was accused of sharing American Weaponry data with the People's Republic of China in the early 2000's. Habiger describes the political tensions between the Republican Congress and Democratic White House. Habiger talks about the changes made to the organization of Department of Energy concerning the security of the nuclear weaponry laboratories. Habiger recalls about how such changes resulted in dis-coordination between the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Keywords: Department of Energy; Pete Domenici; Secretary of Energy; The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA); Wen Ho Lee

01:13:03 - Nuclear Threat Initiative (NIT) / Center for International Trade and Security

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Partial Transcript: It wasn't long after, it seems to me, that you got a call...

Segment Synopsis: Habiger talks about his experience working with Ted Turner (the founder of CNN) in the creation of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI)- an organization concerned with the management of Nuclear Weapons in the United States and other countries. Habiger talks about how the emergence of biological and chemical threats in addition to nuclear threats in the early 2000's led to the expansion of the organization's mission statement. Habiger talks about how he came to move back to Georgia to work with the Center for International Trade and Security at the University of Georgia.

Keywords: Atlanta, Georgia; Center for International Trade and Security; Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI); Ted Turner; University of Georgia

01:21:03 - Organization memberships

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Partial Transcript: I also know that you're on the board of advisors...

Segment Synopsis: Habiger talks about his role on the UGA's Board of Visitors. Habiger shares his role in other organizations including Harvard's Elbe Group, an organization which coordinates discussions between Russian and American leadership. Habiger talks about how as President of San Antonio's Water Company, he helped with the creation of the "star" which was a symbol of America's congregation and perseverance following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Keywords: Fischer House; Minister of Foreign Affairs; San Antonio Water System; The Elbe Group; UGA Board of Visitors; University of Georgia; YMCA