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Former Secretary of the Air Force Thomas Reed

His new book is At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War. Reed recounts America's fight against communism at the height of the cold war. Reed was director of national reconnaissance, a special assistant to President Reagan for national security policy, and a consultant to the director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a well-known center for nuclear weapons research.


Other segments from the episode on March 10, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 10, 2004: Interview with Thomas Reed; Review of three books on New York.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Thomas Reed discusses his new book "At The Abyss: An
Insider's History of the Cold War"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

You might have read the recent revelation that the US sabotaged a Soviet
pipeline during the Cold War, which may have contributed to the economic
problems that helped lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union. My guest
Thomas Reed broke that story in his new book "At the Abyss: An Insider's
History of the Cold War." Reed has several credentials qualifying him as
an insider, as we'll discuss in a few minutes. He helped design nuclear
weapons in his work at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory from 1959 to '62. He
later helped determine the future of nuclear weapons. He was secretary of the
Air Force from 1966 to '77. He served as President Reagan's special assistant
for national security policy and was a member of the US Strategic Command's
Science Advisory Group. Reed was the Northern California chair of Ronald
Reagan's first gubernatorial campaign. He spent much of his career in private

Let's start with the Siberian natural gas pipeline, which the United States
blew up. What exactly did we do, and why did we target this pipeline?

Mr. THOMAS REED (Author, "At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold
War"): Well, first of all we didn't blow it up. The Soviets blew it up
themselves. We targeted the theft of technology that was going on in direct
contravention to the spirit of detente. The Soviets had engaged in massive
technological espionage to steal US industrial and defense secrets. One
secret they stole was some software, and they then used it inappropriately for
reasons we'll get to.

GROSS: So how did we find out that the Soviets were stealing our technology?

Mr. REED: We gained access in 1981 to a KGB officer in the technical
espionage directorate. And he showed us what they had been doing for several
years, a massive theft of technology, and what they were planning to do. He
also gave us the Soviet shopping list, which gave us leads as to how we might
take corrective action.

GROSS: So how did we use the shopping list to sabotage the pipeline?

Mr. REED: Armed with that intelligence, the conventional wisdom would have
been to arrest or deport all the agents and shut the operation down. But it
occurred to Mr. Casey and an associate of mine at the NSC, Gus Weiss,
instead to help the Russians with their shopping but that every chip, every
turbine blade, every engine, every piece of software would, in fact, have an
added ingredient. And in the case of this particular incident, the Soviets
wanted to get controls to operating systems for the Trans-Siberian

They bought a computer on the open market, an outdated computer, but it
worked. But they could not get the software. So they penetrated a Canadian
software firm, and through that channel they basically stole software from the
US. The thing is we knew they were doing that, and so we added to that
software what is known as a Trojan horse. And that is a few lines of code
that say, `Run the whole program as planned, but on a certain given day do
something different.' In case of the pipeline, we said, `Run the software, as
you're supposed to, to run all the pumps and compressors and valves. Certain
day we're going to run a pressure test. On a certain day we want to run this
pipeline at twice its rated pressure.' That, we expected, would rupture the
pipeline all over but, in fact, blew up in one spot out in Siberia. The Air
Force thought it was a three-kiloton explosion. The rocket test people
thought the Soviets were launching from some unknown location. It was a very
visible signal.

GROSS: So, like, if our experts thought this was a nuclear explosion, how did
the people who were in on this operation tell them that it wasn't? That this
was actually sabotage?

Mr. REED: Basically, they didn't tell us it was sabotaged. I worked at the
White House, and the White House associate who had been involved in developing
this program, which was very tightly controlled by Mr. Casey and Mr. Weiss and
a few others--we were looking at the possibilities, they say, of a nuclear
explosion or a missile launch. And then Gus Weiss came down the hall and just
came into my office and said, `Don't worry about it.' And you ask why once in
those circumstances, and they just said, `Just don't worry about it.' And so
we said, `OK,' and turned our attention to other things.

GROSS: When did you actually learn the truth about this story?

Mr. REED: Twenty years later. When I started working on this book, people
began to come forward. You know, the US and the Soviet Union, as superpowers,
kept thousands of cards very close to their chest. And it was only as the
old-timers began to retire and die off that some of these cards fell to the
table, some of them face up, and you could begin to see what was going on.
Gus Weiss finally looked me up about a year and a half ago because he heard I
was doing this book and said, `You know, you need to know about that explosion
and what caused it.'

GROSS: Now he actually died a few months ago, didn't he?

