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Thursday July 16, 1998

Missile Attack Could Come With Little Warning

By Laura Meyrs, Staff Writer

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 missile threat.

"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 emerging powers."

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 said.

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 immediate concern.

"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 Tuesday.

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.

1998 CNN

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