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Inside the Ring
Question of the Day
MCFAUL ON SM-3 DATA
The nomination of U.S. Ambassador-designate to Russia Michael McFaul is in trouble, based on recent responses to senators’ questions about a possible plan to give sensitive data to Russia on the SM-3 anti-missile interceptor.
Several senators continue to hold up his nomination, and, as reported earlier in this space, Sen. Mark Kirk recently asked Mr. McFaul to provide answers about whether the Obama administration plans to provide extremely sensitive missile technical data to Russia as part of efforts to convince Moscow that U.S. missile defenses are not targeted against Russian ICBMs.
Mr. McFaul was asked directly if the administration is considering giving Russia so-called “velocity burnout” data, known as VBO, on SM-3 anti-missile interceptors.
In a detailed response, Mr. McFaul acknowledged that sharing the classified SM-3 velocity data is a possibility.
“The United States is currently assessing what information it would be in our interests to share with the Russian Federation and others regarding the capabilities of U.S. missile defense systems,” Mr. McFaul stated.
Mr. McFaul then sought to play down security concerns by stating that Russia probably learned details of the SM-3 speed from technical intelligence from monitoring tests.
He said the administration does not intend to give the Russians telemetry data - signals sent to ground stations during test flights - about missile-defense interceptors or target vehicles.
Security officials are concerned that if Moscow learns the technical parameters of the SM-3, one of the most advanced interceptors in the U.S. arsenal, Russia will be able to develop countermeasures for the missile or compromise the effectiveness of the weapon by providing the data to nations such as China, Iran or North Korea.
Also, knowledge of the SM-3 technical parameters could be used in arms-control talks as part of Moscow’s push for a legal limits on U.S. defenses.
Such details of a missile’s burnout speed also could be used to develop ballistic missiles that travel faster than the interceptors, U.S. officials said.
Mr. McFaul said a special security committee that can waive rules against providing classified U.S. data to foreign governments has not been asked to make an exception for SM-3 velocity burnout data.
However, he said the National Disclosure Policy Committee (NDPC) has approved an exception for Russia to watch an SM-3 missile-defense flight test. Earlier, it approved waivers for Russian viewing of flight tests for a ground-based interceptor (GBI) and Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile in 2007 and 2010. Viewing flight tests normally is restricted to prevent foreign intelligence services from learning classified capabilities from U.S. weapons.
Mr. McFaul further explained in written responses to Mr. Kirk that a decision to provide velocity burnout data would not violate assurances provided to the Senate last year that no U.S. missile telemetry data would be given to Russia under the New START arms treaty. Telemetry data, he said, originates onboard a missile and is encrypted.
“Velocity burn out (VBO) is a performance specification that is readily observed and confirmed by land-based, sea-based, and/or space-based sensors,” Mr. McFaul said.
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About the Author
Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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