A commission appointed by congressional leaders from both parties is watching the development of ballistic missles in third world countries. Is the US in danger? Margaret Warner leads a discussion.
MARGARET WARNER: Third world countries are getting closer to developing ballistic missiles capable of striking the United States. That warning came today from a commission appointed by congressional leaders of both parties headed by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Its members included former defense and intelligence officials, scientists, analysts, and retired generals.
The panel was asked to assess the ballistic missile threat to the United States after a controversial CIA report three years ago declared that any such threat was more than fifteen years away. But today, after a six-month study, the commission said the potential lead time may be a lot shorter than that, particularly from Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. For more we're joined by the chairman, Donald Rumsfeld, and by commission member Richard Garwin, a physicist and nuclear weapons expert who has consulted frequently for the government. Welcome, gentlemen. Mr. Rumsfeld, how imminent is this threat?
DONALD RUMSFELD, Chairman, Ballistic Missile Threat Commission: Well, we have concluded, unanimously I might add after some six months of work with Republicans and Democrats, a bipartisan group, that the United States is moving into a period where we may very well have little or no warning as to that type of a capability, that is to say a ballistic missile that could strike the United States with a weapon of mass destruction. It is a different view than was expressed by the intelligence community, as you suggested.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, explain what you mean by warning. Do you mean for the time between when we know what country is working on it and they're deployed, or are we talking about the time between that and when it's launched?
DONALD RUMSFELD: No. No. It is not the launch warning. It is the former. That is to say, it is-when will the United States have knowledge that a country like North Korea or Orion actually has a ballistic missile that can strike the United States? It is that warning that we're referring to.
MARGARET WARNER: Between the warning that we know they're working on it and then they actually have that.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Exactly.
MARGARET WARNER: Before we continue, explain briefly, what is a ballistic missile?
RICHARD GARWIN, Ballistic Missile Threat Commission: A ballistic missile is like a skyrocket. You light it off from the ground. It takes off vertically, for a minute or two it accelerates, and then it falls above the atmosphere to its target hundreds of thousands-ten thousand miles away. So it isn't powered like an aircraft or a Cruise missile. It can be armed with a nuclear warhead, biological weapon agents, or chemical agents. And we worry most about nuclear warheads and BW, biological warfare.
MARGARET WARNER: So why do you think or why did you conclude that these countries are evolving much more rapidly than we originally thought?
RICHARD GARWIN: First, they have a lot of shorter range and intermediate range missiles. But they work together. There's a kind of globalization of the missile activities in these countries. North Korea received some SCUD missiles, originally Soviet SCUD's in the 1980's.
MARGARET WARNER: And those are fairly short range.
RICHARD GARWIN: Reverse-engineered them. They're a few hundred mile range. Sent them back to other countries. Other countries then have stocks of these missiles. North Korea has evolved it into a longer-range missile, something like eight hundred/nine hundred miles, so called no dawn missile, and that's the kind of missile, for instance, that Pakistan test-fired early in June, a missile very similar to the no dawn. So those are pretty much universal. They're commodities. North Korea has said needs money and a couple of weeks ago it said it's going to go on manufacturing and selling missiles.
Now, what will its engineers do when they've finished wit the no dawn, which they have? They'll move on. They'll find another product either for the commercial markets, or for their own use, and they're working on a longer range missile too. They haven't test fired it, and that's the one that could go perhaps as far as the westernmost islands of Hawaii or some of the Allutions, and if they worked harder on it and made it out of aluminum, then it could reach the United States, itself, the main 48 contiguous states.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And while we're talking about North Korea, how long is your estimate that it would take for North Korea to develop the capability to actually strike Mainland US?
RICHARD GARWIN: It depends on how hard they work on it, because these things come at a cost, and we don't know that they've made that decision. But what we say is from the moment that they do, it could take them about five years to have the first test of an ICBM. ICBM has to have--intercontinental range ballistic missile--has to have at least two stages. They've never tested staging. It's something that needs to be tested. But on their one-on their test of the no dawn missile in 1993, they deployed it about the same time as they tested it.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Give us an assessment of Iran and Iraq, the other two countries that you particularly highlighted in the report. And I think, again, we have a map at least to illustrate some of this.
DONALD RUMSFELD: In the case of Iran they have a well developed SCUD technology. And as Dr. Garwin said, from the time that they decided to go for an intercontinental ballistic missile, they probably could do it in something like five years if they had outside assistance, and they do. They have extensive assistance. They have it from Russia. They have it from China.
And they have interaction with North Korea. And there is no question but a country like Iran that decides it wants to have this capability can get it for a lot of reasons. In this post cold war world we see liberalized controls over export controls. We see espionage continuing. We see leaks of confidential information, a multiplicity of international scientific changes, students studying all over, Internet explaining to people how they can do this.
