Trump’s space agency attempts to bury Santa Susana Field Lab cleanup by nominating toxic site for listing in the National Registry of Historic Places
- Space agency seeks historic listing for entire lab claiming it as “pristine” sacred Native American land
- Designation would allow NASA to claim entire site as exempt from cleanup by exploiting exemptions in cleanup agreement for Cultural Resources
- Ventura County Board of Supervisors vote down plan 5-0 over health & safety concerns, State Historic Resources Commission may have final say August 14
- Santa Ynez Chumash continue to seek acquisition of the land, which would exempt it from state and federal cleanup requirements and raise renewed Casino concerns
- A closer look at the history of SSFL’s impact on the land reveals site was designed by “ardent Nazi” and UFO nut Walther Riedel who pulled massive UFO hoax in 1953
- New contamination findings include perchlorate found for first time in Brandeis-Bardin’s Meier Canyon hiking destination
- ‘Hot’ Polonium-210 higher in ambient air than Woolsey Fire smoke in new lab data
- Burro Flats Painted Cave under immediate safety threat from SSFL trespassers
News & Analysis
President Trump’s National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) has launched a brazen effort to avoid having to clean up the entire 2,850-acre Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), commonly known as Rocketdyne.
The agency has nominated the entire lab for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) by proposing that boundaries of the 11.74-acre Burro Flats Painted Cave area in SSFL, which is already listed in the NRHP, be expanded to the site’s full 2,850 acres. If successful, NASA can claim that exemptions in the 2010 cleanup agreement designed to protect Native American artifacts that are “formally recognized” apply to the entire site – meaning none of it would get cleaned up.
The Ventura County Board of Supervisors, who have long supported the full cleanup of SSFL, voted unanimously to oppose the plan July 28. The final decision will take place in a Sacramento hearing tomorrow, Friday, August 14 at the State Historic Resources Commission (SHRC) via a public Zoom meeting.
The historic designation scheme encompasses the whole site, not just NASA’s land. That would include Area IV which saw three partial nuclear meltdowns on its land including America’s worst in 1959 when a third of the Sodium Reactor Experiment’s fuel melted releasing huge amounts of radiation over the lab and surrounding expanse.
At the same time as pressing for this historic designation, NASA released its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) for remediation of its portions of SSFL. That plan breaks the prior 2010 agreement with the State of California to clean up SSFL to background levels of soil pollutants and groundwater contamination.
This double whammy blitzkrieg is no accident but part of a well-timed Trump Administration effort to leave one of the most contaminated sites in the country permanently polluted. There’s just one rub, however. Actually several. The historic designation plot is fraudulent throughout, as the following analysis demonstrates.
Evidence uncovered by EnviroReporter.com shows that NASA deceptively swapped the objects of its former push for historic designation which were its rocket test stands, for a new “Burro Flats District” that includes the entire SSFL. Now the test stands are just “noncontributing buildings and structures.”
NASA’s use of NRHP status to exploit exemptions in the cleanup agreement could leave enormous amounts of radiation and chemical contamination throughout the site, which would remain an ongoing public health threat for hundreds of thousands who live downhill of SSFL and serve as a grave insult to Native Americans and to their neighbors and friends.
EnviroReporter.com has found even more radioactive emissions coming from SSFL’s nuclear Area IV, including infamous and deadly Polonium-210, that are worse than radioisotope levels found in the 2018 Woolsey Fire’s smoke. One of NASA’s signature toxic chemicals, the rocket fuel oxidizer perchlorate, has also been found “for the first time” in a popular hiking canyon abutting SSFL in the Brandeis-Bardin Jewish camp.
NASA did not mention a word about SSFL’s contamination in its nomination for the NRHP. Its sole justification for expanding the 11.74-acre Burro Flats Painted Cave site to 2,850 acres is that site activities protected the land, claiming that, “The use of SSFL by the government and Boeing resulted in keeping the area in a state similar to when the consultants’ ancestors used and occupied the area.” This ghastly twisting of truths not only omits SSFL’s contamination, but also the physical degradation of the property as it was developed into a field lab with roads, buildings, nuclear reactors, enormous rocket test stands as well as toxic earthen pits.
EnviroReporter.com took a closer look at SSFL’s site history and uncovered information disclosing that the site was designed by German rocket designer and engineer Walther Riedel, who had a crucial function in the development of America’s missile arsenal at Rocketdyne with plans spirited out of Nazi Germany in Operation Paperclip at the end of World War II. His little known role in SSFL’s history included designing and engineered much of the lab outside of nuclear Area IV. Shockingly, the Father of SSFL was characterized by U.S. officials as an “ardent Nazi.”
More shocking even than that is Riedel’s leading role in perpetrating one of the most amazing UFO hoaxes over Southern California during the Cold War just to see how the public would react. And react they did to what was rocket wizardry at its most stupendous and American intelligence gathering about it at its worst.
This investigation has also unearthed new information that shows that the commonly referred to number of rocket tests that took place at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory has been grossly under-counted, an under-count never corrected by Boeing. More rocket tests mean more rocket fuel-associated corruption of the environment. We reporters covering SSFL have been wrong for years writing about it.
The generally held approximation for the number of Rocketdyne engine tests from their start in 1949 to their end in 2006 has been 30,000 over that 57-year period. EnviroReporter.com has discovered documentation, originating with a longtime Rocketdyne honcho who first showed me around the site in 1998, that reveals that there had already had been an astounding 150,000 rocket engine tests by 1962, just 13 years. That’s five times more tests in less than a quarter of the time, leaving the soil, rock and groundwater under the remaining test stands especially nasty.
EnviroReporter.com has also obtained information and photographs that the federally-protected – but not physically shielded – Burro Flats Painted Cave has been repeatedly accessed without authorization since at least 2007. NRHP status has done nothing to protect the cave itself. Colorful cave painting photographs from this trespassing have appeared in media and on social media, fueling interest in the priceless place.
NASA’s Giant Leap of Lies
NASA released its FSEIS July 24, breaking its which broke its 2010 AOC with the state to clean up its part of SSFL to background. Instead, 72% (percent) of the contaminated soil would not be removed and 84% of the acreage left to sit there, poisoned, instead of 100% cleanup.