Mr. REED: Yes, he did.

GROSS: You must be glad that he revealed this particular secret before

Mr. REED: Oh, yes, I am. It's very sad--well, a lot of the people I've
talked to are dying off. But, you know, I've talked to a very elderly
gentleman in Los Angeles, who was Howard Hughes' last roommate. I talked to
Gus Weiss, who died about a year after talking to me. I've talked to all
sorts of Soviet scientists, who are falling by the wayside. This has been a
race with the Grim Reaper to get some of these stories and then check the
facts because I've learned you've got to check every fact, everything that
you're told, very carefully.

GROSS: What's the closest we came to nuclear war that you were able to
discover through the research for your book?

Mr. REED: I think it happened over and over. The whole point of the book is
throughout the Cold War over and over we came perilously close to the use of
nuclear weapons or an incident that would have led to such. We can start back
at Cuba. Those who are old enough to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis don't
understand how close we came to disaster. The title of this book comes from
the message that Khrushchev sent Kennedy that, `We are approaching the edge of
a nuclear abyss.' It turns out the Soviet Union had in Cuba at the time of
the crisis 98 nuclear weapons. They were not the warheads for the missiles
still en route. They were bombs for aircraft, they were anti-ship missiles,
but they were 98 nukes. General Pliov, the general officer in charge of
the Soviet forces, got his charter from Khrushchev before he left Moscow:
`Stay in touch, but if you lose touch and if you come under attack, use your
best judgment.'

If we had gone around starting to bomb airfields in Cuba, undoubtedly, there
would have been nuclear retaliation all the way through Vietnam. Not well
understood that we--at the very beginning at Dien Bien Phu, some members of
the administration--I think John Foster Dulles as a matter of fact--wanted to
give a couple of nukes to the French to help defend Dien Bien Phu--I have no
idea how we would do that with nuclear weapons--to various confrontations at
sea up all the way to the end; that perhaps the most impressive approach to
nuclear weapons that is most satisfying is the degree to which the Red Army
was responsible and careful in the matter of nukes.

We all remember the attempted coup in Moscow in 1981. Gorbachev is down in
the Crimea. Yeltsin's outside on a tank. Vanayev is inside having a press
conference. And in Washington we're all sweating bullets as to who has the
box known as the cheget, which is the nuclear briefcase which enables the
president of the Soviet Union to fire nuclear weapons. It turns out we didn't
need to worry about that. The Soviet General Staff decided that this was just
too serious and too precarious. Simply, the General Staff of the Soviet Union
unplugged the nuclear briefcase that belonged to the political leadership of
the Soviet Union.

GROSS: How did you find out about that?

Mr. REED: I found out about it basically from two Russians. One was the
chief of staff of the Strategic Rocket Forces, and another was a Russian
colonel who had been deeply involved in the development of command and control
equipment. They both repeated the same story.

GROSS: What was it like for you to communicate with people who were, in some
ways, your counterparts during the Cold War?

Mr. REED: It was absolutely fascinating. That's been the joy of doing this
book--is to be able to sit down with the opponents because of the respect I
developed for the Red Army. In fact, I dedicated the book to the Cold
Warriors on both sides who served their own gods, but when it came to nuclear
weapons, they were careful. Soviet nuclear scientists--I had designed nukes,
I have seen them go off. It's a frightening experience. A quarter-century
later, to sit down in the Soviet weapons laboratories and talk to my
counterparts was mind-boggling because we knew something about their weapons,
but they were very open. They viewed nuclear weapons as a very difficult
technical challenge; I found it the same on the other hand. Well, and we
developed those weapons to defend our countries and our systems, but at the
same time we had all seen a nuclear weapon go off, and we understood how
terrible that was. And we spent a lot of time toasting each other that, thank
heavens, we never came to that.

GROSS: My guest is Thomas Reed. His new book is called "At The Abyss: An
Insider's History of the Cold War." We'll talk more after a break. This is

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Thomas Reed. He's the author
of the new book "At The Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War." He's
former secretary of the Air Force and a nuclear engineer who worked on the
design of a couple of nuclear weapons. He was also the national security
assistant to President Reagan.

Now you worked on the design of two nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons, you
know, obviously can be used to protect our country against an enemy, but
they're also the most destructive tool humans have ever created. When you
were designing nuclear weapons, obviously you're thinking about the protective
aspects of them, but how do you handle the destructive side? How do you
handle psychologically knowing that if this weapon is used, you know, that
millions of civilians could be killed by it?

