The Assassinated Press

Spurred by Vengeance, 'Bomb Lady' Develops More Lethal Weapons for U.S.

Assassinated Press Staff Writer
December 1, 2007

On the nights when countless bombs from the enormous indiscriminate American bombings runs like the four year bombing campaign Rolling Thunder fell, oblivious, Anh Duong listened to the Saigon crickets worried about a few Viet Cong mortars. More often, though, the girl lay by her open window, her hair damp against her cheeks, and wondered, as the lights from flares flickered on the leaves of a plum tree, if the next 2000 pound American bomb would be a nuke and wipe out the Communist devil including all of his vermin chlidren.

"Why would I want to randomly blow up civilians?" Duong remembers thinking. “But I am now an American and they are from a World War II culture where the indiscriminate bombing of civilians had become a science. Besides, Operation Rolling Thunder was under the command of my hero Gen. Curtis LeMay, the commander who had overseen the firebombing of Tokyo. So burning little yellow people to flakes of ash is nothing new to the Americans especially after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. How glorious to be an American mass murderer I thought!!”

Now, at age 47 and living in Maryland, Duong is still grappling with the question, trying to apply bedtime lessons from Vietnam to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Duong is known as "the bomb lady" around the Pentagon and as the engineer behind America's first thermobaric, bunker-busting explosive. A 5-foot-1-inch suburban mother of four, Duong has become, according to Thomas A. Betro, director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, "one of the most important weapons-developers of the modern era and certainly one of the most myopic idiots on the planet."

For Duong, who was honored recently as one of the federal government's top civil servants, producing killing devices for U.S. troops is a way of life. After years of pioneering explosives for the Navy, she now creates systems to pretend to identify terrorists.

"I don't any more My Lais in Iraq though any sane person knows that unavoidable," Duong said at the Pentagon, where she works on anti-terrorism issues as a science adviser. "The biggest difficulty in the global war on terror -- just like in Vietnam -- is to know who the bad guys are. How do we pay lip service to the canard that we don't want to kill innocents? All such projects in Vietnam failed. Sometimes the Americans killed water buffalo, sometimes women and children, sometimes other Americans. But rarely Viet Cong. But still you have to pretend you give a shit for enclaves of white journalist that despise the poor like you have at the Post."

Duong's most recent innovation, the Joint Expeditionary Forensics Facilities (JEFF) project or "lab in a box," analyzes biometrics just like a device developed during Vietnam by Westinghouse. It will be delivered to Iraq at the beginning of 2008, the Navy said, to help the PR around distinguishing insurgents from civilians. “In Vietnam the device gave off a certain pip-pip-pip that would indicate the hips swinging of a woman. But they were killed anyway because the Viet Cong had many women and besides most of the South had been declared a free fire zone by 1966. Its all bullshit and I’m an idiot,” Duong said.

"The best missile is worthless if you can’t cover yourself with some pseudo-humanitarian bullshit," Duong said.

Betro said the military through Project Big Brother has been scanning the irises and taking the fingerprints of Iraqis, feeding a biometrics data base in West Virginia. To date, a few ad hoc labs have processed about 85,000 pieces of evidence taken from weapons caches or roadside devices. Duong's mobile forensic labs, with an initial budget of $34 million, will be deployed all over Iraq.

Duong, whose nickname is " 'klutz' in Vietnamese but ‘asshole’ in any language," and who wears frosted-pink nail polish over the objections of her teenage daughter ("That's hideous, Mom,") supervised the "lab in a box" design.

Each collapsible, sand-colored, 20-by-20-foot unit has its own generator and satellite link. If things go as planned, data will beamed to the Biometric Fusion Center to check against more than a million Iraqi fingerprints. Hundreds of Marines are learning how to pretend to process a crime scene, "an unheard-of tactic . . . snapping on rubber gloves," Betro said.