NASA appears to have also gotten the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to buy in on not enforcing the AOC, even though in its role as supervisor of the still-stalled SSFL cleanup, DTSC is supposed to be protecting Californians, not Trump’s NASA. “Finally, NASA and DTSC recognize that technical issues will likely preclude the agencies from successfully implementing the AOC cleanup,” read Appendix 4A Response to Public Comments on the NASA SSFL SEIS.
DTSC, arm in arm with Trump’s NASA, may have mortally wounded the SSFL cleanup. Governor Gavin Newsom’s legacy may include leaving one of the most contaminated sites in the nation smack dab in the heart of Southern California.
“NASA has just announced that its “preferred alternative” for dealing with the contamination it created at the Santa Susana Field Lab is to breach the legally binding cleanup agreement it signed with California in 2010 and instead leave the majority of the contaminated soil not cleaned up,” longtime SSFL watchdog Dan Hirsch of Committee to Bridge the Gap told EnviroReporter.com. “It is just one more in a long string of environmental break-outs by the Trump Administration, but one that, if not effectively resisted by the state, will result in many cancers and deaths in people living nearby exposed to the contamination migrating from a site that was supposed to be cleaned up long ago.”
At the same time that NASA announced its intention to leave most of the contamination on its portion of SSFL not cleaned up, it was pushing a scheme to gain NRHP status for SSFL by expanding the Burro Flats boundaries to encompass the whole site. The Burro Flats complex is already listed in the NRHP and has been since 1976. Just last month, based on subsequent studies, the NRHP reduced the Burro Flats area from 25 acres down to 11.74, making NASA’s attempt to expand it to 2,850 acres even more astonishing.
Hot Slots and Hot Spots
NASA’s nomination of SSFL for the NRHP is supported by the Santa Ynez Chumash. Comments submitted by the Chumash on NASA’s SEIS confirm that the tribe is still interested in acquiring the land. It began this effort in 2009, after NASA submitted a report to the General Services Administration declaring the land as “excess.” The City of Los Angeles and the County of Ventura weighed in strongly, demanding that NASA not transfer the property until after it had been cleaned up. NASA gaining NRHP status for SSFL as a “Traditional Cultural Property” would complement efforts to transfer the land to the Chumash. If that happens, federal and state laws requiring cleanup would no longer apply.
That would be just fine according to the tribe’s chairman, Kenneth Kahn, who decries not the damage done to the land through decades of reckless environmental practices, but the cleanup itself. Kahn wrote in Tribe Comments on NASA’s SEIS. “The cumulative impacts of NASA, DOE, and Boeing activities would result in increased significant and negative impacts to cultural resources at SSFL.”
Sam Cohen, who serves as government affairs and legal officer to the Santa Ynez Chumash, sings a different tune depending on his audience. He’s advocated against the full SSFL cleanup for years, but in front of the cleanup-supporting Ventura County Board of Supervisors he characterized the NRHP listing as necessary to “help clean up our church.”
Cohen also represents the Santa Ynez Chumash gaming interests, serving as President of the Santa Ynez Chamber of Commerce representing the Chumash Casino Resort. Many in the SSFL community worry that if the Chumash acquire the land, a casino could follow.
According to a 2004 interview with the Los Angeles Times, that wouldn’t trouble Kahn. “I don’t care how many casinos we build. We could never overcome what was taken from our ancestors.”
The prospect of SSFL never getting cleaned up is devasting to nearby community members; a casino on the contaminated land raises the stakes even higher.
It’s not mystifying why the Trump Administration’s NASA would pull such a bold plan to eventually saddle Native Americans with a place that conducted probably in excess of 300,000 rocket tests spilling a million gallons of the carcinogenic rocket engine solvent trichloroethylene (TCE) onto the soil which has poisoned the groundwater – it could save hundreds of millions on costly cleanup. It’s only a blue state, anyway, so the thinking might be.
NASA’s ploy would also hugely benefit the other responsible polluters that inhabit SSFL including the DOE which operated experimental nuclear reactors in Area IV during the Cold War as well as a “hot lab” for cutting apart nuclear fuel rods sent to SSFL from all over the country. Nuclear fires, dumping and explosions were commonplace.
At least three partial nuclear meltdowns impacted the lab and surrounding areas with fallout, especially the historic Sodium Reactor Experiment partial meltdown in 1959 that released hundreds of times more of some types of radiation than the Three Mile Island meltdown did in 1979. Dozens of mothers blame this accident and others for their sickened and dying children.
An Obama Administration infusion of $41.5 million led to a 2012 U.S. Environmental Agency Protection Agency study that revealed just how sizzling with radiation the Area IV hot zone remains. EnviroReporter.com’s subsequent Radiation Readings Soar at Rocketdyne reported that carcinogenic Cesium-137 (Cs-137) was found at 9,300 times its calculated background level. The California Highway Patrol considers any radionuclide over 3 times background to present a HazMat-level threat.
Poisonous Strontium-90 (Sr-90) clocked in at 284 times background. Cs-137 and Sr-90 have half-lives of 30.17 years and 28.79 years, respectively. That means the Hot Zone will stay hot and lethal for at least 300 years unless the dangerous dirt is dug up and hauled away to a licensed low-level radioactive dump. Or made into a spiritual retreat with casino with visitors signing health waivers like Boeing uses now.
New Contamination Findings
EnviroReporter.com has unearthed more evidence of radiation and chemical continuing to plague SSFL air and groundwater with perchlorate being found for the first time in a hiking canyon of the Brandeis-Bardin Jewish kids camp hard on NASA’s northern SSFL border.
EnviroReporter.com reported in July 2019 that lab owner Boeing found the highly poisonous radioisotope Polonium-210 (Po-210) in smoke from the 2018 Woolsey Fire that roared through the former Rocketdyne complex. “Polonium-210 is so poisonous that it is the Russian radioisotope of choice for assassinations,” we wrote. “Po-210 is 250,000 times more poisonous than hydrogen cyanide.
“And Boeing found it in Woolsey Fire smoke in both its detectors that weren’t even in nuclear Area IV but instead in the SBZ [Southern Buffer Zone] next to dirt roads Boeing uses to let hundreds of hikers amble through without face masks. In fact, stations #4 and #5 were over 1.5 miles from even the nearest SBZ border with Area IV suggesting that the readings could be even higher.”
