Star Wars, Continued

The boondoggle that won't stop, and the corporate money that keeps it going

by William S. Hartung and Michelle Ciarrocca

Multinational Monitor magazine, October 2000


With a critical test failure on July 8 and a growing chorus of criticisms, President Clinton found himself in a safe position to delay deployment of the proposed National Missile Defense (NMD)-"Star Wars"-system before leaving office. The technical failures of the NMD system allowed Clinton to shield Vice President Al Gore from charges of being "soft on defense" amid the presidential campaign while delaying a full-scale commitment to deploy a costly and questionable missile defense system until the next administration. But authorization to proceed with NMD has only been deferred, not denied.

The NMD has the potential to rank as the most expensive boondoggle ever. Cost projections for the NMD system range from the Congressional Budget Office estimate of $60 billion for the "limited" two-site system currently being tested to as much as $240 billion for a more "robust," multi-tiered approach that many Republicans, including Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, are pushing for.

With much to gain if NMD is in fact deployed, the nations' "Big 4" weapons contractors (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and TRW) are eager to please the powers that be. National Missile Defense presents one of the few bright spots on the horizon for a defense industry that has witnessed the end of the Cold War and a shrinking demand in Pentagon procurement. These four firms dominate missile defense contracts, which soak up $3 to $4 billion a year of taxpayer funds. In fiscal year 1998-99, they accounted for 60 percent of the missile defense contracts issued by the Pentagon.

As the 2000 presidential campaign enters its final lap, the top contractors have been busy courting both parties-and for good reason. The candidates on both the Republican and Democratic tickets have ardently supported increased defense spending in general and a National Missile Defense system in particular. While NMD is set to continue as a research and testing program, Clinton's successor will decide whether or not to deploy the system and to what extent.


During the past decade, the major weapons makers have made generous campaign contributions to key members of Congress and invested tens of millions of dollars in their Washington, D.C. Iobbying operations. Since 1995, shortly after the Republicans took control of the House, weapons industry political action committees (PAC) contributions have favored Republicans over Democrats by a two-to-one margin. From 1997 to the present, the defense industry as a whole has given more than $10 million in PAC contributions, with the Big 4 accounting for $4.2 million. The corporations have also doled out close to $3 million in soft money contributions.

Lockheed Martin-the nation's (and the world's) largest defense contractor with a hand in multiple missile defense projects-donated $100,000 to both the GOP and the Democratic conventions, and all told has given more than $2.6 million in contributions for this election cycle. The company has worked hard to endear itself to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, kicking in $60,000 for a "Lott Hop" fundraiser at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia and pledging $1 million to the "Trent Lott Leadership Institute" at the University of Mississippi. At the Democratic convention, Lockheed was one of two dozen companies sponsoring Senator John Breaux's, D-Louisiana, "Mardi Gras Goes Hollywood" party.

Boeing, currently in charge of a $2.2 billion contract for the Lead Systems Integrator for the NMD program, donated $100,000 to the Democratic National Convention. In total, Boeing has supplied more $2.2 million in PAC and soft money to candidates and the parties.

The smaller of the Big 4 have also been cultivating good relations with both parties. Together, Raytheon and TRW have dished out almost $2 million in campaign contributions. Raytheon, presently developing the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (the weapon part) of the NMD system, co-hosted a fundraiser on Santa Monica pier for the members of the conservative Democrat "Blue Dog" caucus. Each sponsor reportedly donated $50,000 for the bash. And TRW, currently facing charges of fraud for manipulating the results of tests related to the NMD program, threw a luncheon during the Republican Convention for Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John Warner, R-VA, at the Philadelphia Union Club. Eighty-five percent of TRW's campaign contributions have been targeted at the GOP.

Though the resurgence of the missile defense issue can be traced to the special interests of the contractors, it is not an achievement of the industry alone. The brewing debate over National Missile Defense has its roots planted in an alliance of defense contractors, conservative "true believers" in Congress, right-wing think tanks and weapons scientists.

The heart and soul of the missile defense lobby is former Reagan Pentagon official Frank Gaffney, founder and director of the Center for Security Policy (CSP). The Center is a small but extremely effective boiler room operation that puts out nearly 200 press releases and "national security decision briefs" per year on issues like the North Korean missile threat, Chinese nuclear espionage and the alleged dangers to U.S. security of supporting various arms control treaties. However, unlike most think tanks that work on national security issues, CSP receives roughly 20 percent of its annual revenue from corporate sponsors, including three of the Big 4 missile defense contractors.