Mr. REED: It's a real conflict. They are, I would say, not used to protect
because that sort of implies you're going to go to war. But I think certainly
the US leadership from Eisenhower on down to the physicists understood that
deterrence is what we wanted to do. We wanted to have a capability so
overwhelming that the Soviet Union would not engage in adventurism. And our
views were, and I think mine still are to this day, that if you do your job
right, if you have nukes and the other guy knows that they will work for sure
and they will be delivered for sure, then they will be deterred from
adventures and will be better behaved. And I think that's the way it worked
on both sides. Both the US and the Soviet Union were deterred from serious
military adventures against each other, and we had a quarter century of
stability, if not peace; that we all thought in the laboratories--because we
have seen nukes go off. You know, most people--you know, no one 10 years
younger than me have seen a nuke go off. I've seen them go off. It is

GROSS: Yeah. I was going to ask you about that in a moment. But...


GROSS: ...I'm just wondering, like, did you allow yourself or can you not
allow yourself to have, in the back of your mind, the thought, `What if? What
if one accidentally goes off? What if there is a nuclear war? What if...'

Mr. REED: Oh, I think the `What if one goes off accidentally?' was very much
in people's minds. And one of the real contributions of the Kennedy years,
after Cuba, was to focus on the fact that we'd better make darned sure that
these do not go off accidentally or they don't go off because some officer
loses his marbles or anything else. And so in the mid-'60s we designed into
nuclear weapons what are known as permissive action links, which makes it
absolutely impossible--and I used that word advisedly, absolutely
impossible--for nukes to go off by accident or to go off unintentionally. You
now have to have a code that is held by the president punched into the
equivalent of an ATM on any weapon to activate it. And if you have a weapon
and you shoot holes in it or anything else, you still can't make it go off.
We spent a lot of time paying attention to those considerations.

GROSS: Would you describe what it's like to witness the test of a bomb that
you helped create?

Mr. REED: Whether it's one I created or just to see a nuclear explosion,
because the tests were conducted in the Pacific around the equator at a place
called Christmas Island--and you go out there for the test of a device you
designed. But you basically stay for a week, and there's a shot every
morning. And words simply fail me that--people speak, well, of five nukes of
five or 10 kilotons. You just don't understand. A megaton is beyond belief.
It is not a pop of light. It's a flood of light that--you finally take off
the dark glasses after minutes, and the sky is still as light as though the
sun were burning right there. There is an oppressive heat. It's not just a
flash of heat. Suddenly the air is hot. You're being radiated by this
fireball that is 20 or 25 miles away. And you have this feeling, `I've just
got to get away from this.' And then when you finally get used to it, along
comes the shock wave. And, again, it's 25 miles away, and nonetheless it
knocks over people, it knocks over coffee cups. And it just goes on and on
and on. And it's an experience that burns itself into everyone's mind to see
one go off. And it makes us all very aware that these are dangerous things.

GROSS: How did you protect yourself when watching the blast from 20, 25 miles

Mr. REED: First thing is to be 25 miles away and don't get any closer and
hope nobody gets closer to you. Number two is totally blackened glasses; that
you cannot see with these glasses on. They're goggles. You cannot see
anything. You can't walk, or you just put them on and stand still. And then,
as I say, when the light seems to be going, you take them off and the sky
still is bright as could be. Beyond that, you're 25 miles away. You're in
the tropics, so you're lightly dressed; there's no protective clothing
that--the shots don't go off unless the wind is away from the island and the
conditions are safe.

GROSS: Do you feel like you have experienced any hazardous health effects...

Mr. REED: No.

GROSS: a result of your proximity to these blasts?

Mr. REED: No. We were 25 miles away; that the weapons laboratories take
great care. Everybody wears a film badge. And I have never had any
indication that I suffered any problems.

GROSS: Did your sense of responsibility change after actually witnessing a
bomb go off?

Mr. REED: Absolutely. You come to understand that you're not just dealing
with a firecracker or another artillery shell. And Russians had exactly the
same feeling that--you know, early in the Atomic Age, the chief of staff of
the Soviet military wrote papers about how nuclear weapons are just bigger and
better artillery. And it was only after the leadership saw nuclear tests at
Semipalatinsk, the Soviet Union, that they came to realize, `Mm, that's
not the case.' Same thing with me.

GROSS: You write a little bit in your book "At The Abyss" about the
difficulties of controlling the nuclear weapons that we had based in Europe in
NATO countries. You were director of telecommunication and command and
control system for the secretary of Defense for--What years was that?

