John Barry

Stories by John Barry

  • The Secret Computer Trade

    AT THE IBM OFFICE IN Moscow, the heat was on. The big, new Russia market beckoned, free from most of the Western export controls that kept high technology out of the Soviet Union for decades. By the mid-1990s, dozens of international computer manufacturers were competing for contracts, and ""there was terrible pressure from all sides to sell,'' recalls a former IBM employee in Moscow.Did that include selling supercomputers to a nuclear-weapons designer--a scandal that bubbled higher last week with fresh revelations in The New York Times? A grand jury in Washington is looking into those allegations, since such a sale would violate what's left of the cold-war-era export controls. And it could also embarrass the Clinton administration, which--according to the Russians--led them to believe they would get U.S. supercomputers.IBM spokesman Fred McNeese emphatically denied that the company had directly sold its SP/2 and RS/6000 models--two of the fastest and most powerful computers it...
  • Reality Check

    IF EVERYONE HAS 15 MINUTES OF fame, Jessica Stern says, ""I rather hope I'm on minute 13 of mine.'' Stern is an intensely serious, 39-year-old academic. She has a master's degree in chemical engineering from MIT and a doctorate in public policy from Harvard, and she speaks Russian fluently. In the normal course of events, she would now be finishing up a scholarly treatise on the threat of terrorists' using weapons of mass destruction. Instead, as a result of a year she spent working for the Clinton White House, she is watching a glamorous Hollywood version of herself, played by Nicole Kidman, racing around Europe and Asia Minor with George Clooney in the movie ""The Peacemaker.'' It's a disconcerting experience. ""I assume people will realize that character has nothing whatever to do with me,'' says Stern. ""I certainly hope so.''The movie is preposterous, though hugely entertaining. At a recent screening in Washington, it was possible to tell which rows of the Cineplex Odeon on...
  • The Lesser Of Evils

    BILJANA PLAVSIC, THE ELECTED president of the Serbian enclave in Bosnia, is no Joan of Arc. She supported the ethnic-cleansing campaign, arguing that Serbs were genetically predisposed to expel Muslims. She opposed the 1995 Dayton agreement that stopped the war. But Plavsic has two qualities that appeal to policymakers in Washington and London, where NATO strategy on Bosnia is principally decided these days. She is a realist who understands that her Republika Srpska has to abide by enough of Dayton's injunctions to avoid a crippling Western economic boycott. And she is not Radovan Karadzic. ...
  • A Rebel In The Ranks

    JACK SHEEHAN DIDN'T hold his tongue. Last summer the four-star marine general was invited to a closed-door conference at the Aspen Institute, a plush think tank nestled in the Rocky Mountains. For three days academics, diplomats and government officials politely debated how to prevent conflicts in the messy post-cold-war world. The general opinion: America must lead, but only when it won't cost much, in either dollars or American lives. Then it was Sheehan's turn to speak. As head of the Atlantic Command, it's his job to train troops for overseas crises. Cheap, casualty-free missions, he bluntly announced, are a fantasy. ""I am sorry; that can't be done. If you want the U.S. military to go abroad, it will spend your money and it will put your sons and daughters in harm's way.'' It was classic Sheehan: ""His motto is "Sacred cows make the best hamburger','' says an aide. ...
  • A What-If Problem

    SIXTY FEET BELOW THE FLATlands of North Dakota, Lt. Chris Quaid sits behind a four-foot-thick blast door in a steel-reinforced capsule that floats gently on shock absorbers, the better to withstand what Quaid calls a "nudet"-nuclear detonation. His mission, he diligently recites, is to "defend the United States with safe, secure ICBMs that can immediately deliver bombs on target." If "Higher Authority" -- the president-orders him to do so, Lieutenant Quaid will turn a key and flip a switch to initiate doomsday. He cannot do it alone; his partner and at least one other pair of"missileers" in nearby underground bunkers must also flip their switches to send 10 ICBMs, each carrying three nuclear warheads, winging toward targets in the former Soviet Union. ...
  • Shifting Lines

    IN THE ARMED SERVICES, REPORTing a sexual indiscretion to the authorities can be a just act against male oppression and a necessary step toward restoring good order and discipline in the ranks. It's also a wonderful way to get even. At the Pentagon, where bureaucratic intrigue is practiced at a level matched only by university faculties and 15th-century popes, a charge of sexual impropriety can be an extremely effective weapon to kill off a rival. In the army, for example, a disgruntled soldier or a jealous officer need only to dial 1-800-903-4241, the army's sexual-harassment hot line, and start dishing rumor and innuendo. In the current atmosphere of sexual paranoia, almost any peccadillo-a long-ago affair, a crude mouth or a straying hand--can be enough to doom a career. ...
  • At War Over Women