The Center's 100-member board of advisors is made up of a virtual "Star Wars Hall of Fame" including weapons scientist Edward Teller, former Reagan science advisor George Keyworth, conservative stalwarts Bill Bennett and former Reagan UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick, now of Empower America, and Heritage Foundation president Edward Feulner. Defense executives on the board include Lockheed Martin's Charles Kupperman and Bruce Jackson, and Boeing's Andrew Ellis. Rounding out the board are almost two dozen current and former members of Congress including Representatives Chris Cox, R-California, and Curt Weldon, R-Pennsylvania, and Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Jon Kyl, R-Arizona.

This conservative/contractor alliance represented on CSP's board of advisors was instrumental in encouraging former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to insert a plank on missile defense in the "Contract with America." More importantly, board of advisors' member Representative Curt Weldon inserted the amendment into the 1997 defense authorization bill that created the purportedly objective, bipartisan Rumsfeld Commission to assess the ballistic missile threat facing the United States.

The Rumsfeld Report, released in the summer of 1998, was a critical weapon in the conservative drive to reshape the debate over National Missile Defense and helped create a sense of urgency for deployment of an NMD system. Despite the fact the report made no policy recommendations, NMD boosters in Congress got what they wanted-a quasi-official endorsement to push the program forward. Upon its release, Newt Gingrich proclaimed the report's findings to be "the greatest warning for U.S. security since the end of the Cold War." But instead of looking at the realistic economic, political and technical impediments facing so-called "rogue states" like Iraq and North Korea in developing long-range ballistic missiles, the Commission focused on speculative questions such as the consequences of China giving advanced missile technology (or even a completed missile) to North Korea. The report painted a worst case scenario by alleging the missile threat facing the U.S. is "evolving more rapidly" than had been reported in the past.

CSP had a huge influence in the commission, chaired by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Board members William Graham and William Schneider served on the panel, and CSP has publicly bragged that a number of its former staffers and interns served as staff members of the Rumsfeld commission. Donald Rumsfeld is a financial supporter of the Center for Security Policy, as well as a board member of Empower America, the group responsible for a series of pro "Star Wars" radio ads during the 1998 elections.

The Rumsfeld Report, coupled with the August 1998 North Korean missile test and charges of Chinese nuclear espionage-stoked by hearings organized by CSP Board member Representative Christopher Cox-helped clear the way for the passage of bills in the House and Senate calling upon the president to deploy an NMD system "as soon as technologically feasible." Democrats supported the bill after two amendments were tacked on-one reaffirming U.S. commitment to pursue nuclear reductions with Russia, and the second requiring funds for NMD to be appropriated on an annual basis. While NMD skeptics see these amendments as important tools for holding up NMD deployment if conditions on arms control and affordability are not met, the passage of the bill completely shifted the political ground in favor of a decision to deploy The debate in Washington has changed from whether to deploy NMD to when to do so.

The strong support for Star Wars is not matched by strong evidence of NDM's viability. To date, only three of 19 scheduled intercept tests have taken place. The record: one hit, two misses.

With this track record, it would seem that the "as soon as technologically feasible" part of the NMD bill would put off deployment indefinitely, but the "true believers" have found a way to turn even test failures into "successes."

The Pentagon has yet to discern the exact cause for the most recent NMD test failure, which occurred on July 8, 2000. What is known is that the kill vehicle failed to separate from its booster because the circuit board on the booster did not operate properly and therefore an intercept was never attempted.

NMD advocates have played down the importance of this failure, with one senior Pentagon official stating, "It was a '70s technology, manufactured in 1990."

The second unsuccessful test took place in January. The infrared sensors failed to guide the interceptor to its target.

But missile defense supporters were unshaken. Senator Thad Cochran, R-Mississippi, proclaimed, "We will learn that this was not an unsuccessful test, even though the interceptor did not hit the target."

Even the one "success" in the NMD program was not so successful. Pentagon officials have conceded that the kill vehicle, which originally drifted off course, was assisted in finding the target by a large, bright decoy balloon. "If the balloon hadn't been there, then they wouldn't have hit the target," says Tom Collina of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "They got lucky."

Respected missile defense experts have called the overall program "high risk" and a "rush to failure." The Pentagon's Director of Operational Testing and Evaluation's annual report, issued in February 2000, points out that "the aggressive schedule established for the NMD Program presents a major challenge. The NMD program will have to compress the work of 10 to 12 years into 8 or less years.... This pattern has historically resulted in a negative effect on virtually every troubled DOD development program."

A highly critical report released in November 1999 by a panel headed by former Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Larry Welch argued that the failures of NMD were not the result of "random" malfunctions, but an indication of systematic flaws in design, planning and management. Both reports agree that the NMD intercept tests-tests which the system is unable to pass-have not been representative of real world threats.

