Day 40-Quarantine-Security

My boss, owner of the company, had a preoccupation with security. Most of us didn’t understand it at first, but got the idea with time. He was an inventor who liked to test his ideas for success in the market place. If an invention was good, the product sold. If it was a dud, it flopped. His record, however of dreaming up great ideas vs dumb ideas was to his favor. I always thought the eyes of God were upon him and he capitalized on it.

Our security in the plant was simple. If you needed to know something you could know it. If you didn’t need the information for your job, then you stayed in the dark. It wasn’t until 2016, sixteen years after I retired from a forty year career that I read the book titled The Girls Of Atomic City, The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win WW II. The story is about the development of the atomic bomb known as the Manhattan Project. Scientists needed enriched uranium in large quantities to develop the weapon. A sister project was begun in the Smokey mountains far away from Los Alamos where the actual bomb would eventually be made. All they started with was a piece of property in the middle of nowhere miles from any city or town. A clean sheet of paper. They hired people from the big cities under contract. They paid huge salaries and made the employees swear to secrecy. They established laboratories, dormitories, factories, transportation systems, and life sustaining towns within the boundaries of this government property. They operated on a need to know basis. If a particular process required ten operations each separate from one another, each was kept secret from the others. If your job was to drill a hole in a piece, and you didn’t need to know what the hole was for, or why it was needed you drilled the hole and passed the piece on to the next department. You didn’t know who worked there or what they did there, nor why. Passing from one department to another required getting a security check before being allowed to enter, even if you worked in the department. When I read this description of how they treated security I understood where our system came from. My company operated exactly the same way.

I was a long time employee when I finally asked the boss why we are so careful about our confidential processes. His answer, “I spent a lot of time and money learning how to make our products, if our competitors want to make the same thing as good as we do, let them learn on their own.” Great idea, if they actually do it by experiment, but it is much easier and quicker if you steal the process.

A billboard posted in Oak Ridge. 31st December 1943. The town of Oak Ridge was established by the Army Corps of Engineers as part of the Clinton Engineer Works in 1942 on isolated farm land as part of the Manhattan Project. The site was chosen for the X-10 Graphite Reactor, used to show that plutonium can be extracted from enriched uranium. Tennessee, USA.  (Photo by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)
Social Distancing to Keep Your Job a Secret
A Very Heavily Enforced Policy

When my company finally decided to establish a manufacturing facility in the far east we did it with security in mind. My boss wouldn’t trust a Chinaman with any of our proprietary manufacturing processes, but he did like making money. He sent his crew to Singapore, a small Island City-Country off the tip of the Malaysian Peninsula south of China. The population was eighty percent Chinese, they speak a form of English, and they are a free market economy. Whereas China is a socialist country, speaks only Chinese, and believes that capitalism is stupid.

Because the boss still didn’t believe the new operation should have our state of the art processes, he chose to send only the archaic high-cost operations to take advantage of the lower labor rates, and then applied the same or even stricter security rules as we used in the US. I’ve told this story before about one of our managers visiting cable tie manufacturing plants across Asia and finding one that made a carbon copy of our design. He challenged them and their reply was “yes, we copy you because you have the best design.” They spent some money to get our design, so I guess it was okay? Wrong, our designs are patented and protected. I never did find out if we sued them or not, I didn’t need to know.

We hear a lot about China stealing designs and intellectual property. What most people think about is stolen music, or lyrics, or art. Intellectual property includes all forms of designs. They steal designs daily. Of course many of our companies, mine included, encourage the theft by recognizing they do it, and looking the other way instead of prosecuting them. I think the reason is because we don’t know how to prosecute or sue a Chinaman in their courts, or even if they have any courts.

We can thank COVID-19 for raising our awareness about the problem of sending products to China for low cost manufacturing. Our drugs are now made there, not here. So, they can hurt us big time by delaying shipment or even denying shipment if they want to. They are now making aircraft carriers, airplanes, war materials all patterned after our best designs. In some cases we gave them the designs. I still remember slick Willy Clinton agreeing to send them plans for missiles.

