Published on Monday, June 12, 2000 in the Independent / UK
US Spies Inflate Risk From 'Rogue' States
by Andrew Marshall
WASHINGTON - A lurid ad is running on US television, showing a defenceless nation under missile attack.
It is part of a campaign to convince America that unless it can put up a new national missile defence (NMD), it risks being the victim of a surprise assault from a rogue state.
But the threat assessments on which the campaign is built are suffering widespread attack by analysts outside government. They say US intelligence agencies distorted the analysis to back up the new missile defence, just as the Pentagon has fixed the technical tests of the new system.
NMD has become a sacred cause to America's conservative right. The Clinton Administration, under political pressure, is likely to go ahead with the project. America's European allies are aghast because of the damage they believe the system would do to Nato and because it would damage arms control.
A declassified 1995 US intelligence report said: "No country, other than the major declared nuclear powers, will develop or otherwise acquire a ballistic missile in the next 15 years that could threaten the contiguous 48 states and Canada."
That made the American right see red, and Congress set up an independent commission to produce another assessment. The 1998 Rumsfeld Report came to a much more alarming conclusion, in part because it considered a worst-case scenario rather than what was likely to happen.
When US intelligence agencies did a similar exercise last year, they, too, had apparently changed their minds. Over the next 15 years the US "... most likely will face ICBM threats from Russia, China and North Korea, probably from Iran, and possibly from Iraq", they said, an assesment that pushed forward work on the new system.
But critics say the agencies had changed their methodology under political pressure, distorting the result. The new report "reflects a lowering of previously established intelligence agency standards for judging threats", says Joseph Cirincione, director of the non-proliferation project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in an article for the Non-Proliferation Review.
The intelligence report included an unusual acknowledgement of internal dissent. "Some analysts believe the prominence given to missiles countries 'could' develop gives more credence than is warranted to developments that may prove implausible," it said.
Mr Cirincione says the intelligence estimate also reduces the range of missiles considered serious threats, "by shifting the standard from threats to the 48 continental states to threats to any part of the land mass of the 50 states". So threats to Alaska and Los Angeles are conflated.
It also shifts the date at which a threat exists from when a country would first deploy a long-range missile to when a country could first test one, advancing the threat by five years, says Mr Cirincione.
The biggest threat and the one against which a missile defence would supposedly first be erected comes from North Korea.
"North Korea could deliver a weapon of mass destruction not just to Seoul, but also to Seattle," said a Congressional report last year." There is little evidence to back this up.
Copyright 2000 Independent / UK