Litton’s Law – Give a terrorist dynamite and he/she will do something stupid.
CBC Nonfiction Prize Entry, February 28, 2021. By Stephen Weir
All the Canadian terrorists I’ve known turned out to be idiots. No let me go one step further. They are all fucking idiots with blood on their hands.
I am talking about the uber cool revolutionaries who somehow hit the wrong targets, cripple the wrong people and always always get caught. Oh yes, I almost forgot, they always get forgotten by everyone but the people who bled in the streets.
I studied the terrorists who took out the plant where my office was some 39 years ago. There were five of them. I won’t mention them by name. They were the King of the World types who eagerly traded in their personal Titanic for bad music and 550 lbs of dynamite.
Canada’s first home-grown English speaking terror cell destroyed a West Coast Hydro installation, stole a load of mining dynamite and came to Toronto to change the world. They might have done it too, thanks in no small part to my bungling of a simple Internal PR assignment for a company called Litton Systems Canada(LSL).
If the Direct Action (aka The Squamish Five) had spent less time in their hotel hideout and more time casing the joint they planned to remove from the planet, they actually could have stopped Canada’s involvement in the arms race.
Alls they had to do was open their eyes and check out any one of the hundreds of yellow-coloured papers stuck to a highway fence across from target. They would have had, courtesy of me, a road map for a movie worthy act of terrorism.
“It was 39-years ago today that Sgt Pepper taught the band to make bombs!” If the musician in the Squamish Five could have actually been any good, he mighta been up on a dance stage getting teens to twist and shout in his music. Instead, he spent the night October 14th, 1982 making a missile factory shimmy and shake.
Fame and fortune. Record contracts. Drugs. No, instead after a few months his magical mystery tour took him directly to jail with a 10-year sentence (but 3 squares a day!).
In real life the Vancouver man was with a band called the Subhumans. He went by the name Gerry Useless. He was a working-class hero to the druggie West Coast punk scene.
Turns out that when he wasn’t singing his most popular songs - Slave To My Dick and Fuck You – Gerry Useless, was robbing construction sites, committing acts of arson and dreaming of bombing big stuff with a gang of four other likeminded white West Coast terrorists.
We all live up to our names. For Gerry Useless? He and the rest of the gang weren’t too good at making bombs or deploying them properly. They may have been really good at torching porno shops but they knew bupkis about stopping the arms race.
Litton Systems Canada was a big player in the aerospace industry. In ‘82 there were over 3,000 well paid workers in 11 modern plants using clock making skills to create highly accurate navigation systems.
The Litton campus was literally at the end of the southwest runway of the Pearson International Airport. It was an around the clock operation making both commercial and military products.
The flagship product at Litton was the inertial navigation system (INS) which was flown by over 100 airlines, ships and submarines. Jumbo jets back then used three Litton black boxes (not that black box) per plane, at $125,000 a unit, to plot a course from one airport to another.
The company was owned by Litton Industries headquartered in Beverly Hills, (yes that Beverly Hills). They also had a factory complex in Woodland Hills California, cranking out INS suites as well.
When the Pentagon builds weapons it awards matching contracts to different companies. If one company is knocked out, the second picks up the slack.
It was unusual to award a vital single source company. Because of their commercial success the cruise missile INS contract went to two Litton divisions, one in California, the other in Ontario.
IT was the waning days of Ronald Regan’s second presidential term. He was banking on Star Wars (Strategic Defense Initiative ) to take the defense of the US into the 21st century. The Republican President found it sexy – satellites, James Bond lasers beams and intercontinental missiles capable of hitting downtown Moscow at the say so of President Reagan (which he jokingly said one day). Trouble was, it didn’t work.
As soon as The Ol’ Gipper rode off into the sunset, incoming president Bill Clinton scrambled to find a replacement weapon to keep America safe.
The cruise missile was brought online in a record time because most of its parts were militarized commercial systems. The Litton built nav systems used by the likes of Air Canada, was just what the Pentagon ordered. The two Litton division were contracted to compete with each other to build the missile brains..
The missile is actual an oversized drone. It has little fins, a powerful engine, a nav system/electronic brain and a deadly payload. Some were nukes, others not. None of the payload was brought into Canada.
The new technology was in the weapons’ mapping system which directed the missile over hill and dale and under the radar to literally scream into the enemy target’s front door. A thousand monkeys (well really human nerds) keyed in target geographic information into digital code. Think of it as the forerunner to commercial GPS.
LSL was so proud to bring this work to Canada, we never thought anyone would object. The PR department had a mock-up cruise missile brain appear out the haze of dry ice at a special launch. As I remember Bill Davis the Premier of Ontario pushed the button.
