15 July 1998
The following is the text of a letter Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet sent to various members of Congress July 15, 1998, regarding the Rumsfeld Commission's report.
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With the Rumsfeld Commission's report scheduled for release today, I wanted to give you my initial thoughts based on the briefings I have received on it.
I want to make clear from the outset that we have long considered monitoring the emerging ballistic missile threat against the United States and its interests as one of our most important missions in the post-Cold War world. As I understand it, the Commission's report agrees with our long-standing judgment that the threat is complex, serious, and growing and confronts the Intelligence Community with an array of complicated problems that require innovative solutions.
The differences center more on when specific threats will materialize, rather than whether there is a serious threat. In our March 1998 Annual Report to Congress on Foreign Missile Developments, we underline the significant threat posed today by medium-range missiles, our continuing concern about existing and emerging ICBMs, and the immediate danger that comes from the proliferation activities of countries that possess or are developing such systems.
After the Intelligence Community's 1995 National Intelligence Estimate on the ICBM threat was published, we took action on the criticisms that report generated and incorporated numerous recommendations into our analysis for our 1998 report. We continually reassess the ballistic missile threat, and by Congressional direction, will report our findings annually. Work is already underway on the 1999 annual report, and we are looking at some issues differently as a result of the interaction with the Commission over the past several months. In particular, we are reviewing how we characterize uncertainties and alternative scenarios.
We have the professional responsibility to continue to evaluate timelines for ICBM development. I understand the Commission's timelines for when the United States will face an ICBM threat from a country other than Russia, China, and North Korea are shorter than those in our March 1998 report. I believe the conclusions of our report were supported by the available evidence and were well tested in community debate; they were also reviewed by outside experts. But where evidence is limited and the stakes are high, we need to keep challenging our assumptions.
Innovative efforts we are pursuing will enhance our analysis. Red teaming analyses already underway on converting space launch vehicles and pushing Scud technology beyond perceived limits will ensure that we define the possibility, likelihood, and implications of alternative technical options for short-cutting developmental challenges--an improvement I believe the Commission would embrace. I have mandated red teaming in all our strategic analysis to sharpen our thinking, to position us better to deal with collection gaps, and to improve our warning to policymakers.
Our 1998 report also noted that a country could purchase an ICBM or space launch vehicle, or a turnkey facility to produce either--events that could lead to deployments in as little as a few months to a few years. Although our report made the analytic judgment that such developments were unlikely, this does not mean that we minimize the threat. Indeed, we continue to pay close attention to it--both operationally and analytically. At the same time, our report judged that indigenous ICBM development, even with foreign assistance, would take considerable time. That said, we noted that the threat from medium-range missiles to US interests was of more immediate concern (Iran, Iraq, and North Korea--all appear more interested at this time in developing regional missile capabilities). We will not ignore the fact that some countries pursuing medium-range missiles will continue to seek the technologies and other foreign assistance to develop ICBMs, and, in the meantime, could share these technologies with others.
In closing I emphasize the seriousness with which we view the emerging ballistic missile threat to the United States. The Commission's report will inspire healthy debate about many of the details surrounding this threat and how we deal with it. But there will be no disagreement from us on the need to focus relentlessly on this serious threat. Our country should expect no less.
George J. Tenet