Mr. REED: I was the director of telecommunications from 1973 to 1976.

GROSS: So you were responsible for American communication with the weapons
and the people controlling the weapons.

Mr. REED: That's right.

GROSS: How did the system work?

Mr. REED: Well, the system worked very well for securing the weapons in terms
of seeing to it that they were not enabled, they were not usable. By then all
these weapons had permissive action links, and so they were quite well
controlled. But the communications were designed, basically, to issue the
release authority to send essentially the codes from the president to the
troops that are stationed in the mountains of NATO countries saying, `We've
gone to war. It's OK to release these nukes.' They were not designed to find
out what's the conditions there. And when, suddenly, we became concerned
because one NATO ally got in a fight with another, we were concerned about,
`Gee whiz, what happens if they decide they want to grab some of these weapons
that are stationed on their soil and use them against their neighbor?' And we
want to call up the facilities where these nuclear weapons were stored under
the control of American forces.

But, basically, it was a few dozen officers and GIs relying on the local
troops to really defend the place against Russian attack; that when you want
to call up and ask what is going on, you basically had to operate through a
short-wave radio length that was not very reliable. And one of my
contributions to history was to learn that lesson and to go as quickly as
possible to satellite communications directly to all those sites.

GROSS: Was there ever a period at the height of the Cold War and at the
height of nuclear proliferation where you thought, `This is just impossible.
There are so many weapons between what the United States has, what the Soviets
have, the weapons that were in Europe, that they're just going to be
impossible to control'?

Mr. REED: No, I never thought they were impossible to control, I suppose
because I was involved in designing the controls. And both I--and it's very
interesting that my--now that I can talk to my Soviet counterparts--it just
inspired us to pay a lot of attention to the controls and to see to it that if
a weapon gets stolen, so what? If one falls out of an airplane, so what? In
1966, we had a B-52 collide with its tanker over Palmari, Spain, and it
was deemed to be crisis. Four megaton-sized weapons fell to the beach and
into the Med. But the facts are the one that fell on the beach just sat there
like a big metal tube. It hadn't had the arming signal put in, and so people
sat on it as a picnic bench until the Air Force came and took it away. The
one that fell in the Med had a dented nose, but it's still on display at a
museum in Albuquerque. I think the numbers made us really pay attention to
the matter of controls, and I think that--I mean, I know that we had great
confidence that we had adequate controls. The issue was to not let the
politics get out of control.

GROSS: Were there any accidents like that in the United States, where weapons
fell to Earth?

Mr. REED: There have been a lot of accidents in the US where weapons fell out
of burning airplanes or something like that. There has never been any release
of nuclear yield of any sort ever in the United States or by a US weapon.
There have been accidents because nuclear weapons start with high explosives,
and so they are filled with high explosives and if you drop them or you do the
wrong thing, you can make the high explosives go off. The trick is to design
the safety systems so they simply blow the plutonium out one side and nothing
bad happens. There have been dozens--really, it started at the time of Korea.
Until Korea, nuclear weapons were held by the Atomic Energy Commission in
vaults. Once Korea started weapons were moved forward to the Air Force to be
more ready to counterattack. And without a lot of safety precautions, we were
concerned, and airplanes did crash. I mean, planes crash and they have bombs
in them that--greater and greater safety precautions occurred, such that since
1980 there has not been a single episode where a nuclear weapon has been
accidentally destroyed.

GROSS: Thomas Reed is the author of "At The Abyss: An Insider's History of
the Cold War." He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry
Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)


(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, Thomas Reed talks about the nuclear threat in the age of
terrorism and reflects on working with President Reagan.

Also, Maureen Corrigan reviews three books that deal with life in Manhattan.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Thomas Reed, author of
"At The Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War." Reed started his
career in the late '50s working on the design of nuclear weapons. From 1976
to '77 he was secretary of the Air Force. He served as President Reagan's
special assistant for national security policy. He's also run his own

There were people, including some politicians, during the war in Vietnam who
basically said, `Nuke them.' You know, `Let's make this a decisive victory
and get it over with and just use a nuclear bomb.' What was your reaction to
hearing talk like that?

Mr. REED: That seemed to be absolute folly, but it turns out that from
beginning to end in Vietnam nuclear weapons were always on the table. It was
very clear that we were creating all these safe zones in Hanoi; we wouldn't
bomb downtown Hanoi. It was very clear that one megaton weapon on Hanoi would
have totally taken out the leadership of North Vietnam, would have changed the
war. And upon occasions people would say, `You know, just one shot would
clean this whole thing up.' Precluding the logistic support that there was a
plan to put nuclear weapons up along the Chinese border in North Vietnam to
keep the Chinese from supplying North Vietnam, those ideas were considered to
be folly that the people that were in positions of leadership well understood.

