When it comes to national defense, appearance is almost everything, as both the US and the USSR learned and practiced throughout the Cold War. President Reagan's "Star Wars" space laser program was never intended to be fielded, but the threat was instrumental in bringing the Soviets to their knees. Similarly, when American scientists entered the former USSR to help decommission nuclear missiles under the various disarmament treaties they discovered that as little as 50% of the Soviet missile fleet was armed with warheads, and even less than that was capable of successful launch, flight, and detonation. Both nations intentionally spent hoards of money on weapons systems that were more for show than for use -- and that strategy was highly classified at the time and known to very few.

I'm reminded of this history when I read about alleged fraud in our missile interceptor program. I don't have any first-hand knowledge of the program, but I know how the defense industry works. Classified programs are highly compartmentalized, with lines drawn based on the infamous "need to know", or NTK. If the team working on part A doesn't need to know how part B works, they won't, and they might not even know that part B exists. Even though each team working on the antimissile program believes that the program is real and that the component they're responsible for will work, it's entirely plausible that the whole program is nothing more than a show for the benefit of our enemies who may otherwise think they have a chance to nuke us with ICBMs.

A senior Congressional investigator has accused his agency of covering up a scientific fraud among builders of a $26 billion system meant to shield the nation from nuclear attack. The disputed weapon is the centerpiece of the Bush administration's antimissile plan, which is expected to cost more than $250 billion over the next two decades.

The investigator, Subrata Ghoshroy of the Government Accountability Office, led technical analyses of a prototype warhead for the antimissile weapon in an 18-month study, winning awards for his "great care" and "tremendous skill and patience."

Mr. Ghoshroy now says his agency ignored evidence that the two main contractors had doctored data, skewed test results and made false statements in a 2002 report that credited the contractors with revealing the warhead's failings to the government.

Despite being well-intentioned, "whistle-blowers" like Subrata Ghoshroy may be undermining an expensive and critical deception on the part of our government, and thereby undermining our national security.



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