Even though the fire spared Area IV, the finding of up to 3.46 times more Polonium-210 in ambient SSFL air than in the fire smoke a year later suggests a massive and ongoing radiation problem. That is a problem that won’t fix itself.
EnviroReporter.com found this to be unfortunately true thanks to a quarterly and annual November 2019 DOE Area IV air report. The 247-page report shows that all four DOE air sensors stationed around Area IV also detected significant amounts of Po-210 in Woolsey Fire Smoke. Incredibly, though, in Area IV, air without smoke one year later was higher than in was during the fire in three of the four DOE sensors.
The Area IV air sensor farthest west on the SSFL property, closest to Runkle Canyon where there is an 11-acre drainage down from the lab, the increase was astonishing: 346%. That means that Area IV is off-gassing as much as 3.4 times as much Polonium-210 into the air than was detected in usually more toxic smoke.
More evidence of the mixed bag of very toxic goo coming down from NASA and DOE’s areas above in SSFL was reported in 2019. In fact, the fissionable findings came from a cluster of wells EnviroReporter.com had sampled and tested in 2006 and 2007.
“A new maximum was detected for radium-228 in well RD-59C,” said the DOE Area IV 2019 First Quarter Groundwater Monitoring Report, an area first exposed as impacted by DOE radionuclides in EnviroReporter.com’s Brandeis-Bardin’s Toxic Denial in 2017. Well RD-59A, also in Meier Canyon, registered significant gross beta radiation of 5.84 picocuries per liter.
This is the same report that detected perchlorate in Meier Canyon. “Perchlorate was detected for the first time,” the report said under the “Off-Site Detections” section, “in well RD-59C. Manganese was detected at a new maximum that exceeds the screening level in well RD-59A. Boron and molybdenum were detected at a new maximum and below the screening level in well RD-59C.”
The spontaneous off gassing of Po-210, along with a host of other radionuclides but at not nearly as concerning a level, makes even being in or around Area IV a risky proposition. That hardly sounds like the kind of condition the federal government should give back lands to Native Americans or the kind that indigenous people would take, unless you have a corrupt administration giving the green light to a corrupted space agency long in cahoots with a casino-building tribe from another county.
NASA launched its two-pronged assault more than a month ago, beginning with a National Register of Historic Places nomination it authored with the California State Office of Historic Preservation (SOHP). The nomination attempts to declare all of SSFL sacred Native American land – as is – and belonging to the Chumash, whose reservation isn’t nearby but in Santa Ynez Valley about 100 miles northwest of SSFL.
The second prong of the assault launched July 24 when NASA released its FSEIS that has NASA breaking its binding 2010 agreement with DTSC to ‘cleanup to background’ levels of radiation and chemicals in SSFL soil and groundwater.
Like one of the prehistoric helixes painted so vibrantly in Burro Flats Painted Cave, these two prongs interweave and overlap, and unite in the end to configure the DNA of toxic revenge. After decades of fighting over cleaning one of the most polluted places in the country, designed after Nazi missile works built by concentration camp slaves in Germany, the place is about to get a makeover and suddenly becomes a sacred American Indian site, with no cleanup and Cold War crap still all over the place.
The first blitzkrieg prong was set in motion June 29 when the Ventura County’s Cultural Heritage Board (VCCHB) approved the Trump Administration NASA plan to declare Native American protections for the entire catastrophically contaminated 2,850-acre SSFL. The VCCHB was poised to recommend that NASA’s proposal be summarily rejected until an infuriating lesson in White Mansplaining by a board member who hid a conflict of interest while condescending to the virtual crowd kept from attending by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately the VCCHB determined that the nomination as submitted did not meet criteria for listing, but 117 sites and one object included in the proposal did.
Nothing is more puzzling, and enraging, than to hear a privileged White Man opine between bites at a fancy restaurant piped into a community call with nearly 100 people on it about how White People shouldn’t opine on Native American radioactive holy sites, even though that is precisely what he is doing.
It’s condescending, undeserved and wrong but in the Age of Trump, it has taken many self-righteous forms including at the VCCHB meeting. And it worked because the public, silenced by the county’s Zoom settings, had to watch in horror as aggressive faux self-hating racism was used to silence a community’s informed concerns.
“I believe the property does meet the criteria as it sits right now but that criteria is such that you need to look at it from our understanding as Caucasians in that, you know,” said longtime white board member Stephen Schafer as he ate in a noisy restaurant.
“It’s like the Great [Pyramid], or Notre dame, or the Acropolis, or the Washington National Cathedral,” Schafer mused. “This is a Native American temple. This is their church. Now, if the Acropolis is suddenly radioactive, it’s not any less historic. Not any less significant.” This logic might somewhat hold if Schafer didn’t later reveal his contempt for the cleanup and any possible VCCHB recommendation that expressed concern about the nomination’s impact on the cleanup.
EnviroReporter.com has also obtained information showing that the VCCHB’s decision was improperly arrived at because Stephen Schafer should have recused himself. A June 28 email from the San Buenaventura Conservancy to the Ventura County Cultural Heritage Board implored the board to approve NASA’s plan, without revealing that it was sent by one of its own board members – its co-founder and president Stephen Schafer.
“We support the nomination of the entire Burro Flats Cultural District to the National Register of Historic Places,” read the email signed by the San Buenventura Conservancy Board of Directors. “We oppose restricting the recommendation to require the nomination “not interfere or otherwise impede remediation efforts.” The entire site is a pristine landscape in terms of archaeological sites and cultural features that have not been destroyed through adverse industrial, commercial or development impacts.”
The San Buenaventura Conservancy letter was sent from Schafer’s wife Sherry to him, which was then forwarded to the VCCHB, not bothering to hide their email addresses (the VCCHB staff later redacted them). Schafer admitted that he was on the board, but claimed to having an “open mind” which was clearly not the case.
“I am sort of concerned that there is some cultural [sighs audibly] sort of blind spot in our very Caucasian board that are not easy for us to necessarily get around from the basic comments that I’m hearing, and that is while my notes here state that, in quotes, the site is a pristine site,” Schafer said. “It is pristine from the standpoint of the indigenous people.”