    BY MOST ACCOUNTS, THE 7,000 men and 800 women in the U.S. armed forces stationed in Bosnia are getting along well--perhaps a little too well. Banned from drinking alcohol or venturing too far from their heavily fortified compounds, bored GIs have few diversions. Sex is banned between superiors and subordinates, but it is tacitly permitted between soldiers of the same rank. "It's sort of like being in high school," one female warrior told NEWSWEEK. "Your parents won't let you have sex in the house, but you always find a place to do it." (Favorite trysting spots include guard towers and the back seat of a Humvee.) About once every three days a woman has to be evacuated to Germany because she's pregnant. That rate is less than half that of the "Love Boat," the repair ship Acadia, which lost 36 of its 360 women sailors to pregnancy during the gulf war, but it's still high enough to provoke grumbling. Some women, their male comrades suspect, are getting pregnant on purpose in order to...
  • At War In The Barracks

    EMBARRASSING AS IT MAY BE, BRENDA HOSTER'S COMPLAINT AGAINST ARMY Sgt. Maj. Gene McKinney adds little that is new to the army's sexual-harassment scandal-which is serious and which suggests the Pentagon still has not won the hearts and minds of some of its own troops in the war for a gender-neutral military. Since the first allegations of rape and sexual assault surfaced at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., in December, an army hot line has received some 1,000 calls from women soldiers and women veterans claiming to have been victimized in the military. Of these, army investigators have launched active criminal investigations into about 200 recent cases. One issue is whether army commanders turned a blind eye to sexually abusive behavior--a "failure of leadership," as Army Secretary Togo West testified last week--that is unacceptable in any organization. But the deeper question is whether the military, by including women in the ranks, is fighting a losing battle against deeply...
  • A Gulf Cover-Up?

    FOR YEARS, THEY SUFFERED FROM dizziness, memory loss, stomach trouble, aches and pains and a chronic, crushing fatigue. They thought no one at the Pentagon cared about their mysterious illness. Then Bill and Hillary Clinton took a personal interest in the so-called Gulf War syndrome. Some veterans of the conflict described their woes to the First Lady. Aides say her husband made it clear that he wanted to ""energize'' the federal bureaucracy and ""leave no stone unturned'' in a search for the cause of the disease. But the cause has still not been found, and last week a pair of young CIA whistle-blowers ratcheted up the pressure, charging that the agency had concealed evidence that Iraq used chemical weapons on U.S. troops, possibly sickening thousands of them. ...
  • What They Dodged

    AT LAST, THE ISSUES. THE showdown in Hartford was actually pretty substantive, with lots of discussion of taxes and the role of government. The weird sideshows--how did Al D'Amato get mentioned more often than Newt Gingrich?--were kept to a minimum. Still, lots of issues at the first presidential debate were given short shrift. These are the big questions that really affect how people live. And when it came to the bottom line, Clinton and Dole either ducked or distorted. It's fitting, then, that the two men chose to square off in the capital of America's insurance industry. Both men have played it safe, risked little. Had they been bold, these are the issues they would have illuminated instead of fudged. ...
  • Scent Of A War

    THEY SHOULD BE HEALTHY MEN IN the prime years of their lives. Instead, they suffer from disabling ailments that won't go away: fatigue, headaches, stomach problems, rashes, aching joints, memory loss, tumors. Some of them remember Iraqi arms depots exploding in plumes of smoke, the residue falling onto unprotected American troops. Others describe a loud explosion in the night sky, followed by a yellow-green mist that burned their skin and made their lips go numb. They say they brought their illnesses home with them, along with contaminated uniforms and war souvenirs, in some cases afflicting wives and children. For nearly five years, the Pentagon has denied that there is a single ""Gulf War syndrome'' of unknown origin. As far as the scientific evidence goes, the Pentagon may be right. But now the Defense Department acknowledges that thousands of U.S. servicemen could have been exposed to the chemical weapons of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. ...
  • Raising The Stakes

