26 December 2000
America's Dream Defense

WASHINGTON, Dec. 26, 2000 - A rocket carrying a kill vehicle stands by during the latest missile defense test.

With the election of George W. Bush as president, the top brass at the Pentagon have high hopes that their dream defense may be closer to reality.

For years now, the military has been trying to develop a shield-over-the-nation missile defense system, one that could destroy incoming warheads in space - warheads with nuclear or biological weapons. The Clinton administration has been lukewarm about the $60 billion-plus system.

But President-elect Bush and Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell believe even more resources should be spent on this missile defense.

As 60 Minutes II initially reported in October, the Pentagon allowed it to watch the most elaborate test yet of its latest system - a test using real rockets. The Pentagon was so confident that this new system would work, it agreed on July 8 to let Dan Rather watch its most elaborate test yet - one using real rockets and sophisticated computer technology. The plan was to launch a real rocket over the Pacific carrying a mock warhead similar to one an enemy would use to attack and destroy Los Angeles or Chicago or New York.

But there is also a group of leading scientists who believe the whole plan is fatally flawed and a bit of a fraud.

To the Pentagon, this missile defense system would be America's dream defense: a shield that would withstand virtually any strike, with more countries developing nuclear and biological weapons. The intelligence community believes a rocket carrying a nuclear or germ warhead could be shot at the United States within five years by North Korea or Iran, and a few years later by Iraq.

Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish is in charge of building a ballistic missile defense system to defend the country against such potential enemies. The test July 8 was intended to be similar to a real missile attack. "It simulates all the things that have to happen in a combat situation," Kadish said.

The Pentagon's sophisticated and highly classified secret weapon for a real combat situation is called a "kill vehicle." It is designed to find and destroy the enemy warhead high above the surface of the Earth.

In the event of a missile assault, Pentagon radar systems are supposed to track the enemy warhead. Then the United States would launch the defensive rocket. In space, it would eject the kill vehicle, which would close in on the enemy warhead at a combined speed of 15,000 mph. It is called hitting a bullet with a bullet.

Kadish knew there was a lot riding on the July demonstration. "The test is about $100 million so we want to make sure that it counts," he said.

In an earlier test last year, the Pentagon destroyed a warhead in space, but critics claim that one was oversimplified and inconclusive.

And a previous test was a failure. The kill vehicle missed its target, providing more ammunition for the Pentagon's critics that this is an expensive, unworkable boondoggle.

The most outspoken critic, Ted Postol, said Kadish's system is doomed to fail. "Spending resources on doing serious scientific work on problems that are related to the ballistic missile defense problem is a perfectly appropriate thing for the United States to be doing," said Postol before the July 8 test.

"But we're not doing that. We're building things that have no chance of working instead," noted the physicist and MIT professor who was formerly a top U.S. Navy scientist.

The White House has called Postol arrogant, and even his colleagues say he is blunt and in your face.

But Postol does have a track record. In 1991, during the Gulf War, the Pentagon was claiming that its Patriot missiles were 90 percent effective in shooting down Saddam Hussein's crude but deadly SCUD missiles. After the war, Postol was the one concluding that the Patriots were nearly a complete failure.

"We analyzed at MIT the Patriot performance," explained Postol. "And our analysis indicated that the Patriots probably did not destroy a single SCUD warhead. Probably, the performance was zero."

After Postol's analysis, the Pentagon sharply lowered its estimate on the Patriot's performance.

According to Postol, the Defense Department is misleading the public again about missile defense. He said the stakes are much higher this time.

"Because if this system doesn't work, millions of people would die. This is a system that's supposed to defend people from nuclear attack. And if it doesn't work, lots of people would die," Postol said.

Since the early 1980s, said Postol, the Pentagon has accomplished very little in its effort to destroy enemy warheads in space - an effort that intensified when President Reagan talked about the initiative nicknamed "Star Wars."

During the Reagan years, the U.S. Defense Department went on a spending spree, trying to build a shield in space to defend against a massive Soviet nuclear attack. There were gadgets called brilliant pebbles to smash enemy warheads and ground-based lasers. Billions of dollars were spent on research but no effective missile defense system was ever built.

Now the Pentagon wants to funnel billions more into the new "kill vehicle" program. But there are reasons the system may not work. Before launching a rocket, an enemy can pack deflated balloons into it; later they are inflated and deployed with the warhead. The balloons camouflage the warhead or hide it; they can even be designed to completely enclose the warhead, making it virtually disappear.

"And these decoys are designed to make it difficult, or impossible, for the defense to understand where the warhead is relative to the decoys," Postol said.

And Postol believes if another country's military forces can reach the point where they can manufacture intercontinental ballistic missiles and the nuclear warheads to put on their tips, then it's safe to assume they can manufacture the decoys.