“Is it contaminated? Yes. Does it have radioactivity? Yes,” Schafer supposed. “Our construct is making us say, ‘Hey, it’s not pristine,’ but I believe it is pristine! And I believe it can be pristine and radioactive at the same time!”
Stephen Schafer’s White Mansplaining was so offensive and riddled with falsehoods that it deserves to be documented. Schafer’s comments were as aggressively stupid as any this reporter has heard in 22 years covering SSFL.
Schafer was echoing NASA’s Burro Flats Historic District plan’s obvious falsehoods such as the “district retains all aspects of historic integrity” and that the “places still look very much as they did before the Europeans arrived; they have not been torn out or built over. They are a part of the local Native American identity that has endured into the twenty-first century.”
That ridiculous lie reflects the insidious influence of the Trump Administration where telling the most outrageous falsehood is somehow acceptable. NASA photographs imparted to this reporter when he joined NASA Section 106 Consultants in 2013, show just how impacted SSFL as seen in EnviroReporter.com’s NASA’s Last Stand Gallery. Rocket test stands dominate SSFL as does a giant mountain of high-tech garbage that NASA dumped over the decades in its area of the lab.
The plan falsely characterizes the consultants as indicating that “the district has been used for various scientific purposes since the 1940s, overall integrity is still excellent. The use of SSFL by the government and Boeing resulted in keeping the area in a state similar to when the consultants’ ancestors used and occupied the area.”
NASA’s consultants did no such thing. I know because I was one of those consultants. Indeed, we were actually talking about a different subject – historic districts involving the rocket test stands since the Native American sacred cave on the site had been federally protected and inaccessible to the public since 1976.
Serving as a NASA consultant gave me an insider’s look at how NASA operated in 2013 and 2014, as part of the agency’s “consultants” on SSFL and, without reporting on it until now, watched NASA and a longtime group of mostly white greenwashers work every angle to sabotage the SSFL cleanup.
Consulting with NASA
“Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) requires federal agencies to consider the adverse effects of a proposed undertaking on historic properties through consultation,” according to a DOE group letter sent October 18, 2018 about its own Section 106 consultancy that this reporter was not made aware of, perhaps for obvious reasons. “[T]he Section 106 regulations require the agency to provide the public information at Step 2, identification and evaluation of NRHP eligibility of historic properties, and Step 3, assessment of effects on historic properties.”
When this reporter asked to join the NASA Section 106 process for its SSFL property, the consultants had already been meeting for a year and a half and the group was heavily populated by anti-cleanup greenwashers, including John Luker, eager to declare all the rocket test stands as “historic.” That would gut the cleanup of NASA property because the test stands are built over where the heaviest contamination is, like the subterranean dirt lake of the solvent TCE which was used to hose down rocket engines to clean them inside and out after test firings.
“NASA accepts your request to become a Section 106 Consulting party,” wrote NASA’s Merrilee Fellows Sept. 25, 2013. “Your interest and experience will be helpful as we move through the NHPA Section 106 process concerning proposed actions that could impact historic districts and archaeological sites on NASA property at SSFL.”
Fellows and I have always gotten along since earlier days of my reporting on SSFL, which began in 1998, because she knew I was a space brat who grew up in Cape Canaveral during NASA’s heyday in the 1960s. Mercury astronauts would wave at me as I looked through a chain-link fence watching them jog past my childhood home most mornings.
Watching rockets launched from the cape from our front yard or the beach next to Cape View Elementary School influenced my life’s trajectory. I grew up admiring, trusting and loving NASA. Witnessing NASA at SSFL wiped the dew from my eyes.
Going into the Section 106 group in 2013, it was a given that this reporter wouldn’t write about the consultations at the time because it would violate the confidential nature of some of the discussions of the Burro Flats Painted Cave without revealing its location. The no-reporting pledge made it easier for some of the more notorious members, like recently-jailed mountain dumper Wayne Fishback, to try to get in some licks before an appreciative astroturf crowd.
“Tell me Allen [Elliott then-SSFL program director for NASA], is the greatest amount of pollution under the Coca stands?” asked Fishback in one of his eruptions at the November 1, 2013 Section 106 meeting that this reporter attended by conference call. “I just don’t believe that. The Michael Collins’s of the world; they want to spread this mantra that all this pollution is buried underneath the stands so they gotta get torn down. That’s just BS.”
The focus of the NASA-led group was the historic significance of SSFL’s rocket test stands sited at the Alfa, Bravo and Coca complexes and should they be saved. Or at least that’s what it seemed to be according to NASA moderator, Jennifer Groman. “You’re the new guy,” Groman said by way of greeting over the telephone.
“The undertaking in this case; it’s very complex,” Groman explained, bringing me up to speed as the other consultants listened. “It’s the demolition of the structures here on the NASA site as well as the ground cleanup and the groundwater cleanup. And that’s all shown in the draft EIS and our scoping, and the role of the consulting parties is to give NASA a perspective of different folks, what their concerns are regarding the proposed undertaking effects the historic properties and those are defined in that regulation and then our role as an agency is to try to avoid, or minimize or mitigate adverse effects if there are adverse effects.”
Indeed, the work of the Section 106 consultants was to advise NASA on, most importantly, removal or preservation of the test stands. The groundwater cleanup was a function of getting remediation “air-stripping” wells to evaporate off the TCE. Before the prior air stripping extraction wells were turned off over a decade ago, they were successfully removing just 10 gallons of the carcinogen a year which would take close to 100,000 years to complete at that anemic rate.
Many of the consultants at the Nov. 1, 2013 meeting argued for keeping the Coca test stand complex over the admonitions of NASA which preferred the Alfa and Bravo complexes. “The most contaminated district is Coca,” said Groman.
“The overall estimate is that it’s going to be extremely hard to achieve cleanup at Coca with the test stands in place,” Groman continued. “Secondly, based on the comments we have including those of Native Americans, the Santa Ynez themselves… it’s in a highly sensitive location on the site.”
And an expensive one as well. Considering that Chumash tribal chairman Kahn has attacked demolishing the test stands in his comments released by NASA July 24, perhaps his casino-wealthy band could afford the cost of keeping the rusting hulks which are missing key historic parts. No updated estimate on the cost has been done, until now.