But the story of the Cold War is, over and over again, the political
leadership coming close to the nuclear edge. I mean, it wasn't just the use
of nukes. It was doing things that would have offended nuclear powers
that--the Soviet Union trollers that would hang out off the coast of Guam
watching B-52s take off for flights to Vietnam. A lot of troops on the island
said, `Let's just go sink those ships.' Sinking a ship of another country at
sea is an act of war and could have precipitated all sorts of things. And the
military on the spot were very irritated because those trollers were tipping
off the anti-aircraft batteries, but the people in Washington said, `That's
freedom of the seas, and you start doing that, you're irritating a nuclear
power. That is not a good idea.'

GROSS: There have been periods when our nuclear policy has basically been
deterrence and when the official policy was, you know, basically that nuclear
weapons are so destruction, their use is unthinkable unless we truly have to,
you know, use it in retaliation. However, some people say that the whole idea
of nuclear weapons being unthinkable isn't quite true anymore because we have
smaller tactical nuclear weapons that wouldn't be as destructive as, say, the
bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, wouldn't be as destructive as the hydrogen
bomb and that we could use these tactical bombs in a more strategic way,
making the possibility of nuclear weapons thinkable. Where do you think we
are now in terms of, like, the thinkability of the use of nuclear weapons?

Mr. REED: Well, let's see, Terry, there's a lot of points in there. First of
all, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, by our standard today, tactical weapons.
Those are not megaton weapons; those are very small weapons. And that's one
of the frightening aspects. We saw what happened at those places with very
small weapons. I don't think there are people that seriously think we ought
to use tactical nuclear weapons, per se. There is thought given to, `What are
you going to do about the deep underground bunkers of the Saddam Husseins and
the Moammar Gadhafis if they don't shape up?' And I'm not sure that that
makes technical sense, but at least it's worth looking at. But I don't think
there is rational thought that we ought to use technical nuclear weapons.

The issue, really, goes the other way; that the Cold War is over, but the
nuclear threat is not. First of all, the technology is proliferating. Mr.
Khan in Pakistan is running a nuclear Wal-Mart. Secondly, plutonium and
uranium sloshes around the Soviet Union. They lock up their weapons, but they
don't really know where all the plutonium is because they never kept track of
it. And, thirdly, there are terrorist groups that would like to use weapons
on the US that--perhaps not well remembered is that in 1993, terrorists packed
a Ryder truck full of fertilizer and ammonia and drove it and parked it into
the basement of the World Trade Center, blew it up, killed six people and
injured thousands. At Livermore we did a little study of, `Well, now
supposing they had had access to some plutonium that they got from the Soviet
Union, and suppose they looked on the Web for just the most rudimentary design
information, what could they have done?' And we concluded, `Well, anybody
could have gotten at least five kilotons out of that sort of load of high
explosives.' And in five kilotons at the World Trade Center, that's a third of

And we then took our computer codes and looked at, `What does this mean?'
Well, what it meant is--five kilotons at the World Trade Center means everyone
south of Central Park is dead. It means radiation all over Manhattan. That
is a very distinct possibility that--the technology is out there, the
plutonium's loose in Russia, and there are people that are determined to put
it there. And, therefore, we had better pay a lot of attention to tracking
all of these things, so that tactical nuclear weapons, not in the sense of a
superpower bouncing around the world, but in the sense of terrorists
inflicting that on us, is a distinct possibility.

GROSS: Do you think that although the Soviets and the Americans managed to
control their nuclear weapons during the Cold War and to avoid a nuclear
confrontation, that now that the Cold War is over, many of those Soviet
weapons are unaccounted for, they're loose, are you afraid that that nuclear
material from the Cold War will eventually fall into the hands of terrorists
and that the aftermath of the Cold War will prove to be more dangerous in
terms of nuclear weapons than the Cold War itself was?

Mr. REED: That's a multiple-choice question, Terry. First of all, the
weapons are not loose. I have the great confidence, because I know the
officers involved, the nuclear weapons--once they are designed and assembled
into weapons, they are very closely controlled. The Soviets built a lock-out
system that, in many ways, is far more sturdy than that in the US. And I have
very little concern about a nuclear weapon--that is, with a button on the side
and all the arming and fusing and electronics and so forth--falling into the
hands of bad guys. I do not believe that that's a possibility, and if it
were, the Soviets have designed in the same sort of safety measures. So you
can have a megaton warhead drawn from the US or the Soviet inventory, and you
could use it for a coffee table because there's no way you can make it go off.
And if you try to get inside, the whole thing will melt.

