|OBITUARY ARTICLE IN SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS||LIST OF KEY DATES PREPARED BY E. HANSEN|
OBITUARIES Tuesday April 1, 2003
San Jose Mercury News
Born: May 13, 0947 in Salina, Kan
Died: March 26, 2003 in Palo Alto
Survived by: His wife, Eleanor Hansen of Sunnyvale, two sisters, Susanne Hansen of Seattle WA and Laura Hansen of Winter Haven, FL
Chuck Hansen’s work was known through out the nuclear
world, a reference for historians and novelists. He was 55.
Hansen, collected nuclear arms data
Man Created a Book, CD on declassified U.S. DocUments
By Dan Stober
Chuck Hansen was America’s premier private collector of nuclear weapons secrets. It was a niche position – there was no one else quite like him – that he earned through 30 years of relentlessly requesting declassified documents from the archives of the military, the Energy Department and the nuclear weapons laboratories.
He toiled alone in his cluttered Sunnyvale home stacked with files and books, wielded the Freedom of Information Act like sword. Working in the late hours of the night, he correlated tidbits of information from tens of thousands of obscure memos and reports, ultimately creating a book and later a CD that are the ultimate unclassified catalog and technical history of U.S. nuclear weapons.
His work was known throughout the nuclear world, from Beijing to Washington, a reference for historians, novelists and the bomb designers at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories.
Mr. Hansen, 55, died Wednesday of brain cancer, having made scant financial profit from his labor of love. Ironically, copies of his out-of-print 1988 book, U.S. Nuclear Weapons: The Secret History” were selling on eBay this week for $975 each.
But he took satisfaction in knowing that his work was appreciated by the nuclear cognoscenti. Novelist Tom Clancy, who plumbed Mr. Hansen’s work for his nuclear thriller, “The Sum of Al Fears,” once said the data was “a little too good.”
“He pursued every scrap of government paper, every document that he could prize out of the vast and difficult security apparatus,” said Richard Rhodes, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.” “He would even get various declassified versions of a document to see if a work blacked out here was not blacked out there.
At a conference of government officials in 1994, a speaker listed several categories of people seeking declassified nuclear documents. The last category was simple, “Chuck Hansen.”
He was born in Salina, Kan., but grew up in Seattle. As a child he was fascinated by the airplanes taking off from the Boeing airfield. He later worked for Boeing and attended the University of Washington before coming to what is now Silicon Valley in 1968 to work in software.
He met his wife, Eleanor, in the Greyhound Bus station in San Francisco the next year, as they were each return from Thanksgiving trips.
He began gather weapons documents in the early 1970’s. “He was an obsessive collector, to an unnatural extent,” Eleanor Hansen said last week, smiling as she was surrounded by the floor-to-ceiling bookcases and piles of papers in her husband’s home office.
He first described individual weapons in the U.S. nuclear stockpile in the mid-1970’s in an article in a magazine for model-airplane hobbyists.
Another obsessed young writer named Howard Morland used it as one of his sources for a 1979 article in the Progressive magazine about the secrets of the hydrogen bomb. The article became national news when the Carter administration went to court in an unsuccessful attempt to block its publication. Mr. Hansen jumped into the fray, sponsoring a “National Collegiate H-bomb Design Contest,” to prove there were no true secrets.
Unlike Morland, Mr. Hansen was not a campaigner against nuclear weapons. Mr. Hansen was “fascinated by the bomb,” Morland said this week. “He was also clearly against the government and trying to help us any way he could.”
His social skills were unpolished, but his generous in sharing his data. “I just think that historians will be relying on “Swords of Armageddon for years and years to come,” said Priscilla McMillan, referring to Mr. Hansen’s CD. “Think of the work he did getting this information and making it available to so many people, with no credit gained.”
For a change of pace, Chuck and Eleanor, a tax accountant, kept dozens of pigeons in their backyard, many of them brought there from the Wildlife Rescue Center [in Palo Alto].
Mr. Hansen’s trove of documents will go the National Security Archive at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “I am losing a husband, and the nation is gaining an archive,” Eleanor Hansen said.
Dan Stober is a reporter with the San Jose Mercury News and the co-author of “A Convenient Spy: Wen Ho Lee and the Politics of Nuclear Espionage”