- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 23, 2004

Congress is debating the defense authorization bill for the next fiscal year. In both the Senate and the House, lawmakers will consider a series of amendments cutting back on U.S. missile-defense programs. One amendment, if successful, would cripple the defenses of our homeland against ballistic missiles and possibly delay any further deployments for five years.

A major argument of the critics is that time is on the side of the United States, and that the threat is still far off. They argue that we have plenty of time to continue with an elaborate and cumbersome testing program to fine-tune a missile-defense system they claim won’t work anyway against a threat that is nonexistent. They even ignore the fact that many of the funds associated with the deployment of defensive missiles in Alaska and California are part of a flexible test-bed, which will improve the system as we deploy and enhance its capability over time.

We have, however, heard these same critics before. In fact, between 1995 and 1999, they cooked the books to such an extent that the adoption of an official U.S. policy to deploy a missile defense of the United States was delayed for at least half a decade. In fact, evidence was available as early as 1995 that a serious threat from ballistic missiles faced the United States.

For example, in early 1999, the CIA “Report on Acquisition of Technology for WMD” warned that Iran was using foreign assistance to develop the Shahab-3 and other missiles with increased range, as was Iraq. Libya, too, was seeking to procure ballistic-missile technology from Iran, states of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Most worrisome, said the report, was that North Korea has stepped up its acquisition of missile technology, especially from China.

Shortly thereafter, on April 27, 1999, Robert Walpole of the CIA told a Capitol Hill audience that the “ballistic missile threat that we face is real, it’s serious and it’s growing,” and he specifically cited recent missile flight tests in Iran and North Korea. Mr. Walpole further explained that nobody had anticipated that the North Koreans would achieve the ability to launch a third stage on their Taepodong missile — a capability demonstrated in August 1998 in a surprising missile test. Even without a third stage, North Korea could still deliver 1,000 kilos a distance of 2,500 miles to 3,750 miles. “If you place a third stage on that ? system, you could reach the rest of the United States with smaller payloads,” he stated.

Mr. Walpole also referenced the Rumsfeld commission report of a year earlier. Its most controversial conclusion was “that it’s possible for a country with a well-based scud technology infrastructure to develop an ICBM in five years.” In his remarks in 1999, Mr. Walpole candidly admitted, “Well, I can’t disagree with that,” emphasizing that indeed the United States might have considerable difficulty being able to identify whether a nation was even building an ICBM. He explained that “the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.” Why was this? Well, Mr. Walpole emphasized the significance of foreign assistance in this equation, and that countries such as China might very well sell or transfer ICBM technology.

But even more extraordinary was his next revelation. In 1995, said Mr. Walpole, a National Intelligence Estimate from the CIA was characterized in a letter to Congress as confirming that no ballistic-missile threat to the United States would exist from a country such as Korea for at least 15 years. He said this was the conclusion of “key judgments” made available to Congress. But, Mr. Walpole revealed, the report itself contained a dramatically different conclusion. The facts were sexed down. And we reveal it here for the first time. Said Mr. Walpole, “But you don’t really know what the NIE says ? many of you would probably be surprised that that NIE said that North Korea could flight test an ICBM in 1996 and have one deployed by the year 2000.”

The Rumsfeld commission report, published in 1998, warned of just such an impending North Korean and Iranian missile threat to the United States. It was roundly criticized by the nonbelievers in missile defense and by the nuanced foreign policy experts. The threat was minimized, explained away or ignored. Some who admitted that such missiles were being developed absurdly argued that North Korea was simply defending itself from the United States. Others, such as Rep. Rush Holt, New Jersey Democrat, said the United States would hide behind a missile shield in order to initiate attacks. At the same time, a spokesman for the Carnegie Endowment said, “First the shield, then the sword.” A few short weeks later, North Korea fight tested a three-stage rocket, capable of launching warheads to the West Coast of the United States.

Recently, North Korea reportedly began the deployment of rockets with upward of a 4,000-mile range. The majority of members of Congress have connected the missile-defense dots and approved full funding for a deployed missile defense for the people of the United States. Those opposed cooked the books once before. They “sexed down” the threat. They are trying once again.

Peter Huessy is president of GeoStrategic Analysis and senior defense associate at the National Defense University.

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