EnviroReporter.com has calculated the costs of saving and maintaining the six extant rocket stands in 2020 dollars. The figures are based on Elliott’s 2013 estimates of the expenses of saving all six test stands: $9.2 million and up to $166,000 a year for maintenance. Every test stand would also need a new paint job every 10 to 15 years costing more than $2 million each, according to NASA’s Elliott.
“In terms of the sacredness of this site, people came along after the Chumash and have defiled it,” this reporter-as-consultant said at the meeting, noting that the test stands had to come down to get at the goo. “The removal of the defilement of a site is the best way to honor a sacred Native American site.”
“The costs to keep them up exceeds the cost of demolishing them, since you brought that up,” said Groman to me. Groman also addressed the Burro Flats Painted Cave, reflecting NASA’s focus on the test stands and the cleanup in 2013. “We only have a small imprint that’s even near it [the 11.74-acre cave site area]. Our hope is not to go in [to the 11.74-acre cave site area during cleanup].”
NASA said as much when summarizing the previous Sec. 106 Consulting Party meeting in notes given to the consultants including this reporter. “[B]ecause the site is already on the National Register and NASA has also provide a buffer area to further protect it, NASA believes it has met its obligations to identify historic properties under Section 106,” NASA wrote.
This reporter submitted Section 106 PA Comments that concentrated on getting NASA to clean up its mess entirely by demolishing its test stands, honoring Native Americans in the process. The comments encouraged NASA to document historically its extensive Nazi-design origins built at and carved into SSFL that stand untouched and remain massively contaminated to this very day as EnviroReporter.com’s NASA’s Last Stand Gallery documents.
Now that NASA has jettisoned the Nazi-designed and built rocket test stands as the object of its historic designation plot, and switched to making the entirety of SSFL a sacred American Indian site, it seems that the agency would rather the Nazi stuff remained buried. It was just that effort to bury what this reporter had demanded be accounted for as a consultant that led to further investigation of Rocketdyne’s Nazi past. Indiana Jones couldn’t dream up a more amazing story.
The Ardent Nazi Architect of Rocketdyne
Indeed, NASA itself details how one Nazi “rocket expert” designed and engineered the Alfa, Bravo and Coca “test stands and blockhouse, the ancillary buildings and structures, and the elements of the natural and man-made landscape.”
That rocket expert was an “ardent Nazi” named Walther Riedel who was a top V-2 rocket designer during World War II for Nazi Germany. Riedel’s work at SSFL “was very closely linked in its design to a rocket engine test site in late World War II Germany, and was among the first major such test complexes in the United States.”
What our EnviroReporter.com investigation uncovered is disturbing, mind-blowing and historic all at the same time and never reported in any media that can be found. The architect of Rocketdyne’s SSFL was an ardent Nazi who gave the company the designs for its launch stands, pads and supporting environment, according to NASA itself.
“The Bowl Area in the neighboring Area I (of 1949-1951) was very closely linked in its design to a rocket engine test site in late World War II Germany, and was among the first major such test complexes in the United States” NASA wrote in a 2009 historic assessment when the object was to analyze the test stands for preservation before that idea was launched in 2020 and Native American status suddenly became paramount. “Area II (of 1954-1956) also carried forward aspects of German rocket engine test site layout.”
These weren’t just any Nazi Germany test site layouts; these were ones built by concentration camp prisoners into a mountain once the Royal Air Force had bombed the original V-2 test site on the Baltic Sea to smithereens.
“The actual model for the rocket engine test stands at Santa Susana dates to late in the war, after the German military moved the operations of the rocket scientists to heavily protected, predominantly underground sites following the British Royal Air Force’s bombing raid over Peenemünde in August 1943,” said NASA’s 2009 report. “During 1944-1945, four main locations replaced Peenemünde: Nordhausen (Mittelwerk), a former gypsum mine in Thuringia which had been expanded steadily since 1936 for oil and chemical weapons storage (becoming the primary V-2 production plant).”
All that is missing in this “historic” assessment is what actually happened vis-à-vis the lethality of the V-2’s to our allies and how these missiles were produced. The grim facts were not ignored in EnviroReporter.com’s 2009 Bowled Over which were subsequently included in this reporter’s Section 106 comments:
The V-2, or Vergeltungswaffe 2, was the first ballistic missile to reach sub-orbital spaceflight and was the forerunner of modern rockets. Over 3,000 V-2s were launched at Allied targets by the German Wehrmacht in World War II, killing an estimated 7,250 military personnel and civilians, mostly in London.
Over 20,000 Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp inmates died constructing V-2s, with 9000 dying from exhaustion alone. Around 350 of these Nazi slaves were hanged, including 200 for sabotage, with the remainder shot or dying from disease and starvation.
This is the part of Rocketdyne’s history NASA would rather the American public would not see. Nevertheless, the space agency does include some of the pertinent facts, namely that “German engineer Walter Riedel, a rocket engine expert who had worked with Dr. von Braun,” designed and engineered the Alfa, Bravo and Coca rocket test stand areas down to the shape of the mountains around them.
“The base foundations of the 1950s Coca test stands are tied into the existing natural rock, integrated with the landscape to a much greater extent than typically found after the early 1950s,” NASA’s assessment read. “This is interpreted as reflective of design and engineering of similar test stands in Nazi Germany of 1945; as a precaution against explosions on the test stands; and as over-engineering to accommodate the uprated rocket engines of the future.”
Walther Riedel’s rocketry fame today pales in comparison to fellow Nazi rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, but his was a stronger imprint upon Rocketdyne’s SSFL facility and early rocketry. Riedel ascended to head of Nazi rocket development by 1944 and managed the move south from Peenemünde to Nordhausen (Mittelwerk).
Riedel began working for North American Aviation (which became North American Rockwell, then Rockwell International which was eventually sold to Boeing) in 1947. A combined German-American team headed by Riedel developed and modernized the V-2 with a single-chambered engine for use in the Navaho cruise missile. The same engine was used in the Redstone ballistic missile and updated for its successors the Thor, Jupiter, Atlas and Saturn I rockets.
“Like the Alfa and Bravo Test Areas, the Coca Test Area Historic District is also significant,” said the 2009 NASA report, “for the design and engineering of the test site, by DMJM, as well as rocket expert Walter Riedel, inclusive of the test stands and blockhouse, the ancillary buildings and structures, and the elements of the natural and man-made landscape.”
