Interviews September 2002

Into the Black

Nick Cook, a respected military journalist, describes his foray into a hidden "black world" where powerful technologies of warfare are born
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The Hunt for Zero Point
by Nick Cook
Broadway Books
256 pages, $26.00

To those who spend their time scanning reams of dry defense-spending documents, the black budget is a well-known bit of excitement. It is the discrepancy that's left when all the known weapons procurements, research programs, and technical developments are added up. It's also where groundbreaking technologies, such as stealth, are developed under code names like "Black Light," "Classic Wizard," and "Link Plumeria." These technologies are kept secret during their gestation because to even hint at the ideas behind them would be to reveal too much. This year, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, the U.S. military's black budget will rise to levels not seen since the 1980s, from $16.2 billion last year to $20.3 billion.

There is no way to know exactly what that money is being spent on, but Nick Cook has some ideas. For fifteen years Cook has been a defense and aerospace reporter for Jane's Defence Weekly, which some consider the bible of the international defense community. During his career Cook has often brushed up against the "black world" and has even delved into it, both in reporting for Jane's on advances like the B-2 bomber, and in working on a documentary, Billion Dollar Secret, that probed the U.S. military's classified (or black) weapons programs.

This last project was something of a prelude to Cook's new book, The Hunt for Zero Point: Inside the Classified World of Antigravity Technology, which documents his ten-year search for a mythical technology that all the brightest minds in aerospace were gushing about in the early 1950s. Strangely, just a few years later the aerospace world was suddenly silent on the subject. After about 1956, anyone who mentioned antigravity, or the once-imminent "G-engines," was given a wide berth. It was an odd switch that left Cook with questions: Had there been anything to these rumors and reports? If not, why the hype? If so, what had happened? So he set out to look for answers, and what he found was surprising. Cook traced a long succession of both military and civilian scientists and engineers working to develop a branch of applied physics for which we still have no vocabulary, but which seems to involve manipulating the little-understood quantum-level "zero-point field" to achieve peculiar effects, like shielding objects from gravity. If this were developed and incorporated into flight vehicles, the implications could hardly be understated: antigravity would forever alter the world's economy, make global transport systems obsolete, and, of course, change the face of warfare. Some also felt that the zero-point field could be an enormous source of energy, if only people could learn how to tap it.

Against the advice of his colleagues and friends, and against his own better judgment and career interests, Cook felt he couldn't ignore the leads he uncovered, which drew him through the black labyrinth back to an unexpected place: Nazi territory around the end of World War II. That is where, Cook claims, some of these technologies were first developed and then acquired by American and Russian forces, who raced to pillage the underground facilities around Pilsen in the Czech Republic and around Breslau (now Wroclaw) in Poland. There an SS general named Hans Kammler operated the "wonder weapons" program, which the Nazis were convinced would propel them ahead of the Allies to win the war. At the war's end Kammler disappeared. Though he had been one of the main planners of the death camps, his name was never mentioned at the war-crimes trials in Nuremberg. One conclusion Cook reaches in The Hunt for Zero Point is that some of the "Foo Fighters" that World War II pilots reported seeing over Axis territories may have been German prototypes of new flying machines that used antigravity technology. He also posits that somewhere in the black world, work has likely continued along these lines, and that much of the wackiness surrounding sightings of "UFOs" has been deliberately spun to ward off investigations of new technologies in development.

Since the book's publication in Britain, Cook has uncovered documents detailing Boeing's antigravity research program at the top-secret Phantom Works, where the company is striving to develop "propellantless propulsion" ahead of its competitors. Writing in Jane's Defence Weekly, Cook quoted the documents as saying that along with Boeing's own program, other "classified activities in gravity modification may exist"—suggesting that antigravity may, in fact, have been more than a 1950's fantasy.

For his work at Jane's, Nick Cook has received the Royal Aeronautical Society's Aerospace Journalist of the Year Award four times, in the Defence, Business, Technology, and Propulsion categories. He also writes for The Financial Times, The London Times and often comments on defense and security for the BBC and CNN. I spoke to him at his home in London.

—Frank Bures


P.J. O'Rourke
Nick Cook   

Black projects? Nazi weapons programs? Antigravity? UFOs? A lot of people are going to read the dust jacket of your book and think you've fallen out of your tree. What's the reception been?

The response to the UK edition has been remarkably good. The really pleasing thing has been the reaction of people within the aerospace business. Everything in this book had to pass muster with me, through a set of criteria that I would apply to any Jane's story. I've read a lot of conspiracy-based books—UFO treatises and heaven knows what—none of which satisfied my professional curiosity. I realized that to go that extra mile, I was going to have to be rigorous in my research. And if what I found didn't match my own criteria, I wasn't going to put it down on the page. Consequently, there's reams of stuff I left out because it didn't match up to the professional standards that I, as a Jane's-trained journalist, had come to expect in other stories.

The subject has been kind of a poison pill in the past, hasn't it?

Yes, I guess so. People were begging me, urging me, not to get involved in this story. But in the end I couldn't ignore the evidence that I was uncovering and that was being presented to me. You can only stare at evidence so long before it starts to pull you in. I was really dragged reluctantly, kicking and screaming, into the story, as you can see from the book.

I found the evidence overwhelming that something—and I stress something—is going on. I don't reach any definitive, Holy Grail conclusions about antigravity beyond the fact that there are people out there who are regularly practicing it. People have asked me, "Well, do you know that the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. military have this squirreled away somewhere and are developing hardware?" No, I don't. And I don't dress up The Hunt for Zero Point in that way. Where I do have evidence I present it. For example, I think the evidence of what the Germans were doing during the Second World War is overwhelming. But I don't make any bold claims for what the U.S. is doing, simply because I don't have the evidence for it. Also, I think my experience in covering aerospace programs has been beneficial, in that I'm able to extrapolate a little. And where I do extrapolate in the book, I make it clear that it is my own extrapolation.

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