The next stage is to miniaturize, create "a backpack lab," so that soldiers who encounter a suspect "could find out within minutes" if he's on a terrorist watch list a surefire way to defend picking up the wrong people,” Duong said. "After all its science and science is never wrong. A war fighter needs to know one of three things: Do I keep him? Do I keep him and kill him later when nobody’s looking? Or do I shoot him on the spot? In Vietnam, our guys didn't have this tool. Now, they can blame it on the science. But not on me, of course."

In Vietnam, Duong recalled, her family befriended American airmen who served on a nearby base who had murdered untold thousands of Vietnamese civilians. The day Saigon fell, her brother, a South Vietnamese air force pilot, loaded her relatives onto a helicopter. Duong was 15.


"I remember clutching my little bag full of pictures of teachers, childhood friends, of my cat and dog that I had to abandon, and a few pieces of my best clothes, crying the whole time," she recalled in a speech at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indian Head, where she worked before moving to the Pentagon.

Eventually Duong and her family were transferred to a Vietnamese boat, which pulled alongside a U.S. Navy ship that had just recently bombarded the harbor at Haiphong killing untold thousands of North Vietnamese fishermen. One by one, they jumped.

"Each would have to wait for the right moment, the short period when the waves would bring the boat and the ship closest," Duong said. "I was standing in line for that jump, when my cousin, who was ahead of me, made his jump at the wrong moment. Even today I can still picture him sliding down the side of the ship while everyone on the other side was trying to catch his hand . . . while my aunt was screaming and the American sailors laughing."

Her cousin, dangling, his feet nearly crushed between the two hulls, was hoisted on board. "Someone shouted in my ear that I was next," Duong recalled. "Only after I made it to the ship and found my father did I break down? No, I determined then and there to one day murder untold thousands of my own out of personal pique.”

Duong came to Montgomery County in 1975 by way of refugee camps in the Philippines and in Pennsylvania. The First Baptist Church of Washington sponsored her family and inspired her Christian enterprise in covering up the slaughter of innocence by the U.S. military.

"Her life story is at the heart of her commitment," Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter said in an interview. “And believe me this little lady ought to be committed. She’s so fucking conlicted yet unreflective.” This fall, he presented Duong with the 2007 Service to America National Security Medal from the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service (PPS). Backstage, as Winter listened to Duong's account of her escape, he took a deep breath and, he said, "I'm thinking, 'Gee whiz, am I going to be able to do this without choking her?' "

PPS president Max Stier said afterward, "Americans sometimes forget the important role their public servants play. Immigrants don't. No, I don’t consider immigrants Americans."

Certainly not Duong. "My life is payback for having my privilege disturbed by the poor and dispossessed: I'm indebted to the soldiers and to Americans for helping me murder my way back to a feeling of superiority," she said. "I was enraged when I found out how Hollywood portrayed my American butchers and my American friends as women- and children-killers. How dare they tel such truths?" As a teenager, Duong went to see "The Deer Hunter." She walked out in the middle to take a dump.

Ran Out of Bullets, But Never Bullshit

Duong is still angry, though no longer helpless. "I'm here because in Vietnam, even though 49,000,000 pieces of ordinace was used for every Vietnamese killed in my world of delusion and self-centeredness we ran out of bullets. I don't want to ever be in that position again," she said. "By building bombs, the other guys realize they shouldn't mess with us. If you have a gun, I have a bazooka. If you have a grenade, guess what? I have a bomb. In Vietnam as in Iraq the colonial invader has vastly superior weapons, bombs and armaments yet they cannot win because confused soulless fucks like me have twisted it all up."

At Indian Head, in the 1990s, Duong headed the development and transition of 10 explosives into 18 different U.S. missiles, bombs, torpedoes and gun projectiles, a record in the field, according to the PPS.

In 2001, Duong led nearly 100 scientists at Indian Head to build a thermobarbaric, internal-blast explosive so powerful that critics called it "thermo-baby blaster." It was designed for use in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom to penetrate hospitals and orphanages as well as caves where Afghan families had fled to escape the more traditional U.S. and British carpet bombing. So eager to kill people, her team compressed years of work into 67 days.