A time will come when Americans will again look for the label to say Made In America meaning the United States of America and not America, China. For your edification the Japanese out smarted us for awhile by making things in the town of Usa, Japan, and then labeling the product Made In USA. We better hope and pray that our homeland companies continue to make ammunition on our shores. 

Atomic City

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Because I grew up during WWII, I read books about that terrible time. One that I just completed is titled “The Girls Of Atomic City.” Years ago when I traveled the country with the family I studied maps of the USA. Yes maps, that was a time before computers and GPS were invented. One area that always intrigued me was Oak Ridge, Tennessee. This small town was always connected to the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority). The TVA was one of President Roosevelt’s make work projects during the Great Depression. Basically he brought electricity to the rural South by damming rivers, and building power plants. Oak Ridge was just a ridge named for its oak trees. There was no town. After the war started Roosevelt initiated the Manhattan Project. This was the most secret effort ever worked on by the USA. The Manhattan Project involved several different places; one in Chicago, another in Las Alamos, New Mexico, and one in Tennessee called the Clinton Engineering Works. The project was the most closely guarded of any ever worked on involving hundreds of thousands of people across the country, except for a few traitors who regularly fed information to the Russians.

The secret has been public information for many years now, and the Manhattan Project was a success. We developed the atomic bomb, and used it to end WWII. There are people who argue that the USA was wrong to kill so many civilians, but to do other wise would have meant seeing millions of military people slaughtered on both sides. Are they not also civilians?

The atomic bomb needed fuel to make it work. The fuel was Uranium 238, and Uranium 235. In order to get the Uranium to work it had to be concentrated and close to pure. The effort to process Uranium ore into bomb grade material is what spawned the Oak Ridge section of the project. The US Government spent 2 billion dollars (1943-45 money) to make it happen. To keep the secret, no one who worked at Oak Ridge knew what any one else who worked there did. Workers had only the information they needed to perform their specific jobs.

Most of the men at the time were drafted to fight the war in Europe and the Pacific. This meant the job force was mostly women, young high school graduated women. Many of these girls had brothers fighting in the war, and many of the brothers were already killed or wounded in action. The girls never knew what was going on at the plant, but they did know they were working for the government and believed they were working to help end the war.

As I read this story and marveled at the system the Army invented to keep the project secret, I was reminded of the company that I worked for. The owner, whom I will refer to as JEC, used this system to guard his manufacturing process from winding up in the hands of his competitors. Departments were closed off from each other, and employees were given badges that would open the doors. That is, if they were authorized to enter the area. As a new engineer, I sought entry into the production room to watch a specific machine work. It was my project to improve the machine. Within seconds of arriving the supervisor of the department was at my side asking questions about my need for information. I received a very stern rebuke about the need to call the department head in advance of a visit to his area. Our security system was so strict, I often wondered who invented it. Now I know. I am positive that JEC had worked as an engineer on some aspect of the Manhattan Project. JEC never lost his trade secrets to a leak because no one employee ever had the whole picture of the processes.

At its peak, Oak Ridge had seventy-five thousand people working at the site. Imagine the effort it took to build plants, to install custom machinery, hire and house staff. The site they picked was in the middle of nowhere south of Knoxville, Tennessee. Roads were nonexistent. Roads inside the fence that surrounded the project were mud. Buildings to house employees were many different kinds: some were crude dormitories, some mobile trailers, some pre-fab apartments. They built cafeterias to feed the workers who worked around the clock. They had a bus system that rivaled those of large cities. They had shopping centers where employees could buy necessities. A single building provided space for worship of many different faiths. In other words, they had to build a city as well as a factory to make the product.

I found this book fascinating and could not stop reading until I finished. Oak Ridge the city that did not exist finally became a city after the war.

Denise Kiernan did a wonderful job of reporting a piece of history that has been long neglected while integrating the personal stories of several  women who worked there, and who were still living at the time she wrote the book.

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