    THE UNITED STATES GAVE A PRETTY GOOD DEMON- stration last week of what it takes to be a superpower. At Ahmad al-Jabir air base south of Kuwait City, eight F-117 stealth bombers bedded down after a 17-hour flight from an air force base in New Mexico. Four huge B-52 bombers were in place on Diego Garcia, a British-owned flyspeck in the Indian Ocean, having flown all the way from Guam. From another air force base in South Carolina, 18 F-16 fighter-bombers flew out to reinforce a squadron in Bahrain. In the Mediterranean, the USS Enterprise and its task force headed for the Suez Canal and the Red Sea, where the carrier's warplanes would be within range of Iraq. Another carrier battle group, led by the USS Carl Vinson, was already on station in the Persian Gulf. At Fort Hood, Texas, about 3,000 members of the First Cavalry Division saddled up for Kuwait, where a brigade's worth of armor--M1-A1 tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles--had been prepositioned. The army also sent 150 air-defense...
  • Putting Iraq On Notice

    IN THE FIVE AND A HALF YEARS since the Persian Gulf War, Saddam Hussein has repeatedly tested the limits of U.S. resolve -- and time and again, the United States has faced him down. The Iraqi military is still playing cat-and-mouse with United Nations inspectors looking for chemical- and biological-weapons facilities, and in 1994, a major deployment of the Republican Guard along the Kuwaiti border forced Bill Clinton to rush additional U.S. troops to the region. Last week Saddam seemed to be stepping up the pressure in northern Iraq -- and once again, the Clinton administration found itself compelled to react. ...
  • Watching -- And Waiting

    THE NAME IS OPAQUE: THE COORDInator Sub Group. Its meetings are equally impenetrable, convened in the White House's basement Situation Room or an adjoining teleconferencing center. Members run the Clinton administration's war on terrorism, and these days it can't be a jolly group. The truck bombing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia in June and the yet unsolved crash of a Paris-bound TWA jetliner off New York's Long Island a month ago have pushed terrorism back onto the national agenda at the most delicate moment in Clinton's term. His experts have tightened security for U.S. troops abroad and are preparing to throw money into the breach at home. But they fear what still may be out there -- in the gulf, in Bosnia, in the skies. ""You would be appalled if you knew how little we really know about Saudi Arabia,'' said one Pentagon source. ...
  • Spreading The Blame

    EVEN FOR THE MILITARY, IT WAS A NO-nonsense announcement. After two months of investigation into the fatal crash of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown's plane in stormy Dubrovnik, the air force said last week that three top commanders of the unit responsible for Brown's flight were being ""relieved.'' Maj. Gen. Charles Hefleblower said he had ""lost his confidence in the ability'' of Brig. Gen. William Stevens and two colonels in the 86th Airlift Wing. Air force officials said the three allowed Brown's plane to fly into Dubrovnik even though they knew the military had not cleared the strip for foul-weather landings. Months before Brown's flight, air force officials in Europe sought a waiver of Pentagon requirements to inspect airports and devise safe approaches. Officials in Washington denied the request, but Stevens and his men ignored that, even though ""they knew how primitive the Dubrovnik [landing] aids were,'' says one senior air force officer. ""What they should have done, at the...
  • Russia's Nuclear Secrets

    The bunker is a two-story concrete control room embeded in a mound of earth and scrubby grass. We walk out through its steel door, and there , 200 feet away, sheltered under a makeshift polyethylene tent, sits the explosive device. Detonation is scheduled for later that day; the klaxon warning sounded as we drove to the bunker through a snow-filled forest. Around the perimeter of the firing point, an earthen bank slopes upward for about 20 feet-a berm to de-fleet shock waves safely skyward. Above the herin, the tops of the tallest pines and birches in the surrounding forest have been shredded by explosions. "Yes, we had some big bangs here," says scientist Vladimir Chernyshev. "In other times, some of our most effective nuclear weapons were developed here." ...
  • Shipping Out

    His entrance could not have been more perfectly timed. The last toasts had been given, the wine quaffed, when there came a sudden stir in the rear of the ballroom. Richard Holbrooke, assistant secretary of state for European affairs, chief U.S. negotiator on Bosnia, had arrived from Dayton, Ohio, like Lawrence returning from Arabia. Weary but triumphant, Holbrooke swept through the admiring throng gathered last Tuesday night for a black-tie charity dinner at the PLaza hotel in New York. After the standing ovation subsided, Holbrooke did not gloat about the peace agreement signed 10 hours earlier at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base or minimize its precariousness. He described how close the talks had come to collapse, and he emphasized the difficulty of keeping peace in a land of blood feuds. But for the crowd, pillars of the old East Coast establishment, the mood was solemnly, nostalgic, and the implicit message was clear: only American power and diplomacy, wielded with old-time...
  • Going Into Action

