Mount Umunhum’s Fraudulent Monument

Lester Earnest


Stop Honoring Evil. We should not keep monuments that celebrate evil history:

·      Confederate monuments should be removed because they endorse slavery and racism.

·      The old SAGE radar tower atop Mount Umunhum should be dismantled because it was part of the biggest taxpayer fraud in world history, a fact that has been kept mostly hidden from the American public so far.


SAGE Made Money the Wrong Way. Santa Clara County, also known as Silicon Valley, has a rich history and the recent opening of Mount Umunhum to public access is a big step in the right direction. However, the preservation of the crumbling radar tower there serves as a monument to the biggest taxpayer fraud in world history, a fact has been kept mostly hidden from the public for over 60 years.

     That radar was part of the SAGE air defense system that supposedly defended us against Russian bomber attacks during the Cold War of the 1950s through 1980s. SAGE was a technological marvel that used hundreds of radars spread across North American connected to 23 Direction Centers, each with a computer the size of a football field. It was the first system to provide concurrent computing services to many people at each site with graphical display terminals and this complex system was interconnected by the first computer network, which laid the foundation for the later development of the Internet. However, though SAGE was a technological marvel, it was an operational fraud at two levels.

1.     The computer system could not reliably track real bombers that used radar jamming.

2.     Before SAGE was fully deployed in the early 1960s, the threat of a manned bomber attack had been superseded by the threat of an ICBM attack, against which air defense systems were useless.

Therefore, that fraudulent system should not have been deployed, but it was kept going for 25 years for the enrichment of a number of companies using the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex to defraud American taxpayers.

     How do I know all that? I helped design SAGE, but because its deficiencies were classified “Secret,” I and others could not talk about it publicly without going to jail. The same game is going on today as the U.S. Defense Department is deploying anti-ballistic missile systems around the world at enormous taxpayer expense even though they too don’t work. These scams and others have greatly enriched major corporations in America over the last 65 years.


Counterattack. After I stopped working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1965 and came to Stanford University to set up what became the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL) in the hills above campus, the radar on Mount Umunhum apparently tried to get even with me for telling the truth about its corrupt origins, as revealed in my short IEEE journal article that was published in 2009, as follows

A Hummingbird with Range

Les Earnest, IEEE Life Member

Published in the IEEE Life Members Newsletter, 2009

The radar atop Mt. Umunhum, south of San Jose, California, which was part of the SAGE air defense system, managed to get even with me in 1966 for badmouthing the crooked system in which it operated.


In late 1965 I came to Stanford University as Executive Officer of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. They had ordered a million dollar computer, a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-6, but hadn’t found a place to put it yet. I eventually found space in an incomplete building that Stanford had acquired a few miles off-campus and arranged to convert what had been planned as the cafeteria into a room for both the large computer and experimental robotic equipment.

After the computer was installed we had difficulty getting it working. DEC had sent engineer Bob Clements to help but after a couple of weeks they were threatening to bring him home and were urging us to complete the acceptance tests. We decided to go for it on June 6 (i.e. 6/6/66) but that turned out to be a very hot day and our air conditioning system was not yet installed. Not to be deterred, we dispatched a couple of graduate students to get blocks of dry ice, to be placed under the false floor from where the computer cabinets drew cooling air, and put another two on the roof with water hoses to cool down the room. Happily this worked well enough to bring the room temperature within the acceptable range and we proceeded with the tests. Just for fun, at one point a student named David Poole got on top of the memory cabinets and performed an East European folk dance during memory tests. Happily the machine still passed.

All was well for a couple of weeks but the computer then started malfunctioning again. We eventually figured out that this was happening at 13 second intervals but didn’t understand why until someone happened to bring a portable radio into the computer room and it was noticed that the radio buzzed at the same instant that the computer malfunctioned.