When a group of Franciscans camped out in front of the building (monks in the tents on the left side of the driveway, nuns on the right), we knew we were wrong. Soon protesters were routinely holding signs and pictures of Hiroshima in front of Litton Canada.
Hiroshima coffin demo (pictured left)
The never-ending avalanche of protest, as the saying goes, made the employees stronger. Nobody quit. Nobody got fired (except the worker who got caught stealing a purple-coloured ladder). We were forged in the fire of those protesters’ hate.
It was a family company, husbands and wives, sons and daughters were encouraged to join the Litton workforce. It was a given that the youngsters of the employees would grow up and help build missiles.
In the fall of ‘82 the decision was made to hold an open house for the families of the employees. This was a rare chance to see how everything, including the nav system for the Tomahawks and the Air Launched Cruise Missiles were built.
I was tasked with creating a passport map – I had over a thousand printed. .
My map indicated what was going on in each of the 11 buildings. Kids had to visit each area and get their coloured passport stamped. At the end of the day, it was hotdogs and treats for everyone and cool prizes for anyone who filled their passport map with stamps.
I broke all security rules by clearly marking where the cruise missile parts were made. I didn’t think that the children would throw their extra passports away as they walked between building. Hundreds ended up pinned by the wind against the Highway 27 fence.
If Direct Action had simply pulled off a few the maps they would have known where to drive their stolen truck. But, in that night of blundering, every mistake that could be made was.
The smartest male in the group is probably who welded a heavy plate behind the front seats. The bomb was placed in the cargo area. The plate was there to direct the blast out the back of van and into the factory wall.
Mission Impossible worthy idea, but they forgot to back the truck up against the outer wall of a large plant. They went nose in. A box with dynamite on top was left outside the van. It read in part:
“DANGER EXPLOSIVES – Inside this van are 550 lbs. of commercial dynamite which will explode anytime from within 15 minutes to 25 minutes after the van was parked here.”
The youngest member of the group phoned in a bomb threat. But, because her voice sounded so young and squeaky, the guards initially didn’t believe her and no alarms were sounded.
But they did call the police and when they roared up, they saw the warning note and the stick of dynamite. Litton security went into action. My friend Terry ran into the building yelling at everyone to evacuate.
Some didn’t believe him at first and were slow to exit. A few didn’t make it out. One man was standing in the cloakroom taking off his lab coat when wall came down. A coat hook pierced his skull and hitting his optic nerve. Another had multiple fractures when he was buried in the rubble. Poor Terry the security guard, lost his spleen, had most of his ribs broken and his chest split opened wide. Five employees were seriously hurt.
Terry thought he had more time to get the late shift out because of what the sign read. They were wrong. The bomb’s timers were running fast. The van erupted 5 minutes early. It rained bricks for 2-minutes on the property, the highway and a multi-storey hotel across the road.
Two cops running from the van were injured. One permanently lost his hearing, the other was knock unconscious. There were accidents on the highway, at least three motorists were hospitalized.
Because the van was parked facing the wrong direction debris went flying in the wrong direction. An aerospace firm across the highway had parts of the van’s axel crash through its roof (damaging a line making parts for the USAF F-16 that was kept all hush hush).
And what about the cruise missile? Well truth be told; the bombers parked their van the wrong way in front of the wrong building. The cruise missiles were tested at the back of the building – the area was back up and running in 2-days.
If they had seen my map and parked in front of either of the next two buildings. They could have knocked Canada out of the Arms Race.
Their last mistake. They didn’t stop their crime spree. The five were eventually stopped by the RCMP on their way to rob a British Columbia armoured truck. They needed money to pull off a planned sinking of the Terry Fox icebreaker.
Photo right: protestors busted out front of Litton - weir
The court case was bigtime news. The sentences ranged from 6 years to life for the 2 women and 3 men. One of the women, a lady of white privilege, threw a tomato at the Asian Canadian judge. Didn’t matter they all got released early for good behaviour.
The two women both wrote books about the bombing after getting sprung, neither book did well, although the CBC did have the authors in to goose up sales. Mr. Useless released a folk album, which is, you guessed it, useless. One man got his degree while in the Kingston pen, got out, changed his name and disappeared. The third man is reportedly on skid row … a junky.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for a Jeopardy question about the Five. We like to remember the bad things that radicals do in other countries and forget the terrible horrible things that happen north of the 49th parallel.
I won’t forget. Nor well those hurt in the blast. I am glad they t were fucking idiots. They didn’t see my map. They didn’t park their truck right. And didn’t bomb the right building. Small blessings amidst a long lis of terrible idiotic things they did.