Harold Agnew is a nuclear physicist who worked on both the creation of the first atomic weapons and on the project to build the hydrogen bomb. As a young member of the Manhattan Project, Agnew flew as a scientific observer on a plane tailing the Enola Gay as it dropped the Little Boy atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Agnew is a longtime proponent of controversial arms programs such as enhanced radiation weapons (neutron bombs). For nearly a decade, Agnew led the weapons lab now known as the Los Alamos National Laboratory. "About three-quarters of the U.S. nuclear arsenal was designed under my tutelage at Los Alamos. That is my legacy," remarked Agnew to the BBC News, nearly 60 years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Having served as an adviser on science and nuclear matters to a string of administrations dating back to President Lyndon B. Johnson, Agnew was tapped in the late 1990s to serve on the so-called Foster Panel, which played a key role in pushing for the development of new nuclear weapons during George W. Bush's first term as president.
In the late 1990s, a scandal broke out at Los Alamos National Lab over whether China had obtained through espionage classified computer codes related to the design of the U.S. W-88 nuclear warhead. As a former director of the lab, Agnew commented on the case in a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, basically stating that it didn't matter if China, already a nuclear power for three decades, had the design or not. "As long as any nation has a demonstrated nuclear capability and a means of delivering its bombs and warheads, it doesn't really matter whether the warheads are a little smaller or painted a color other than red, white, and blue," Agnew wrote. "I suspect information published in the open by the National Resources Defense Council has been as useful to other nations as any computer codes they may have received by illegal means" (Wall Street Journal, May 17, 1999).
In a 1977 article for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Agnew argued that the fusion reactions of neutron bombs could provide "tactical" advantages over conventional fission weapons, especially in countering the "massive armor component possessed by the Eastern bloc." Citing conclusions reached by the Rand Corporation, Agnew argued that without actually affecting the armor of a tank, the neutrons produced by a fusion blast would penetrate the vehicle and "in a matter of a few tens of minutes to hours kill or make the crew completely ineffective." Because the neutron bomb reduced collateral damage, it could be used in a much more selective fashion than a fission weapon, thereby providing a clear "advantage for the military defender as well as for the nearby non-combatant." Agnew added that the fast neutrons from a neutron bomb produced about half as much carbon 14 as did fission neutrons, concluding: "If one is worried about any long-range implications of carbon 14 production in the atmosphere, the neutron bomb is preferable over the common tactical fission bombs." He felt that if the public understood all the facts correctly, "Even those who oppose nuclear weapons would have had to concur in stating that it is better to have this type of tactical fusion nuclear weapon than the conventional pure fission bomb."