MARGARET WARNER: But they're getting this information from everywhere.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Everywhere. The United States, Western Europe, a great deal from Russia. There is no question but that Russia has just been an enormous help to Iran's ballistic missile and weapon of mass destruction programs. In the case of Iraq they lost some of their capability in the Gulf War. They had been inspectors sitting on them, which has inhibited their activities, although even under the UN resolutions they're still allowed to work on ballistic missiles at 150 kilometers or less, and there's no restriction on payload, so that they have kept together the mass of their people to work on nuclear as well as ballistic missile activities. And once those sanctions are off it's unambiguous to me at least that Saddam Hussein has an enormous appetite for these things and will certainly start them again.
MARGARET WARNER: And do you care to venture how many years?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, I'd say in the case of Iraq you'd have to guess-depending again-as Dick says-on how hard they work at it, but I would assume they would work pretty hard, and I would think it would be somewhere between five and ten.
MARGARET WARNER: Explain to a layman how you know this and you as a commission came to these estimates that are so different from the earlier CIA estimate.
RICHARD GARWIN: Well, we didn't invent any intelligence. We had the intelligence provided to us by the CIA, by the national security agency. And this is of various types. There's human intelligence. You have somebody either for money or for principles tells us the information that we would like to have. There's signal intelligence. You intercept communication.
There's imaging intelligence, satellite pictures. But what's different is that we emphasized not so much everything that we saw but we asked what would be required to carry out this program. And then we looked to see whether some of those things were in place. Now in the 1995 assessment that you mentioned they minimized the influence of external technology transfer, and yet, since 1994 we see this all the time.
MARGARET WARNER: The things that he was talking about.
RICHARD GARWIN: The other approach to a short warning threat is ship launch ballistic missiles. They all have SCUD's. You can take a SCUD transporter, erector, launcher, put it in the hold of a merchant ship, and lo and behold you have a capability to strike the United States and not only with a small payload but with a tried and true missile all along the coast in a hundred or two hundred miles. So that's not something the United States would do, but other countries would do it, and that wouldn't give us much warning either.
MARGARET WARNER: You also concluded that-you wrote that the intelligence community's ability to provide timely and accurate estimates of ballistic missile threats to the US is eroding. What led you to say that? And why is it happening?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, a series of things. All of us on this commission at varied times have been intimately involved as users of intelligence and have dealt with the intelligence community's product. We came back and we spent an intensive six months, some forty-two meetings, hundreds of hours, and our conclusion was that it has eroded. Now, partly it's because there have been non-trivial reductions in their budgets and in their numbers of analysts, in their capabilities. Another reason is, is they're spreading themselves thinner. You used to watch the Soviet Union.
Now they're having to look at a whole series of countries, not a few test ranges but a number-multiples of that test ranges. Third, they're being asked to do a lot of other things-transnational issues-narcotics, terrorism, environmental issues, support for military operations around the world, peacekeeping activities. And there's only so much capability and you start spreading it thin and not focusing on this, and the work is simply not of the same quality that it once was. I think that the other thing is-for whatever reason-we found that we approached it somewhat differently than they did. We looked at not only what was known, we looked at what was not known. We looked at what was possible, and we looked at how other people were doing.
And one last reason I would say our view is different is that our commission was given access to literally all of the sensitive information. Our intelligence community is compartmentalized, which means that they're able to look only in a narrow segment of the intelligence information. We were able to look at a cross counting thing. And that's a very different thing, because with this massive amount of foreign trade that's taking place and technology transfer, it's important to see what's happening in other countries so that you can begin looking for what might happen in the other countries. And it seems to us that that is a looking at alternative scenarios and alternative hypotheses is something that is enormously useful when there are-there will always be things we don't know. There are a great many things we don't know. But when that's the case and you need to make decisions based on less than full information, why it's helpful to have looked at alternative hypotheses.
MARGARET WARNER: Does the imminence of this threat, as you perceive it, mean that the United States now has to think about building a missile defense system?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, what we said in our conclusion was this. We said, look, we've moved into a new period, we're in a period of little or no warning, and that tells us that the United States Government, all elements of the United States Government, needs to sit down and review and revise as appropriate those policies or procedures or strategies or equipment, whatever, that are based on the assumption of extended warning, because we don't see the extended warning being there.
Now we did not go the next step and say, therefore, the United States should do A, B, or C, but there is no question that this assessment is-diverges from the prior assessment and that it is our conviction that it does require the United States Government to make that review and make those adjustments.
MARGARET WARNER: Briefly, do you think this will renew the debate over whether to build missile defenses?
RICHARD GARWIN: I think it will, and we'll need to look very closely at the effectiveness of the proposed missile defenses against the threats that we described.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. I'm sorry. We have to leave it there. But thank you both very much.