We eventually figured out that the source of both effects was the air defense radar on top of Mt. Unumhum, about 20 miles away, and got the computer working again by fixing a ground wire connection on one cabinet. We also learned that “umunhum” is the Ohlone Indian word for “place of the humming bird”, which in this case was reaching out a long way to buzz us. Note that hummingbirds make a sound close to “Umunhum.”

The Mt. Umunhum radar was the same one that caused the “Two second burp” observed by Ken Crook (Dec. 2008 IEEE Life Member’s Newsletter). In a sense, I was partly to blame since it was part of the SAGE air defense system that I helped design a decade earlier. While doing that I learned that SAGE was a gigantic fraud on taxpayers but that is another story. Perhaps that radar was trying to get back at me for badmouthing the system in which it operated.

Les Earnest, IEEE Life Member #00639575
Los Altos
Hills, CA


Some Old Guys wanted a Monument to Themselves. The proposal to turn the old radar tower into a monument arose around 2011, apparently initiated by some old Air Force guys who wanted to create a monument to themselves. They may not have realized that the place where they worked was fraudulent but that probably didn’t matter to them. Besides, the American public has always been inclined to honor those who do military service, even when that service turned out to be evil, as happened in Vietnam and now being documented on PBS.

     Consequently, many local people endorsed the Umunhum radar preservation. Meanwhile I and others wrote letters to the San Jose Mercury News pointing out that this entire operation was a fraud. On December 11, 2011 I wrote to columnist, Scott Herhold, saying:

It would be reasonable to preserve the old radar shack atop Mt. Umunhum if a plaque were put up identifying it as part of a multi-billion-dollar fraud on U.S. taxpayers. You see, it was part of the SAGE air defense system which never worked but was kept going for 25 years so as to enrich a number of contractors, their friends in the Air Force and the members of Congress who received generous contributions to campaign funds (also known as legal bribes).

In return, Scott Herhold kindly wrote:

I like your idea of identifying the fraud. Even fraud is part of our history.  And maybe we can learn something from it.  Thanks for writing, Scott 

However, Herhold later flipped his position, apparently without doing any research, and later wrote an announcement of his success, shown below.


County Board of Supervisors Review. That same year the proposal to preserve the radar tower came up for review by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, so in May 2016 I wrote the following note to my representative on that Board.


Joe Simitian,


I see that some older Air Force people wish to turn the decaying radar tower atop Mt. Umunhum into a monument to their service. If the Board of Supervisors decide to do that I strongly suggest that the full truth be told -- that this tower, part of the SAGE air defense system, was an element of the biggest fraud on American taxpayers of the 20th Century.

     Facing the threat of a manned bomber attack by Soviet forces in the 1950s, American politicians decided to pretend they were creating an effective countermeasure and, at the instigation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), they initiated the development and deployment of SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) with its hundreds of radars spread across North America. However, it soon became apparent that the plan to use computers to track aircraft automatically did not work if the bombers used radar jamming, as all have done since World War II.  Nevertheless, that fact was kept classified so that no one could publicly talk about it without going to jail. Thus, this project went forward even though MIT's administration perceived the fraud and withdrew. 

     An additional reason it should not have been built was that the threat of manned bombers was superseded by ICBMs before SAGE was fully deployed and it didn't even pretend to offer a defense against that primary threat. What it did do was make an enormous amount of money for the contractors involved, who bribed members of Congress with campaign contributions so that this fraud was kept going for 25 years at a cost to American and Canadian taxpayers of hundreds of billion dollars.

     My principal SAGE responsibility was designing weapons guidance and control functions for the several kinds of manned interceptors and the Bomarc ground-to-air missiles used. I also headed the committee that obtained permission from Federal Government authorities to put nuclear warheads on the Bomarc missiles, made by Boeing.  A summary of its inadequacies can be seen at SAGE Like Forrest Gump [Click to read the truth].

     In summary, the best choice is probably to not recognize the radar tower as historically significant but if you do its exhibits should tell the truth about it being part of the biggest fraud on American taxpayers of the 20th Century.