Out in space, the decoys and warheads look much the same, like distant points of flickering light, Postol said. And the infrared sensors on the kill vehicle couldn't be depended upon to tell them apart, he added.

"Although I can't see any feature, they're just a point of light, they might look a little brighter or dimmer," said Postol. "But the balloons are going to fluctuate in a way that's very similar to the way the warhead fluctuates. So the warheads and decoys all look roughly alike."

The professor said the Pentagon can do the difficult job of shooting down a warhead in space - of hitting a bullet with a bullet - but not if the warhead is surrounded by decoys. "If it can't tell the difference between warheads and decoys with a very, very high confidence, the system will collapse catastrophically."

Kadish wanted to prove that Postol was wrong with the July 8 test.

After midnight on July 8, at the underground command center at the Pentagon, it was almost time to launch a simulated nuclear attack on the United States.

And Kadish's job was to shoot that target down. If this had been a real attack the response time would be short, he said. "The decision makers...would probably have five to eight minutes to decide to enable the system."

Twenty-one minutes after the launch of the enemy rocket, it was time for Kadish's team to launch the second rocket, the defensive rocket with the kill vehicle.

"The interceptor launched and got off pretty good. So it's off to intercept. There it's going. And so we want to see it at a point in space where that 'kill vehicle' can open its infrared sensors and find the target and intercept," said Kadish as he monitored its progress.

The infrared sensors had to tell the difference between the warhead and the decoys. In earlier tests, several balloon decoys were used. But in this test there was only one decoy. "It's more than zero," said Kadish. "And just as we don't go supersonic on our first flight test of an airplane; we want to take this a step at a time."

The Pentagon's critics say the sensors are so essential to this system that tests are useless unless Kadish can prove the sensors can discriminate between the decoy and the warhead.

But as things turned out, Kadish was not able to even test those much-criticized sensors. First, the one balloon decoy, designed to confuse the kill vehicle, did not inflate properly.

"So the decoy is not going to look exactly like what we expected. It presents a problem for the system that we didn't expect," said Kadish.

The general wasn't happy, but a few minutes later, he had an even bigger problem. The kill vehicle was still attached to its booster rocket - unable to separate for some reason - and therefore was unable to even try to intercept the enemy warhead.

If this had been a real attack, the warhead would have continued on to its target.

The July 8 test failed more fundamentally than even Postol could have imagined. But to him, the missile system is just another in a long list of failures dating back to tests in the Reagan years.

"In Star Wars we were talking about X-ray lasers and they didn't work," said Postol. "We were talking about deuterium fluoride space-based lasers. They didn't work. We were talking about hydrogen fluoride lasers in space, and they didn't work. We were talking about neutral particle beams, and they didn't work. We were talking about charged particle beams, and they didn't work, just went on and on and on. Now we're down to interceptors, and they don't work."

And Postol said the Defense Department has known that for years. One woman was warning the Pentagon back in 1996 that a major defense contractor was lying when it said the infrared sensor technology did work, Postol aid.

26 December 2000
A Far-Off Dream?


MIT's Ted Postol is critical of the missile defense program.

(CBS) Building an effective missile defense system will apparently be a top priority of the incoming Bush Administration.

When President-elect Bush announced he would nominate General Colin Powell to be secretary of state, one of Powell's first statements was that the country needs a missile defense to thwart the "blackmail" of enemies who have long-range missiles.

But as the Bush foreign policy team plans its dream defense, it might want to talk to MIT Professor Ted Postol, who says the whole system currently being tested by the Pentagon is fatally flawed. And he says the Defense Department and the Justice Department have known that for years.

"When I talk fraud, I'm being careful about the use of the word," said Postol. "I'm not saying there are people who have made a mistake, and I disagree with them....I'm saying that there are people who know that this system will not work and are trying to cover it up. That's what I'm saying here. So I am making a serious charge, I know that."

And Postol said Nira Schwartz provided him with the documents and data that prove it. In 1996, Schwartz was a senior staff engineer at TRW, a major defense contractor on the missile defense program. "That's when I saw that the technology will not perform to the level that TRW reported to the government," she said.

And Schwartz said she is still certain it will not work. "I did more and more tests, which confirmed that the technology does not work and will not work with the technology of today."

Schwartz, who was born in Israel, is an American citizen. She has a doctorate in physics and engineering and was hired by TRW to test the critical computer programs used to discriminate between warheads and decoys.

"The tests that I performed validated the level of performance of TRW to be only 10 percent of what they reported to the government," said Schartz. "They reported to the government 99.9 probability to differentiate the warhead out of the decoys and the replicas."

But when she tried to bring the discrepancies to her superiors' attention, Schwartz was let go, she said. "I say to my boss, 'It is wrong, what we are doing; it is wrong.' And the next day, I was fired."

Schwartz eventually sued TRW on behalf of the U.S. government, accusing the contractor of committing fraud and saying it "knowingly made false test plans, test procedures, test reports and presentations to the United States government...to remain in the...program."