The other issue that you raise, however, is the materials. That's very
different. In the US, when we produced plutonium or uranium, we weighed it,
we accounted for it, and we know where every gram of it is. In the Soviet
Union, it was just so much coal. They produced uranium, and they just kept on
producing it. They produced plutonium, and they still do because the reactors
that produce plutonium are also reactors that heats the cities out on the east
side of the Urals. And so the country is awash with that material. That is
the danger; that the materials, the enriched uranium and the plutonium, are
not accounted for. I'm quite sure that there are bad guys busy trying to find
it and buy it, as we Americans are trying to help the Russians find it and get
it out of there and cycled into the nuclear power industry.

GROSS: And are you losing sleep about this or...

Mr. REED: Well, at my age, losing sleep is not something I do. You know, I
have a lot of faith in the US system. I guess I am--I work at Livermore. We
spend a lot of time trying to help Russians find their materials. It's not as
though they're a bunch of cowboys. They are very interested in locating this
material. You know, a very interesting episode: A lot of nukes, nuclear
material, was left in Kazakhstan. When the empire fell apart, Kazakhstan,
Ukraine and Belarus had nuclear weapons and nuclear materials. In the early
'90s the president of Kazakhstan called the president of the United States and
said, `We have just opened a barn out here near Semipalatinsk, and we find
all these drums full of enriched uranium. Would you please get them out of
here?' And the US and the Kazak government mounted an episode. A couple of
C-5s flew in there, and in the dark of night the Kazaks loaded this stuff in.
It was taken to Georgia, where it was recycled into fuel rods for reactors,
and the Kazaks got paid for it. There's a great cooperative effort by the
governments to not have nuclear materials just rattle around loose but that a
lot of it--and it was not accounted for. It's a tough struggle.

GROSS: My guest is Thomas Reed. His new book is called "At The Abyss: An
Insider's History of the Cold War." We'll talk more after a break. This is

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Thomas Reed. He's the author
of the new book "At The Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War." He's
the former secretary of the Air Force and a former national security assistant
to President Reagan. He worked on the design of two nuclear weapons.

You worked with President Reagan. In fact, you worked with him even before he
became the president. You helped him organize his first gubernatorial
campaign in California.

Mr. REED: That's right. I knew him--when he got to Washington, I probably
knew him as well as anybody in town. I was his Northern California chairman.
In '66 when he ran for governor, I was his personnel chief when he first was
governor. And then I went back to running my business. I was totally in
charge of his re-election campaign in 1970. So I knew him, lived with him,
knew him exceedingly well.

GROSS: What's your sense of him as a president and as a man?

Mr. REED: Well, as a president, I think he put the pieces in place to end the
Cold War. People say he won the Cold War. No one person did that, but I
think he brought a different mind set to the White House. He brought a mind
set that, `This Cold War is not going to go on forever. Somebody's going to
win, and somebody's going to lose. And it's time to decide who that is.' And
enough time has gone by that the Soviet system is imploding, and he was
willing to listen to the young outside economists saying, `They are going
broke,' which was not the conventional wisdom. So what he brought to the
White House was a different mind set; that he was not an amorative detente.
He was of the view that, `The Soviet system is an evil system, and it's going
to collapse, and we're going to push on it to make it collapse.'

As a human being, he's different than all the rest of us, but presidents
generally are; that he was very self-possessed, very self-confident. He knew
what he believed in, and, therefore, he didn't spend a bunch of time agonizing
over what he ought to do. Calling a focus group before making a decision
would have been absolutely unthinkable. And because he was so self-assured,
people thought he was shallow. He wasn't shallow. He just was not interested
in debating whether or not the Soviet Union was a sensible place. He knew it
wasn't. And, secondly, what people don't understand is his mind operated 10
times as fast as the rest of us, and that's why he was so good at debates and
press conferences and meetings with people. He would look to be bored; that's
because in a few seconds he could size up where you're going and what you're
going to say, a most amazing mind in that regard.

