WASHINGTON, D.C.--The Pentagon said yesterday that classified data prove the controversial National Missile Defense (NMD) system will work, even as some members of Congress called for an investigation into charges that the Pentagon classified documents to hide the fact that the system is hopelessly flawed. Supporters and opponents of NMD accused each other of abusing classified information to mislead the public.
The NMD is supposed to be able to protect the United States from a handful of intercontinental ballistic missiles. But scientists at the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists say that the $36 billion system won't be able to pick a real warhead out of a flotilla of decoys. On 19 May, engineer Ted Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sent a letter to the White House claiming that the Pentagon's own data revealed the shortcomings of the system's kill vehicle, the missile that is supposed to crash into an incoming warhead high above the atmosphere. He accused the Pentagon of trying to bury the embarrassing facts, in part by classifying his analysis of unclassified data.
Yesterday, Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish denied a cover-up. He told the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on research and development that Postol's analysis is invalid because the NMD now uses a different kill vehicle and because various radar systems will help the kill vehicle find its target. Kadish admitted that the kill vehicle must guide itself during the last 100 seconds before impact, but he disputed Postol's claim that warheads and decoys will look the same to the vehicle's infrared sensors. However, "I'm not able to explain, because of the classification issue, what we are doing" to spot the warhead among the fakes, he said after the public hearing. Kadish presented the classified information to the subcommittee in a closed session the day before.
Supporters of NMD accused critics of raising questions that can only be answered behind closed doors just to make NMD developers look bad to the public. "The critics are like kids who taunt the dog from the other side of the fence, knowing that you can't go into classified areas," Owen Pickett (D-VA) said to Kadish. But Tom Allen (D-ME), who calls himself an NMD skeptic, was less sure of who was hiding behind the fence of secrecy. "This is one of those cases where the devil is in the details," Allen said, "and the details are all classified."
In the letter to FBI head Louis Freeh, 53 House Democrats called for an investigation into Postol's charges of a cover-up. "The American people need an independent investigation of this matter," the letter read.