    The troops had practiced there was nothing more to rehearse. In a make-believe Bosnian village called "Schwend," located at a U.S. base in southern Germany, some of the soldiers dressed up as civilians needing help, while others posed as potentially troublesome Serbian, Croatian or Muslim fighters. Troops in helicopters simulated the rescue under fire of endangered United Nations personnel. Infantrymen absorbed lectures on "mine awareness"--a warning that Bosnia is littered with thousands of deadly land mines and booby traps. Officers talked about what to do if snipers shoot at their men. ("We'll blow them away," promised a senior NATO commander.) Logistical experts plotted the rail journey that would be required to move a heavy armored division from Bavaria to Bosnia. The troops of the "implementation force," as it was euphemistically named, packed their gear and took their shots. Now all IFOR needed was a peace agreement to implement. ...
  • The Very Model Of A Political General

    Bosnia--A terrible ethnic conflict in terrain that virtually nullifies American military power--posed a crucial test for the incoming Clinton administration, and Colin Powell was worried about it. As Powell tells it in his new book. "My American Journey," he was repeatedly forced to play naysayer as the new administration debated how to stop Serbian aggression during the spring of 1993. Yes, he told Clinton and his advisers, U.S. warplanes could bomb Serbian positions around Sarajevo, but there was no assurance bombing would stop the Serbs. Ground troops could be required, but Powell thought those forces could be trapped in a war with no clear political objectives and no way out-like Vietnam. "What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about if we can't use it?" U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright asked during one such discussion. Powell was dumbfounded. ...
  • Future Shock

    The terrorists went undetected. In the noon-hour crush of a spring day in midtown Manhattan, the two men with suitcases looked like hotel-bound businessmen. Nobody gave them a second glance as they bought sandwiches from a street vendor and sat on one of the benches by Rockefeller Center. After a moment, they seemed to rummage in the contents of the bags. Only the blinding fireball that vaporized the attackers and instantly killed tens of thousands of New Yorkers announced that nuclear warfare had finally come home to the nation that first split the atom. And by then, of course, it was too late to avert catastrophe.For years, versions of that nightmare scenario have been grist for doomsday prophets. It was pure hype. A terrorist group with the funds and know-how to develop a knapsack nuke would have had to be so big, rich and sophisticated as to rival a good-sized nation- hardly a recipe for keeping a secret. The routes to the prize--breeding plutonium in a reactor or refining...
  • Too Good To Check

    Some editors held their noses, but the story was too good to resist. GANG OF CLOWNS STOLE MY BABY, trumpeted one Sao Paulo tabloid. Slum residents reported that two men dressed as clowns and a woman dressed as a ballerina had lured children into a van, murdered them, removed vital organs and left the bodies on their parents' doorsteps with a note of thanks and $80. That story complemented the tale of parents who had their child exhumed after he died in the hospital-and found the eyes missing and the body stuffed with sawdust. Was all this fresh evidence of the international trade in human organs? "This was a lie and a farce," says local police chief Basilio Comes Machado Filho; but "lots of people believed it."The CIA invented the AIDS virus at a secret U.S. Army lab. The Union Carbide Corp. gassed 2,000 Indians as a chemical-war experiment. These were among the greatest hits of anti-U.S. propaganda during the cold war - and they died away with its end. But the greatest lie of all...
  • Now For A Real Ve Day

    Hands on hearts, leathery cheeks streaked with tears, elderly Europeans turned out with their children and grandchildren to commemorate, for the 50th time, the almost unimaginable feat they accomplished two generations ago: the destruction of Hitler's juggernaut. The VE Day celebrations began in London early last week and ended in Moscow, spanning countries that had suffered in the common cause longer and harder than their mighty ally across the Atlantic. World War II is one of those events that so alter our view of the universe that it now stands as a barrier between us and the past. Even so, this anniversary offers a historical perspective very different from that of the last round-number anniversary in 1985. What's new, of course, is that the cold war, the legacy of World War II, is now history, as well. For the first time, the "V" in VE Day is complete. Yet the triumph stir leaves a bitter aftertaste. ...
  • The Trouble With The Cia