All these Rocketdyne test stands were designed by Riedel, who joined the Nazi Party in 1937 and belonged to five Nazi organizations. Riedel knew how to literally work thousands of people to death and at SSFL his land-scarring handiwork is passed off as pristine Native American land in NASA’s fraudulent historic designation scheme. Indiana Jones would not be pleased.
Riedel, born in 1903, headed Nazi Germany’s Technical Design Office as chief designer of the A4 (V2) ballistic rocket. He kept missile manufacturing moving even as thousands of Jews, Catholics and French Resistance concentration camp inmates were worked to death or hung on meat hooks for the infraction of accidentally denting a V-2 rocket meant for London or Antwerp. EnviroReporter.com has recently obtained a haunting color photograph of Dora-Mittlebrau concentration camp slaves assembling V-2 rocket circuitry as part of Riedel’s production line.
When U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) caught up with a fleeing Riedel in the confused and violent final days of World War II in Germany, the tall and gregarious blond man was mistaken by the Americans for Hitler’s biological weapons chief. During interrogation, the CIC handlers punched out Riedel’s front teeth and his CIC intelligence report listed him as “an active Nazi who wore the uniform and party badge. Ardent.”
Lucky for Riedel, and key to the future of Rocketdyne and the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, he was saved by a U.S. Army Major Robert Staver who was hot on the trail of V-2 scientists and their documents in May 1945. Staver got Riedel’s full cooperation who, like von Braun, claimed that V-2 rockets were a sidelight and that what the Nazi scientists really cared about were “passenger carrying rockets, trips to space stations revolving about the earth as satellites, space mirrors which could be used for good and possibly evil, short trips around the moon, and daring explorations of outer space.”
That outrageous story was accompanied by an actually helpful suggestion by Riedel to bring forty key men to the United States to continue their research, which was the inception of the idea that led to Operation Paperclip. Riedel threatened to work for the Russians if that didn’t suit Staver. The Russians were due in Nordhausen in days to replace the American Army occupiers and Riedel knew it. Quite quickly, the U.S. Army succeeded in spiriting a hundred rocket scientists to the U.S. but not without some theatrics from Riedel.
When a Colonel Holger Toftoy approached Riedel to tell him that he may be selected to come to the U.S. with a select group of rocket scientists, he got a reaction he didn’t expect. Riedel pulled him into a side room at the schoolhouse where some of the Germans rocketeers were being held with their families. Riedel pointed at six massive black trunks in the room and opened one of them which was jammed with Reichsmarks.
“Money, Colonel,” Toftoy recalls Riedel saying as he threw fistfuls of the worthless paper currency into the air. “We have plenty of that, but it won’t buy anything. I can’t feed my family with it. But if I stay here, I can fix a radio or a bicycle for a farmer and he’ll give me some apples in return. What will happen to my family if I go to America? I can send them American money, but money can’t buy apples or bread or milk in Germany.”
Staver eventually persuaded Riedel to be the first Nazi rocketeer to sign on to coming to America sans the wife in Operation Paperclip. When Frau Riedel learned that her husband was going to leave her in Germany, she tried to swallow a cyanide capsule. Riedel knocked the glass capsule out of her hand, shattering it in the process and cutting his hand, nearly missing killing himself with the cyanide entering his bloodstream.
This helped convince the U.S. Army to house the departing Nazi scientists’ families at a former Wehrmacht (German Army) cavalry barracks at Landshut, Bavaria while they were in America. There is anecdotal evidence that Riedel brought his clearly devoted wife to the United States at some point after 1947.
Rocketdyne’s Space Nazi Hoaxer
Four years after arriving at SSFL, having designed and overseen the construction of the lab’s first rocket test stand copies of the Nazi rocket stands used to test V-2’s, Riedel became a founding member of a UFO study group. In late 1951, Riedel teamed up with another North American Aviation employee, Edward J. Sullivan, to form Civilian Saucer Investigation (CSI) in Los Angeles.
A LIFE magazine article in 1952 called Visitors from Space? mentioning CSI-LA caused a national UFO sensation. Riedel was soon questioned by a member of the Los Angeles unit of the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), a section within the U.S. Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
“He is now a Project engineer in the Aerophysics Department (Guided Missiles) of the North American Aviation Corp,” a February 9, 1953 OSI report from the Chief of the Contact Division. “He gave every impression of being a competent scientist, especially knowledgeable on rocket matters. He seemed a balanced person, not given to fixations.”
Following in these OSI notes are clues to one of the biggest UFO hoaxes ever pulled off over Southern California. Yet even with the hoax – if it was indeed a hoax – having been pulled off less than two weeks before the OSI report, on January 28, 1953, the OSI failed to follow up and interrogate Riedel about his having bragged about it.
“So serious is CSI with respect to its investigations that Dr. Riedel indicated that they are going to execute a planned “hoax” over the Los Angeles area, in order to test the reaction and reliability of the public in general to unusual aerial phenomena,” the OSI report said. “(The sightings reported over Malibu in its Los Angeles papers of 30 Jan 53 could possibly be this hoax.) From this experiment, they hope to ascertain how many people report an aerial visual phenomenon which had been conducted so as to be clearly visible to a large number of people in the area. They will also, of course, be able to test the variation of report details, etc. This experiment is designed to give a better background against which future sightings can be evaluated.”
OSI may have not pieced together what was possibly the hoax Riedel said was coming, but EnviroReporter.com has 67 years after the fact. Riedel’s Rocketdyne riddle is perhaps more appropriate than hoax because something definitely happened according to various sources including the Los Angeles Times with this headline that screamed “DISKS OVER SOUTHLAND? – 4 Saucers Reported in Formation; Jet Pilot Chases Fifth.” The article reported that “the crew of a Northrop Aviation Corp. plane reported sighting four flying saucers in formation over Chatsworth yesterday afternoon.”
Chatsworth is downhill from SSFL, three miles distant. “The disks are very hard to describe except to say they were nothing any of us had ever seen before,” the pilot told the Los Angeles Times. “We first sighted them toward Los Angeles but we lost sight of them as they headed east toward Mt. San Jacinto.”