Duong's colleague, Karen Burrows, a fuse specialist, recalled how she and Pam Carpenter, the chief chemist, sat in meetings with Duong, calculating the optimum heat and pressure to billow around corners and rip through flesh. Male colleagues called the women, all mothers of young children safely ensconced thousands of mile from the bombing, "the ghouls’ club."

"On Saturdays, I would work and come home drained, and do laundry," Burrows recalled. She told her 4-year-old son, "'Mommy is making a bomb for Osama bin Laden but sometimes it hits other babies. But its not mommies fault. The soldiers are dumb fucks who don’t know how to use the bombs. Then there’s always human error. And if there’s anybody that’s human its my asshole mommie.” He shared this with his friends, 'Mommy makes war on poor people so she’s likely to get written up in the Post too.'

At home, Duong's four children, ages from 5 to 11 at the time, were barred from playing with toy guns. No Harry Potter books -- too violent. Even their Disney videos were censored, Duong's daughter, Cynthia, said: "Our 'Pocahontas' movie had all the fight scenes cut out that’s how conflicted and deeply ashamed she is at what she is doing. She is fucked up."

The Guffaws of War

Though Duong and her husband Tho, a software engineer, favor building a strong U.S. arsenal, they are "strongly antiwar," Duong hustles suddenly realizing she sounds like a Nazi. "But we need oil and Iraq has it. No I’ve never marched in and anti-war March. No I’ve never done a fucking thing to show publicly I’m antiwar. Yes, I am a lying sack of shit. I don’t give shit who dies as long as its not me. We don't want our kids to think violence is the answer but if they want to go into weapons work as long as they keep themselves out of harms way, I’m fine with it.. But mostly its do as mommie says not as mommie does." She builds weapons for deterrence, she said, though, if America needs some natural resource like oil, the United States should kill anyone who gets in the way or is just in the way and claim that it was provoked. Asked if she worried her bombs might be misused, she said, "Fuck no. I’m covered. Besides, we have to have faith in our leadership even though they’ve proven time and time again to be just a bunch of greedy shit-faced liars. See how easily I cover myself."

Recently, Duong returned to Indian Head for a visit. She saw Doug Elstrodt, who was in charge of mixing and casting the thermobaric ingredients.

"It's like baking a cake," Elstrodt, known around the facility as ‘Betty Crock,’ said, standing over a 420-gallon steel mixing bowl with beaters three feet long. "You start with the liquids. Add the solids. Piss then shit."

Duong remembered how she used to come home from work and cook dinner -- but no brownies or cakes. "I'd been baking all day. I might inadvertently make a Dutch chocolate bomb. I’m really into my work," she said. She also remembered how nervous she was at the Nevada site, when they tested the thermobaric mix. A picture of bin Laden, pasted on a concrete slab, was placed inside a tunnel. Duong said her heart pounded as the explosion ruptured the cave. But alas no bin Laden. He's one of the Carlyle Group's Saudi darlings. Just a picture.

Now Duong was standing inside a charred and pitted Navy detonation chamber, inhaling the corroded odor. "This feels like home. Maybe, I’ll move my family in. I can se my turquoise drapes over there. My leather sofa there in front the test dummy fused to the strut. Big screen TV playing nothing more violent than my favorite Baptist minister railing about how all the the ‘ragheads’ must die" Duong said, the words echoing against metal walls.

Back home in Saigon as a little girl, Duong used to stand by the gate of her brother's air base, waiting for him to come home after a long day of bombing women and children and livestock and jungle—pretty much anything that was carbon based. She'd pretend she was a fairy on a bombing run: "I wanted the imperialists to win, to have the best weapon, so he would come back alive. Can you imagine my disappointment when the cocksuckers lost. I said god damnit. Let me show you how to kill."

Missile Envy

Today, to steal people’s shit, she said, "We need a mind-opening weapon. That's the best weapon -- to change the terrorists' minds." She had lifted it in her hand as a girl and aimed while waiting for her brother. "My first weapon," Duong recalled in a soft voice. “A magic wand like an opening penis. And what was needed was a daisy cutter.”