The Justice Department could have joined the lawsuit, but, at the urging of the Defense Department, did not. In court documents, TRW rejected all of Schwartz's assertions. The company declined a request for an interview, but did send a written statement: "TRW scientists and engineers devoted years to this complex project, while Ms. Schwartz, in her six months with the company, worked a mere 40 hours....Her understanding of the decisions made about this program is insufficient to lend any credibility to her allegations."

But Roy Danchick believes Schwartz is very credible. Danchick is a mathematician who worked at TRW for 16 years. "She was fired because she pointed out to her superiors that the software, that the computer programs that they were building would not do the job of discrimination," he said.

Before retiring, Danchick worked in the aerospace industry for 40 years. At TRW, he worked on missile defense projects.

"I actually worked in the laboratory, in the computational laboratory, with the people who were doing discrimination," recalled Danchick. "And I watched them struggle and trying to massage the data, and that's scientifically, statistically, mathematically impermissible."

When the Pentagon started to look into these charges, it asked Danchick to contribute to an investigative report. "It is not a crime in the research and development process to build...a failed computer program," he said. "That's part of the process. What is a crime is to claim that a failed computer program actually works, does the job. That's fraud."

A Pentagon criminal investigator did extensive interviews with Danchick and Schwartz. For three years after she was fired, Schwartz was allowed to keep her security clearance so that she could monitor the work at TRW with the criminal investigator. That criminal investigator concluded and reported back to the Department of Defense that there is "absolute irrefutable scientific proof that TRW's discrimination technology does not, cannot and will not work." He accused TRW of "knowingly covering up its failure."

"I think Nira's telling the truth, and I think that the contractor, TRW, and the government, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, the Pentagon, for whatever reasons - and I, I've thought long and hard about it - I think they are not telling the truth," said Danchick.

The criminal investigator, who is now retired, complained to the Pentagon repeatedly that it was ignoring his findings against TRW. CBS News asked Lt. General Ron Kadish - the man now in charge of the missile defense program - about that investigation.

"We take every accusation of that nature very seriously, and this happened in 1996, I believe," said Kadish. "And my predecessors put a team together of experts to make sure that we understood the nature of the allegations."

That team of experts concluded that TRW's computer programs for the infrared sensors were "well designed and work properly" provided that the Pentagon does not have wrong information about what kind of warheads and decoys an enemy is using.

The reports that came out from that investigation concluded there was no merit to the allegations being made at the time.

TRW also said it was cleared by a second review panel, but CBS News has been unable to obtain that report.

Now TRW is no longer working on the infrared sensor project. But Postol says the proof that the Pentagon has not solved this basic problem is that it has had to change the way it uses balloon decoys in its tests. "What they've done is remove the decoys that are most capable from the test series, substituted objects that are easily identified as decoys. And then they're going about creating what I consider to be a deception, that they can tell the difference between warheads and decoys," said Postol.

The Pentagon has shifted its position in the Schwartz matter and now says it is not closed, that there is an ongoing investigation of defense contractor TRW. The General Accounting Office has also launched an investigation and interviewed witnesses. At the urging of more than 50 congressmen, the FBI has begun a preliminary inquiry.

But the missile defense program also has hundreds of supporters on Capitol Hill - none more outspoken than Congressman Curt Weldon, R-Pa. "If we don't build a new aircraft carrier, we have older ones. If we don't build a new fighter plane, we have older ones. If we don't build a new tank, we have older ones. If we don't build missile defense, we have nothing," said Weldon.

Weldon responded to Postol's allegations that the anti-missile defense system will not work. "There are also Flat Earth Society people who also believed that the Earth was flat years ago, and there were scientists who made the case against John Kennedy that it was crazy, we'd never land on the moon. And I characterize Ted Postol now as one of those people," said Weldon.

But it isn't just Postol who holds this view. Fifty Nobel Prize winners signed a letter to the president calling the system ineffective and a grave danger to the nation's security.

"Well, I don't know any of them that's come to Congress or to me," responded Weldon. "I've not seen one of their faces. I mean, you know, it's easy to get anyone to sign a letter. I sign letters all the time."

Kadish conceded there is a lot of pressure for this project to succeed and much of that comes from politicians. "I have to say that this is a very passionate subject for many years," said Kadish. "Certainly the drive for missile defense has a political dimension to it. But that's our system. We have to decide as a country what it is we want for a defense."

"There are a lot of ways to try to solve a missile defense program in particular that we need to try because it's unprecedented technology. Right now, from what I see, there's no reason to believe that we can't make this work. But there's a lot more testing to be done. There's a lot more effort to be expended," he said.

The next test is scheduled for the first half of next year. Critics say the missile defense system would violate a major arms treaty with Russia.

Just last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that building the system would lead to a collapse of international security.

Global Network