Defending the Northeast, America and Our Allies from Ballistic Missile Attack

28-29 June 2001

Frida Berrigan,
World Policy Institute 

Valley Forge Radisson
King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

I was the mole, the spy, the interloper. I went to King of Prussia, Pennsylvania to attend a conference organized by Representative Curt Weldon and the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis (IFPA), stirringly entitled "Defending the Northeast, America and Our Allies from Ballistic Missile Attack." It was the first time I've been back to King of Prussia since 1981, when I was there for the trial of my Dad, Uncle and six others who symbolically disarmed a Mark 12A nuclear warhead manufactured by General Electric [now, Lockheed Martin]. This action, called the Plowshares Eight, sparked a movement of over 75 disarmament actions on three continents. So, going back to where it all started, to hang out with the merchants of death, was an experience.

As the Brandywine Peace Community, LEPOCO's Angels Against Star Wars and the anti-Star Wars Darth Vader sweltered in 95 degree sun outside the hotel, I froze inside listening to Representative Curt Weldon give the opening address to the assembled men in suits. An informal count yielded a grand total of ten women among more than 200 men. Weldon, who chairs the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee, welcomed us to the Radisson Hotel in King of Prussia and Valley Forge, and  commented that a broad spectrum of expertise was present at the conference, including the defense industry, which he said was "especially well represented."

Well represented indeed, I counted over 70 participants from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and smaller missile defense companies like Alliant Missile Products and Science Applications International Corporation, out of a list of 200 or so. Not surprising, given how much the weapons industry has to gain from an accelerated push for missile defense and how actively they have supported missile defense boosters on the Hill. Weldon alone pulled in more than $200,000 in defense industry contributions in the last five years. Ironically he had the gumption to say that "I have never worked for a defense contractor in my life." With money like that coming into his office, he's stumping for Boeing and Lockheed every day on Capitol Hill.

Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing and a local defense company all had elaborate displays in the basement "Independence Hall." Raytheon brought a half size model of its exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV). The EKV looks sort of like a vacuum cleaner or a snow blower and costs about $25 million. Pound for pound, it is among the most expensive weapons ever built. But that does not mean it works.

The EKV's slogan is "Discriminate and Destroy" but so far it seems more likely to "Crash and Burn."  The 1999 National Missile Defense Review Committee Report, chaired by retired Air Force General Larry Welch, highlighted the "'hardware-poor' nature of the EKV program," and pointed out that the EKV might not be able to withstand the shock loads once mounted on the actual Ground Based Interceptor booster. The failure of the July 7, 2000 NMD test was due in large part to the failure of the Raytheon kill vehicle to separate properly from the Lockheed Martin booster rocket. As a result, the sensors used to hone in on the mock warhead were never turned on, and the vehicle sailed wide of its target. So much for Discrimination and Destruction.

But the model looked great and so did the computer generated graphic displays. Each company offered attractive freebies too. I took three handsome blue "Boeing: Team NMD" mugs. There were also lapel pins, key chains and baseball hats for conferees to take home.

In addition to bringing his industry friends and their freebies along, Curt Weldon also brought some props, including a Scud missile and a Theater High Altitude Area Defense launcher-- deployed in the parking lot. The Scud missile was accompanied by a poster with 28 names-the Americans killed in an Iraqi attack on a bunker in Saudi Arabia. Weldon dedicated the conference to their memory, saying they died because "America failed them." Ten years later, he said, we still don't have a fully deployed missile defense which could assure that "never again will Americans come home in body bags."

In addition to pulling the heart strings of the assembled, Weldon also railed against the "left wing rhetoric" of the "liberal media establishment," singling out Dan Rather for special attention by saying the CBS anchor had the "intellectual honesty of my pet." To combat what he sees as the anti-missile defense slant in the mainstream press, Weldon envisions a series of regional conferences to follow this one, with the aim of awakening the American people to the fact that they are  vulnerable to ballistic missile attack and there is no defense. He used the work "vulnerable" countless times throughout his almost two-hour speech and Q&A session.

Other speakers included Lt. General Ronald Kadish, Director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization; Ambassador Henry Cooper, the Chairman of the Board of High Frontier-a pro-missile defense think tank that was distributing "Strategic Issues Policy Briefs" at the conference with titles like, "Toward the High Ground of Space: A Fine First Step!!" and "The Battle Lines Are Drawn!!!" Frank Gaffney, President and CEO of Center for Security Policy, was also in attendance. Gaffney, whose think tank has received over $2 million from weapons manufacturers in recent years, spoke on a panel with Baker Spring from the Heritage Foundation entitled "The ABM Treaty and Missile Defense."

Curt Weldon said the two-day conference was aimed at the American public. But I didn't see any there. All I saw were representatives of weapons manufacturers, right wing-nut think tanks and the Pentagon. The only normal Americans I met were sweating in the hot sun on the curb, chatting and holding their signs, and waving at the cars that honked in support. While the news coverage of the conference downplayed the presence of protestors from the Brandywine Peace Community, it was big news inside. Weldon referred to the 20 or so gathered outside as "misguided but well intentioned" and said that "Darth Vader is wandering around out there looking sort of bewildered, I think he's lost." Every time he mentioned the protestors, the audience laughed and guffawed, but it seemed to me that they felt exposed. Darth Vader wasn't lost, he had found them.

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