WASHINGTON DESK - A ballistic missile attack against targets in
the United States could be mounted with "little or no warning," a
bipartisan commission concluded in a report that challenges
previous intelligence estimates.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a strong proponent of a national
missile defense system, called the assessment released Wednesday
"the most important warning about our national security system
since the end of the Cold War."
Unlike the decades-long nuclear and missile standoff between the
United States and the then-Soviet Union, however, Gingrich said
deterrence would be unlikely to work with nations such as North
Korea, Iran or Iraq.
The nine-member commission, nominated last year by Congress and
selected by the director of the CIA, unanimously recommended a full
review of U.S. analyses and policies regarding the ballistic
"The major implication of our conclusions is that warning time
is reduced," said Donald Rumsfeld, former defense secretary and
the commission chairman. "Indeed, we see an environment of little
or no warning of ballistic missile threats to the U.S. from several
In 1995, a widely criticized assessment by the Central
Intelligence Agency concluded that no country other than the five
established nuclear powers would be able to threaten U.S. cities
with ballistic missiles for another 15 years.
Rumsfeld said the world has changed since that CIA estimate.
"If you want to call that challenging them, I suppose it is," he
said. "We reached different conclusions."
The commission said the threat comes from emerging nuclear
states like North Korea, Iran and Iraq, which can easily gain
technology and hide weapons development. China and Russia, also
missile threats, were cited as the largest proliferators.
"The knowledge needed to design and build a nuclear weapon is
now widespread," an unclassified executive summary of the report
The report said it would take five years for a country to
develop weapons of mass destruction. "During several of those
years, the U.S. might not be aware that such a decision had been
made," the report added. "Available alternative means of delivery
can shorten the warning time of deployment nearly to zero.
In a letter to members of Congress, CIA Director George Tenet
called the threat from ballistic missiles "complex, serious and
growing" and agreed with the commission on the "need to focus
relentlessly" on it. But he noted that an intelligence report this
year said the threat from medium-range missiles was of more
"We will not ignore the fact that some countries pursuing
medium-range missiles will continue to see the technologies and
other foreign assistance to develop ICBMs (intercontinental
ballistic missiles), and in the meantime, could share these
technologies with others," he said.
The classified 300-plus-page report was delivered to Congress
Wednesday's unclassified version said nations who "do not
welcome the U.S. role as a stabilizing power" view ballistic
missiles as a useful tool against U.S. conventional and strategic
forces around the world. The report said ballistic missiles also
give nations the ability to seek out U.S. targets: North Korea is
developing missiles with a 6,200-mile range, which could reach
Arizona or even Wisconsin, the report said. Iran is seeking
advanced missile components that could result in weapons with
similar range, capable of hitting Pennsylvania or Minnesota.
As for detecting missile activity, the report noted that U.S.
intelligence was surprised by Pakistan's test launch in April of
its Ghauri medium-range ballistic missile as well as North Korea's
deployment of its No Dong missiles after what appeared to have been
only one test.
"Deception and denial efforts are intense and often successful,
and U.S. collection and analysis assets are limited," the report
said. "Together, they create a high risk of continued surprise."
Panel members included former CIA director James Woolsey, a
frequent critic of the former CIA assessment; Barry Blechman,
former assistant director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament
Agency; Gen. Lee Butler, former commander of the U.S. Strategic
Command; physicist Richard Garwin, consultant to the Energy
Department's Sandia National Laboratory, Albuquerque, N.M.; William
Graham, former director of the White House office of Science and
Technology Policy; William Schneider Jr., a former presidential
adviser on arms control; Gen. Larry Welch, former commander of the
U.S. Strategic Air Command; and Paul Wolfowitz, former
undersecretary of defense.