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Katya Komisaruk's Revolution : Why a Berkeley MBA Trashed a Multimillion-Dollar Air Force Computer in the Name of Peace

November 11, 1987|KATHLEEN HENDRIX | Times Staff Writer

It was Sunday morning, and Katya Komisaruk was standing in the kitchen of a friend's home in North Hollywood ironing a green corduroy dress, a gift her father had sent for her trial in federal court. The trial was two days away, but Komisaruk was planning to wear the dress that afternoon to a fund-raising event for her legal expenses.

Noticing a spot on the dress, she announced with mock authority, "After the revolution, everyone will have Spray and Wash."

"After the revolution" is a phrase she frequently uses as a joke. But what revolution? The question was asked Monday as she stood outside a former ground-control center for the NAVSTAR military navigation system at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Looking startled and delighted, she answered quick as a flash in a mock-serious tone: "Why the nonviolent, peaceful revolution that will take centuries to bring about, but afterward. . . ." She broke off, paused, and continued more seriously, "There isn't really an after. It's an evolving concept. What's really revolutionary is living nonviolently and making social changes that way."

Apparently, Komisaruk's nonviolence does not extend to inanimate objects. At least not all of them.

This was not her first trip to Vandenberg. She could face 10 years in federal prison for actions taken on a previous visit, actions that led to a charge of destruction of government property. She went on trial Tuesday in U.S. District Court before Judge William J. Rea. On Monday, the government dropped a second charge, sabotage in injuring defense materials, which could have added another 10 years if she were convicted.

It is a conviction she appears to anticipate. By her own admission, in the early hours of June 2, Komisaruk entered Vandenberg by back roads and made her way to the NAVSTAR facility. There she found the gate to the fenced and barbed-wired compound wide open, the building unoccupied and locked.

Danced on Computer Chips

She broke into the building and for two hours trashed a million-dollar mainframe IBM 3031 computer, hacking away at it with crowbar, bolt cutters, hammer and cordless drill. She danced on the computer chips she had pried loose, spray-painted the casing walls with slogans such as "International Law," "Nuremberg" and "Defense of Necessity," and climbed to the roof to take similar action against a satellite dish.

She left behind a bouquet of flowers, a box of Mrs. Fields cookies, and a poem: "I have no gun / You must have lots. / Let's not be hasty / No cheap shots. Please have a cookie and a nice day." Komisaruk walked off the base, hitched a ride to the Bay Area, got some legal advice and gave herself up after holding a news conference at the Federal Building in San Francisco.

Cited Nuremberg Treaty

"You're party to mass murder if you don't get out there and try to stop it," she said at her press conference. She upheld the legality of her action under international law, citing the Nuremberg Treaty, signed by the United States, in which nations swear to never prepare for or begin a war of aggression.

Out on bail since her arrest, she has not wavered. The Nuremberg Principles are key to her defense, she says, but the judge ruled two weeks ago that reference to international law is irrelevant to the case and may not be used in court.

She said she believed the facility was operational and that the NAVSTAR system provides the United States with a "first strike" capability in a nuclear attack. The government contends that the computer was out of commission and was being stored as surplus and that the satellite navigation system had been moved to Colorado 18 months earlier. Pentagon officials have denied the first-strike capability of NAVSTAR, describing it as part of a sophisticated, satellite-based navigation system.

Whatever its function and status before June 2, the computer is certainly out of commission now. The room remains as evidence--a mess in a room full of jumbled electronic space-age trash and banged-up office furniture. Broken glass and plastic, smashed tubes, bent metal, and computer chips litter the floor. The huge cabinets that housed the computer are like a deserted, vandalized house. The doors hang open, the contents are demolished, the outsides still scream of international law and Nuremberg with black spray-painted graffiti.

A wooden Can't Miss mousetrap and a can of mothballs sit on one table, next to what looked to be the smashed insides of a cathode-ray tube. A number of roach motels are on the floor. A dead mouse lies next to one.

Wearing a navy-blue-and-white shirt with "Vandenberg AFB" over the left breast, Komisaruk made her way through the scene of her crime, accompanied by her defense team, prominent New York civil rights lawyer Leonard Weinglass and co-counsels Dan Williams and William Simpich, and several others. The party was escorted by two FBI agents and several Air Force personnel.

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