Critics and even some military experts say all flight tests of the $60 billion weapon have been virtually rigged to hide a fundamental flaw: the system cannot distinguish between enemy warheads and decoys.

"The only way to make it work is to dumb it down," says anti-missile expert and former Lockheed scientist Michael W. Munn. "There's no other way to do it. Discrimination has always been the number one problem, and it will always remain that way."


The NMD testing program assigns maximum monitoring authority to the same companies that stand to make billions of dollars if NMD is deployed. This conflict of interest is made even more problematic given the history of fraud, corruption and mismanagement by the key contractors.

A whistleblower has charged TRW with fraud for manipulating tests and evaluations in the development of the kill vehicle component of the NMD system. Former TRW senior engineer Dr. Nira Schwartz served on TRW's anti-missile team in 1995 and 1996. She contends that computer simulations indicated that interceptors for the NMD system could not discriminate decoys from warheads, but management at TRW refused to report these failures to the Pentagon. Colleagues and supervisors ignored Schwartz's repeated appeals that they alert industrial partners and the military of the problems. Eventually, she was fired.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon has tried to wave off charges of fraud involving the TRW kill vehicle by arguing that a different vehicle, one being developed by Raytheon, has been chosen for inclusion in the final NMD system. What Beacon does not say is that Boeing, which has unprecedented authority over the entire NMD program as Lead Systems Integrator, designed the TRW interceptor vehicle that has been the subject of the allegations. The Boeing/TRW interceptor remains a backup in case the Raytheon version fails to perform adequately.

Furthermore, as weapons scientist Theodore Postol of MIT pointed out at a May 25 press briefing, the "Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) continues to make transparently false statements about the capabilities of the Raytheon Kill Vehicle relative to the Boeing Kill Vehicle. The Raytheon Kill Vehicle was not selected over the Boeing vehicle for technical reasons, as claimed by BMDO. It was selected because a Boeing employee illegally obtained sensitive Raytheon technical documentation on their Kill Vehicle." In other words, there is no evidence the Raytheon product will work, either.

Raytheon has been plagued by its own problems lately. The company had to recall hundreds of Patriot missiles it sold to U.S. allies after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, reportedly because of worn electronic parts in the missiles' radar-guidance systems. And defense experts have blasted Raytheon's Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), under development for the NMD program, as technically unsatisfactory. The Welch panel noted the "hardware-poor" nature of the EKV program, and pointed out that the EKV may not be able to withstand the shock loads once mounted on the actual Ground Based Interceptor booster to be used in the NMD system. The operational version of the actual booster will not be tested until 2003.

Beleaguered Lockheed Martin, which is the contractor for the NMD payload launch vehicle, agreed in June of this year to pay $13 million to settle government accusations that it violated arms export laws by sharing sensitive satellite technology with China. It has also experienced a series of embarrassing and expensive launch failures of its rockets and satellites, resulting in more than $2 billion worth of military and private satellites being either destroyed or deployed into useless orbits.

Lockheed also has apparently been involved in outright deception in generating support for missile defense. In 1984, the company conducted an apparently successful test of a Star Wars intercept system, gaining political momentum for the initiative. Nine years later, Tim Weiner of the New York Times uncovered the truth. "We rigged the test," a scientist involved with the test told Weiner. "We put a beacon with a certain frequency on the target vehicle. On the interceptor, we had a receiver." Weiner reports that "in effect, the scientist said, the target was talking to the missile, saying, 'Here I am, come get me."' Weiner quotes the scientist: "The hit looked beautiful, so Congress didn't ask questions."

Asked why the test was rigged, the scientist said, "We would lose hundreds of millions of dollars if we didn't perform it successfully.


Thanks to the political lobbying and intrigue of the Star Wars pushers, political support for a NMD system is growing, and Republican members of Congress are using Clinton's decision to defer a decision to press for an expansive missile defense system.

While 53 members of the House of Representatives, led by Representative Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and John Conyers, D-Michigan, have called for an FBI investigation of potential fraud in the NMD program,-which the FBI now says it is conducting-the Senate defeated an amendment introduced by Senator Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, that would have required the Pentagon to test the NMD system in realistic conditions before any decisions about deployment are made.

For now, it appears that a mix of election year politics and cash hungry contractors has obscured the facts surrounding the NMD system. By the time the smoke clears, the NMD juggernaut may be too powerful to stop. Even in a best-case scenario, billions of dollars of taxpayer money will have been wasted, lavished on the weapons contractors in return for a relatively small investment they have made in the political process


William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms Trade Resource Center at the World Policy Institute at the New School for Social Research. Michelle Ciarrocca is a research associate at the World Policy Institute.

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