    Running the central intelligence Agency was once a dream job --lots of high-level secrets, critical briefings at Langley, late nights in the White House Situation Room. But these days, it's not. Being the nation's spymaster is largely thankless: the CIA is demoralized after the Aldrich Ames debacle and bereft without its cold war. ...
  • The Battle Over Warfare

    Pity the American military, overstretched, strapped for cash and grudgingly acknowledging the need to delay or cancel some of its most cherished big-ticket programs, the Pentagon is now caught between the Clinton administration and the Republican majority in Congress. Bill Clinton's defense secretary, William Perry, has spent much of the past two years coaxing and cajoling the armed forces to prepare for what he sees as a technological revolution in warfare. ...
  • On Alert For Desert Storm Ii

    FOR BOTH AMERICANS AND the Hammurabi Division represents unfinished business. When George Bush called off the ground war after only 100 hours in 1991, the Hammurahi, a key element of Iraq's elite Republican Guard, escaped almost unscathed. Last week, when Saddam Hussein suddenly built up his forces near the Kuwaiti border, it was the Hammurabi that led the way. Now the division stiffens a potential invasion force larger than the spearhead Saddam sent into Kuwait four years ago. ...
  • How U.S. Troops Would Go In

    At first, it will be a quiet affair. There will be none of the airborne razzle-dazzle of the Panama invasion or the kind of showy amphibious landings that, unopposed, looked silly on CNN in Somalia. By the time the invasion force starts roaring ashore, Special Operations teams will have seized control. At least that's how the Pentagon envisions the start of a U.S. invasion of Haiti. But to ensure that the restoration of Jean-Bertrand Aristide proceeds just as smoothly, operations planners have evolved an elaborate script that now calls for the most massive deployment of U.S. military force since Desert Storm. ...
  • Nothing Short Of Doomsday

    Perhaps he's getting the hang of it. When Bill Clinton announced last week that North Korea had agreed to freeze its nuclear program in return for talks with the United States, he stuck grimly to a short statement, and, in a break with tradition, answered questions without contradicting himself. Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole promptly accused the administration of "throwing in the towel." But Asia specialists started to think that Clinton might have crafted the only Korea policy that avoids an awful war. ...
  • Why The Allies Won

    H-HOUR ON D-DAY, THE HOUR ON The Day. Every one of the 370,000 soldiers and sailors aboard the 5,300 Allied vessels steaming toward the Normandy beaches on the morning of June 6, 1944, was carrying a mimeographed piece of paper, the "order of the day" from Allied commander Dwight Eisenhower: they were, he told them, embarked on "the Great Crusade." Churchill called D-Day "the most difficult and complicated operation ever to take place." With British phlegm, the chief of naval operations for the invasion, Adm. Sir Bertram Ramsay, felt obliged to apologize to his staff a few days before the landings: he was sorry about all the superlatives, he said, but this time they were true. ...
  • The Collapse Of Les Aspin

    THE RISE AND FALL OF LES ASPIN is a Washington tragedy. He had spent most of his professional life thinking about better ways of defending the United States. But when he was asked by Bill Clinton to be secretary of defense, the 54-year-old chairman of the House Armed Services Committee hesitated. The challenge was irresistible: with the cold war over, the nation's defense establishment would have to be rebuilt "from the bottom up." The basic architecture had been designed 45 years before by the first secretary of defense, James Forrestal. "Now I have the chance to structure American defense for the next 45 years," Aspin said to a friend last January when he accepted the position. ...
  • The Sky Above, The Mud Below

    There's a world of difference between peacekeeping and military intervention. When the Bosnian Serbs rejected the Vance-Owen accord, the Clinton administration and its European allies had to shift their military planning, at least temporarily, into a peacemaking mode. Clinton's battle plan, which one U.S. official called the "fair-fight option," was to lift the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims and fend off Serb attackers with airstrikes. The president promised a clear, workable strategy that "would have a beginning, a middle and an end." But the Europeans thought he had his priorities backward. The allies didn't want to lift the arms embargo, fearing a threat to the 9,300 lightly armed peacekeeping troops they already have in Bosnia. They complained that the Americans wanted to keep safely to the sky above, while European soldiers faced death in the mud below. ...
  • By Air--Or Land?

    "The military hasn't retooled their thinking," says Phillip Karber, vice president of the giant defense consultant BDM. ...