     I would like to attend the Supervisor's public review of this matter but because of a prior commitment I am traveling in Europe and will not return home until May 14. However, I will continue to follow emails.


Hoping for the best,


Lester Earnest  650-941-3984



As in most political decisions, popularity is what matters, regardless of the facts.

Scott Herhold had flipped his position, apparently without doing any research, and on June 11, 2016 wrote the following endorsement of the proposal to keep the old radar tower.

Herhold: How the Mt. Umunhum radar tower was saved

There are two reasons why the Mt. Umunhum radar tower was saved for good this past week. One stems from a groundswell of public sentiment that began at least five years ago. The second had to do with a fresh set of eyes from another bureaucracy. Put another way, you can fight City Hall, particularly if you can persuade a second City Hall to join your cause.

One of the greatest problems in preserving the South Bay landmark was a matter of line of sight. It shaped the political battle from the beginning. The owner of the former Air Force Station atop Mt. Umunhum is the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, which has its headquarters in Los Altos. The Midpen district is a long banana-shaped area with many of its voters in Palo Alto and San Mateo County. They cannot see the radar tower. They wonder what the fuss is about.

Guided by general manager Steve Abbors, no friend of the tower, the Midpen board until last week clung to what I call the “Goldilocks” menu. One option would have been to raze the tower. The second would have been to take down all but the foundation and convert it into a visitor’s center. The third would be to seal the hulking structure and preserve it. The language used by the Midpen bureaucracy — the first City Hall, in my telling — revealed its preference. Razing the tower was called “Restoration,” meaning restoring the mountain to its original unbuilt status. Of these three choices, only preservation was acceptable to the people who valued the tower as a bookmark of the valley’s Cold War history.

Online petition. In 2012, the historian of the Air Force Station, Basim Jaber, began an online petition to save the tower that ultimately gathered more than 2,100 signatures. “That showed the board that there were a heckuva lot more people who wanted this to stay,” says Jaber, who also gave a series of well-attended talks on the history of the station.

After a series of contentious public hearings, the Midpen board agreed in 2012 to give the preservationists five years to raise the $1.5 million estimated to save the tower. The Umunhum Conservancy, led by Jaber and its president, a diplomatic software engineer, Sam Drake, raised about a quarter of that amount.

Historical status. More important, the preservationists sought help from the second City Hall — Santa Clara County government — to get historical status for the tower, which would make it far harder to demolish. After some vacillation, county planners made a significant decision when they hired a Sacramento consulting firm that concluded firmly that the tower, which went into operation in 1962, deserved historic status. When the Board of Supervisors followed that last month by adding the tower to the county Historic Resource Inventory, the fight was over.

On Wednesday night, following a recommendation by Abbors, the Midpen board voted reluctantly to preserve and seal the radar tower. The Goldilocks options were abandoned. The beneficiaries of all this will be the public, which will have a far more interesting visit to Mt. Umunhum when the summit is opened in October. The line of sight mattered. From the headquarters of the second City Hall — county government — you can see the tower clearly.

Contact Scott Herhold at 408-275-0917 or Follow him at

Conclusion. In other words, in order to sell this fraudulent history, its proponents hired fake historians who pretended to know the history and made up the story they wanted. In view of the popular support for that bad choice, the Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of it. Thus, it appears that this fraud will continue until the public figures out that they are still being defrauded on a large scale.

     Many like to think that we live in a democracy, but the U.S. Constitution, adopted in the late 18th Century, was designed to maintain and enlarge the assets of rich white men by exploiting the work of others and, over two centuries later, it is still doing that.

     I believe that the best thing to do with the SAGE radar tower is to remove it. However, if it is kept there, then there should be a plaque added telling the truth about how it got there. Having made quite a lot of money from my participation in creating the fraudulent SAGE system, I would be happy to pay for the creation of such a plaque.


Lester Earnest: Call 650-941-3984 any day 9am-11pm

Senior Research Computer Scientist Emeritus, Stanford University