Another report obtained by EnviroReporter.com gave more detail, including where the objects seemed to be coming from. “While flying over Malibu, California, Northrop Aircraft test pilot Rex Hardy, Jr. and two members of his aircrew, sighted four aluminum-colored circular-shaped objects traveling in a definite flight pattern,” the report said. “The objects were huge, as big as a B-36 bomber it was estimated, and they were moving at a speed in excess of 1,000 mph to their reckoning.”
These amazing phenomena were never investigated by the OSI apparently, but Riedel’s extraterrestrial dalliances were not appreciated by another North American employee, Victor Black. Black called Riedel a Nazi, ironically, but it was enough to set the OSI on him in the first place.
According to the OSI report, Riedel’s colleagues were none too thrilled with his UFO activities. “Of incidental interest may be the fact that NAA (National Aeronautical Association) suggested politely and perhaps indirectly to Dr. Riedel that he disassociate himself from official membership on (sic) CSI.”
When Riedel finally returned to Hamburg, West Germany in 1974, he mysteriously died with no apparent obituary. But his story didn’t. Walther Riedel built Rocketdyne’s SSFL with his Nazi blueprints and brains, and then forged the engines for weapons of mass destruction.
In the process, this ardent and unrepentant Nazi pulled off a spectacular UFO hoax right up there with The Battle of Los Angeles that preceded it during World War II, where all hell broke loose with anti-aircraft guns opening up on some big red and silver thing moving from Santa Monica to Long Beach. That Riedel had the boosters to brag to the OSI about plans to do it and then bring it off is as dazzling as the rockets he designed.
More Rocketdyne Rocket Tests Than Ever Reported
This reporter’s first visit to SSFL in 1998 was for Los Angeles magazine. One of three Boeing hosts, who generously gave of their time to take us on an amazing tour, was Steve Lafflam. The resulting piece began my reporting on Rocketdyne and was called HOT ZONE.
Lafflam didn’t like the piece. That wasn’t surprising considering that he was the face of Rocketdyne rebuttal to public outcry that SSFL was poisoning the community and its citizens. He ended up telling me to my face that I “sucked ass.” Lafflam retired years ago but lately, information meant for him is now meant for the public because EnviroReporter.com had the happy accident of finding it.
A January 12, 1989 two-page memo from an Elaine Wooster to Lafflam outlined SSFL’s “major contiguous programs, some NASA, some AF [Air Force] or Army or Nav. [Navy].” Wooster takes notice of SSFL’s key milestones. “Historical note all testing was in Area I prior to 1956 – Area II not read until then. Much in Area I after that as well.”
Page two of the memo says just how “much” testing took place: “150,000TH ROCKET TEST 1962.” The number of total rocket tests EnviroReporter.com has previously reported was 30,000. This number given to Lafflam nine years before I met him is five times that and doesn’t include countless thousands of rocket tests from 1962 to when rocket testing ended in 2006. The point being is where there are rocket tests, there is rocket goo and no place on the planet that has more of it combined with extensive radiological contamination than SSFL. Lafflam probably knew that too and never corrected anyone I knew about the low-ball number.
NASA and the Chumash have removed that history in their quest to turn all of Riedel’s Rocketdyne into a sacred Native American temple according to the new proposed historic listing. “Fifty-eight noncontributing resources include Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) buildings, sites, and structures that do not add to the historic associations for which this the property is significant because they are not related to the documented traditional cultural significance of the property.”
That is clearly a giant whopping fib. SSFL’s “documented traditional cultural significance” of its rocket test stands and everything else carved into and blasted away at Rocketdyne on Riedel’s orders are culturally significant. NASA doesn’t end there when trying to launch Rocketdyne’s history.
“The noncontributing buildings and structures occupy a small fraction of the district, and removal of many of them is anticipated,” the NASA proposal boldly lies before adding another falsehood. “The community has indicated that the presence of these noncontributing resources does not affect the overall integrity or significance of the cultural district.”
NASA’s history of lying to people trying to clean up SSFL has been well documented by EnviroReporter.com. The space agency’s untruths in the historic designation proposal reach new heights with this whopper: “These places still look very much as they did before the Europeans arrived; they have not been torn out or built over. They are a part of the local Native American identity that has endured into the twenty-first century.”
Not only is that history wrong, it is dangerous. Removing environmental promises to remediate Rocketdyne endangers the entire region. It also promises to infuriate those who believe that the lab’s contamination has harmed or killed their children or impacted their property values.
Mad people do stupid things. Indeed, all sorts of cranks, adventurers and thieves have made a point of penetrating SSFL’s inadequate defenses against trespassing and fire since at least 2007 when EnviroReporter.com began to take notice. The most important history of Rocketdyne may be being made right now and it isn’t a good one and threatens the Burro Flats Painted Cave and other precious Native American artifacts.
“Boeing – We Have a Problem”
Petroglyphs and prehistoric cave paintings hold a particular fascination for people. Seeing a color-enhanced photo of the Burro Flats Painted Cave on the cover of the Los Angeles Daily News June 29 allowed hundreds of thousands of people to possibly see an unprotected, priceless cave, perhaps the finest of its kind in North America.
That kind of photo, in that kind of cave, inspires copycats who too would brave trespassing into SSFL to get the kind of pictures longtime Rocketdyne gadfly Christina Walsh took in 2007 that ended up on the cover of a major newspaper this summer. Photographs recently obtained by EnviroReporter.com show Walsh taking photographs in the Burro Flats Painted Cave with her hiking boots outrageously braced against priceless prehistoric Native American paintings and carvings to get the perfect shot.
Walsh is a still-active opponent of the full cleanup of Rocketdyne who has repeatedly attacked this reporter over the years through threatening flames and Internet trolling. She has repeatedly disrupted public meetings and threatened various individuals for years, as evidenced by video and the written word well cataloged by EnviroReporter.com.
Not long after having her photographs taken in the precious cave, Walsh invited fellow anti-cleanup self-aggrandizer John Luker on one of these SSFL trespassing forays May 27, 2007. Luker’s photographs of a rocket test stand and massive fuel ball are from when he snuck in with Walsh, according to a longtime EnviroReporter.com source who asked not to be named.