GROSS: Part of what he ran on was a campaign of family values, and I guess
I'm curious what you thought of that part of Ronald Reagan. And let me just
add one piece of information in asking this: I know that there was something
in your life that was kind of contradictory to the family value thing. I read
that although you were married, there was a period when you were working for
the government when you had a couple of lovers and one of them you made your
special assistant and placed on the Pentagon payroll. You can correct me if
I'm wrong. I'm just reading things. But I mention private life only because
of that sense of it being so counter to the program of the president that you
worked for and represented.

Mr. REED: We've got to go back and straighten out the record about my
personal life.

GROSS: Please, go ahead.

Mr. REED: I did not place a lover on the payroll; that my personal life did
not do well, and I ended up being divorced as I left Washington. But the lady
I married had worked for me in the Pentagon because she had become a friend,
as I described a friend in Ronald Reagan. But we've got to be sure to get
them all in the right order. The question regarding Ronald Reagan was what?

GROSS: Oh, that his family values, you know, traditional values emphasis--did
that work for you given the life that you were leading?

Mr. REED: Oh, I think that time in my life was very conventional and very
normal. I don't think my life was worth writing up in Playboy or anyplace
else. I think that the stresses of being in Washington finally cracked a
marriage apart. I think that his--what struck me early on was his attachment
to his children. You know, when I first met him, we talked about how he liked
to do things with his kids and how he kept an audio scrapbook of his kids and
so forth. But I think growing up in Hollywood--and I think there were a lot
of other issues in his life that, you know, led to his relationships with his
children being strained. But this is not a new story in America. This
happens a lot.

GROSS: I guess that's what I'm wondering about, if it struck you as
hypocritical and knowing how close you were to President Reagan and how many
years you worked with him--if his emphasis on family values struck you as

Mr. REED: I wouldn't say...

GROSS: For example, I mean, like, you mentioned your marriage broke up
because of the stresses in Washington. And how common a story is that? Very

Mr. REED: Yeah.

GROSS: Do you think that the traditional family values campaign took the real
stresses of late 20th century life into account?

Mr. REED: Well, perhaps it was objective or wishful thinking; that a lot of
people say, you know, `My life has not been perfect, but this is the way I
think human beings ought to conduct themselves.' I don't think he was
hypocritical. I think that he saw what he thought would be sensible values
and, you know, I don't--you know, he was a faithful husband and a good guy,
and he tried to be a good father. I don't think he was hypocritical. I think
that just the stresses of life--you know, when he became governor, it really
impacted his children. That can be tough.

GROSS: You say that you think President Reagan had no deep and lasting
friends as most of us understand the word. You don't think he had deep

Mr. REED: No. By friends, I mean--I mean, you and I know what that means.
It means people you just pour a cup of coffee with and you sit and you talk
about the ball game, and you talk about your love life, and you talk about the
kids, and you talk about the sorry fate of the government, and you talk about
the meaning of life, and you talk about God and so forth and so on. He didn't
do that. He did not, in my experience, have friends. He may have in his
younger days and maybe as he grew older--life changed. But in my experience
in the years I knew him, which started in the mid'-60s, he did not have any
friends that he sat and just trusted to talk with. Now, as I said, in this
little tome, he had comparted friends. He had a minister to whom he was very
close. He had a wife, who was his lover, who took care of him, who protected
him and who he cared about a lot.

GROSS: There's a point in your book where you describe President Reagan as an
`incredibly confused president.' What were you referring to?

Mr. REED: I think that, well, it came in stages--as I say, I've known him
forever; that after the shooting in March of '81, he suffered oxygen loss to
the brain. And getting shot at that age--I mean, I'm now at that age--I would
not relish getting shot and trying to recover from that. It basically changed
him. It slowed him down. Still in those years, when I worked for him, he
knew exactly where he was going, and he was very clearly focused. I think as
he got into his second term, that the staff that really understood him began
to drift away. And I think that he was beginning to age. And by the end of
his second term, I think that it was time to retire. I think that he was--by
'92, I saw him again, and at that time he really was beginning to lose it. He
really didn't understand who I was.

GROSS: Hm. Thomas Reed, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. REED: Thank you, Terry. It's been a great delight being with you.

GROSS: Thomas Reed is the author of the new book "At The Abyss: An Insider's
History of the Cold War."

Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews three books that deal with life in New
York City. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Three of the best newly released books about New York

There are eight million stories in the naked city. Book critic Maureen
Corrigan looks at three of the best new ones.


It seems like every month brings a fresh spate of books about New York, but
three new ones distinguish themselves from the crowd because, in their pages,
you can hear echoes of the voices of legendary walkers in the city. The
crucial difference is that these contemporary writers stroll to places Edgar
Allan Poe, Walt Whitman and Alfred Kazin never could have anticipated:
Midtown Manhattan Spandex gyms, outer-borough tract houses crammed with
illegal immigrant workers and that most unimaginable of New York sites:
ground zero.

Kyle Smith's novel "Love Monkey" is being hailed as New York's answer to
British author Nick Hornby's best-selller, "High Fidelity." In other words, a
guy novel or, as this genre has recently been christened, lad lit. Give me a
break. We've had 2,000 years of canonical lad lit. Life as rendered in
writing from the male point of view is the oldest trick in the book. No, in
fact, what's hippest about "Love Monkey"--and I expect its chest-thumping guy
supporters to shudder at this analogy--is the deft way it resurrects and
updates the Dorothy Parker style of talking about New York: brittle, shrewd,
self-deprecating and, oh, so very witty.

The anti-hero of "Love Monkey" is a 32-year-old, self-dubbed manboy named Tom
Farrell, who works at a New York newspaper called the Tabloid. Its motto is:
`America's loudest newspaper.' The novel charts Tom's attempt to win the heart
of a beautiful co-worker named Julia, but that plot is really just an excuse
that allows Tom to generate non-stop, scathing observations about 21st century
life in New York, a place where his trust fund buddy can send back the water
at a restaurant because it's the wrong brand. Tom's ruthless humor knows no
bounds. He describes the natives of a trendy neighborhood of Brooklyn this
way: `boho heaven, PhD waitresses, the feminists that time forgot, faithful
parishioners at the church of irony. All those newspaper articles written by
imported car-buying white people about how much they hate oppressive,
genocidal, imperialist, globalist white people, they're written here.'
September 11th sobers up Tom, of course, but even then he cracks that, `The
day has come when I've started to understand the point of New Jersey.'
Ultimately it's the characteristic New York cure-all of work, not love, that
sooths Tom's stunned psyche.

Work is also the New York subject that preoccupies New York Times reporter
Charlie Leduff in his superb collection of eight years' worth of columns from
that paper called appropriately "Work and Other Sins." `This is not a book
about the people who have doormen but a book about doormen,' growls Leduff in
his introduction. And in those words you can hear strains of the late Joseph
Mitchell and the very much living Pete Hamil, other bards of blue-collar New
York. Like them, Leduff tries to keep a lid on sentimentality, but his
admiration for the nobodies who keep the glamorous city running shines
through. Some of the workers he writes about have exotic jobs, like the guy
who has to change the lightbulbs at the pinnacle of the Empire State Building.
Others toil, like the Polish women who clean houses for ultra-orthodox Jews in
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, or the grave diggers in Flushing, Queens, who look
forward to having a few beers after work, joking that, `After a long day of
putting cold ones in the ground, you look forward to putting a few cold ones

Leduff's columns on the workers at ground zero are, so far, the best writing
on New York at that awful moment in its history that I've read. He's
restrained but awestruck, saying of the thousands of men and women who rushed
to ground zero on the morning of September 11th that, `They were just good
people raised by good people, and they answered the call.' He calls these
rescue workers not heroes but `substantial men and women.' And in Leduff,
they found their fit chronicler.

Poet Phillip Lopate takes a very particular kind of walking tour around
Manhattan. Like Walt Whitman and Herman Melville before him, he hugs the
shoreline. In his just-published book "Waterfront," Lopate tries to account
for New York's specialness by understanding its geography. He circles the rim
of the island from Castle Garden to the Brooklyn Bridge and East Harlem.
Unlike Smith and Leduff, Lopate also wanders back in time as he walks the
waterfront and thinks about the history and literature of the city as well as
his own memories. The tone of his hypnotic book is melancholy but leavened
with dry New York humor. About the twin towers, he comments, `They were at
once the most dominant and least assuming facet of the New York skyline.
"Don't mind me," they said.' He adds that, `No New Yorker expected America's
warm feelings towards the city to last very long. It was like getting licked
by a large, forgetful St. Bernard dog.' Sure, that's an arrogant comment,
also so smart, so funny, so New York. Hey, you either love it or hate it.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "Love Monkey" by Kyle Smith, "Work and Other Sins: Life in New York
City and Thereabouts" by Charlie Leduff and "Waterfront: A Journey Around
Manhattan" by Phillip Lopate.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

We'll close with an homage to New York composed by the late Chico O'Farrill
called "Crazy City (But I Love It)."

(Soundbite of "Crazy City [But I Love It]")
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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