“We would do those on full moons – my ex-wife would drop us off like at 3 A.M. and then by the time the sun came up we would take photos and leave,” the source recently told EnviroReporter.com via email. “At this point the security at SSFL was a joke, and it still is, maybe now they have a few cameras but that’s about it. You even see you tube videos of people breaking into SSFL to this day.”
The porous nature of Boeing’s SSFL security was driven home again in this 2008 online Area IV gallery which even showed a perimeter open gate leading to Runkle Canyon. Sunlight changing into evening shows the photographer had hours to walk around Area IV of SSFL.
A YouTube video put up in 2012 called bobby b at rocketdyne part 1 posted by a Bobby Brzezinski shows the man filming from a rock in Area IV, probably having ascended to the spot after hiking up through Brandeis-Bardin’s Meier Canyon bordering the nuclear part of SSFL. A jogger runs by in Area IV towards the Runkle Canyon gate before one of Boeing’s security white pickups comes speeding through the place trailing dust. Part II of Brzezinski at Rocketdyne has the freaked-out bobby b thinking he’s about to be busted only to videotape the security truck missing both him and the jogger.
In another Brzezinski video entitled lost, Bobby uses a staple gun to successfully attach an American flag bandana to buddy Erik’s rump. Why would this be germane to a discussion of how easy it is to break into Rocketdyne? Because the preceding examples of this low-grade criminality, long past the statute of limitations to prosecute for misdemeanor violations, show that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to sneak into SSFL undetected.
That should give the Chumash chills when it comes to the safety of the Burro Flats Painted Cave. One miscreant with a grudge or just white trash from Simi Valley or Chatsworth could destroy the cave. It should have already been protected with bulletproof plexiglass adapted to the site with multiple layers of aggressive fencing protecting the 11.74 acres of sacred cave and land.
No such deal. It gets worse even today with Boeing’s vaunted virtual fences and motion-sensor cameras it supposedly has sprinkled around Rocketdyne. Today, the safety problem is more evident than ever even as Boeing allows more and more hikers onto the property trying to make it look safe to visit. Plus, with no end in sight to the pandemic and the accompanying mass unemployment, more trespassing and vandalism should be anticipated by places like SSFL.
A July 23 Facebook post just over two weeks ago, a page called SoCal Outdoor Explorer shows the Painted Cave in daylight and, even more shockingly, in a night cave photograph taken with a flash. That means that today, while NASA, the Chumash and all the anti-full cleanup clique clamor for historic status for the whole of SSFL, no one has thought to actually protect the cave or to secure the perimeter right now.
It is a recipe for disaster. But it gets even worse. One doesn’t even have to trespass to get uncomfortably close to the caves. The culprits allowing this by the hundreds of people, some drinking alcohol, incredibly, include NASA, Boeing and their greenwashing ally John Luker.
As previously reported by EnviroReporter.com in November 2019, just one week before the deadly 2018 Woolsey Fire which started on SSFL, Boeing held a Sunset & Sip event. This is where people, after signing waivers, were let off to begin their walk to the booze from the drop off about a quarter mile from the unprotected cave. A 2019 Sunset & Sip walk also traced this same route. Considering how close the cave was, and the interests and knowledge of the sipper-amblers, that seems a little too close for comfort.
Even more alarming for the security of the sacred site is the advent of Luker-led hikes through the Southern Buffer Zone that over a thousand walkers have taken. Critics contend that these walkers have been fooled into thinking the contaminated land is safe to recreate on because Boeing says so. These hikers come within 120 yards of the cave, thanks primarily to Luker and Boeing.
Trespassers’ photographs and videos of the Burro Flats Painted Cave have put the irreplaceable site in danger. Even controlled walks involving alcohol near the unprotected cavity is criminally stupid. Allowing people to hike by the hundreds so near the cave is a calamity waiting to happen.
NASA’s Last Stand
The final decision taking place at the State Historic Resources Commission August 14 is not concerned with the breadth of issues and untold history of SSFL presented here. That is precisely the problem; the phony NASA petition buries Rocketdyne’s history since 1947 in its false claims that SSFL is unblemished land.
Trying to save one last rocket test stand betrays the whole ruse that the whole 2,850 acres are untouched, virginal land, lo like it was before the Spanish arrived 400 years ago. That is dangerous nonsense and the plan is demonstrably false, insultingly so. It is a fraudulent document and should the SHRC sign off on it and send it to off to the Trump Administration in Washington D.C., it will be the state’s fault, not least of which is pretending it doesn’t know about the obvious fraud and falsehoods in the NASA plan
The cave ostensibly needing to be protected already is by law. It has been since 1976. It’s outlined in the 2010 Administrative Orders on Consent where NASA and DOE agreed with the state DTSC to clean up to background levels of contamination. No cave or tree or anything even remotely associated with the Chumash would be touched if the cleanup actually were to start.
“The Burro Flats cave paintings, for example, would thus be protected, as would other artifacts,” said a June 22 statement released by the Committee to Bridge the Gap and the Natural Resource Defense Council. “But the entire 2850 acres of land surrounding the cave paintings are not exempt from cleanup; to the contrary, the agreements require their cleanup. That, however, is what NASA is attempting to now create—a potential “get out of jail free” card for it and the other SSFL Responsible Parties from cleaning up the widespread radioactive and toxic chemical contamination and damage to the site created by seven decades of their environmentally irresponsible actions.”
Should Trump’s NASA somehow get the tribe to take responsibility for these rusting rocket test stand hulks, it would be a stunning coup by the U.S. government. Getting a sophisticated gambling powerhouse tribe to take on SSFL’s tainted land and test stands would set a new standard for institutional own-goals. White Man wins again.
By not fully cleaning up Rocketdyne, great disrespect will have been done to the ancestors of the men and women that used the cave for solstice ceremonies. And it will continue to cause immeasurable pain to the hundreds of thousands of people, of all colors, who live around the place whose lives and properties matter.
The efforts of so many selfless people who fought to remediate SSFL will have been trumped because gold is the only color that really matters to those who have it. The fission fields of the lab make that fool’s gold for anyone willing to take on this corrupted land without total cleanup.
But Trump’s NASA, DOE, Boeing, and the Chumash may be riding to their own kind of Little Big Horn disaster, provoking a sizable populace of all colors who are not likely to sit quietly and watch the long-promised cleanup of SSFL destroyed.