1996 Congressional Hearings
Intelligence and Security

Robert Gates

Intelligence Analysis on the
Long-Range Missile Threat to the United States
December 4, 1996 - Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Congress directed the director of Central Intelligence to review the underlying assumptions and conclusions of National Intelligence Estimate 95-19, "Emerging Missile Threats to North America During the Next 15 Years." The legislation required that this review be carried out, quote, "by an independent, nongovernmental panel of individuals with appropriate expertise and experience."

Director Deutch asked me to chair the panel, and he appointed to it as well Richard Armitage, who was the coordinator for emergency humanitarian assistance to the former Soviet Union in 1992 and '93, the presidential special negotiator for the Philippine bases agreement in 1989 and assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs under President Reagan.

Dr. Sidney Drell, professor and deputy director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, member of the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, member of this committee's technology review panel and the House Armed Services Committee panel on nuclear weapon safety.

Dr. Arnold Kantor, former undersecretary of state for political affairs, special assistant to President Bush for defense policy and arms control at the National Security Council and director of national security strategies program at RAND.

Dr. Janne Nolan, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, adjunct professor at Georgetown University, past senior designee to the Senate Armed Services Committee and member of President Clinton's national security transition team.

Mr. Harry Rowan, professor emeritus with the graduate school of business administration at Stanford, former head of the RAND Corporation, former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, former assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

And finally, Major General Jasper Welch, United States Air Force. Jasper served as assistant deputy chief of staff for the Air Force for research, development and acquisition, assistant chief of staff for studies and analysis at Headquarters U.S. Air Force, and defense policy coordinator for the National Security Council.

The conclusions of our report are divided into three sections: Politicization, process and presentation. The findings of the panel in every case are unanimous.

First, politicization. Certain members of Congress and others allege that NIE 95-19 had been politicized, implying that intelligence community analysts' views had been influenced by policymakers or individual policy preferences seeking to downplay an emerging missile threat. The panel found no evidence of politicization and is completely satisfied that the analysts' views were based on the evidence before them and their substantive analysis. There was no breach of the integrity of the intelligence process.

Beyond this, the panel believes that unsubstantiated allegations challenging the integrity of intelligence community analysts by those who simply disagree with their conclusions, including by members of Congress, are irresponsible. Intelligence forecasts do not represent revealed truth, and it should be possible to disagree with them without attacking the character and integrity of those who prepared them or the integrity of the intelligence process itself.

Now, with respect to the intelligence process, while the conclusions of a national intelligence estimate must not be influenced by policy debates or views, estimates cannot be prepared in a political vacuum, at least if they're to be relevant. It is the responsibility and the task of senior intelligence community officials to ensure that an estimate, especially when controversial issues are involved, addresses its subject matter in such a way as to anticipate questions and potential criticisms while fully protecting the integrity of the intelligence process.

Senior intelligence officials must make certain that the estimate addresses the issue in a comprehensive manner that provides both perspective and context. They should take special steps to ensure that an estimate with conclusions which may be unwelcome to a policy requester or which alters previous judgments provides unusually comprehensive analysis, clearly states the reasons for any change in previous judgments, explores alternative scenarios, and is candid about uncertainties and shortcomings in evidence.

It is the panel's view that there was too much of a hands-off approach by senior intelligence community management in the preparation of this estimate. The result was not a politicized estimate but one that was politically naive and not as useful as it could have been.

Second point: What were seemingly minor changes in the title of the estimate during the period of preparation narrowed the scope of the estimate and opened the way for embarrassing criticism. The failure to more fully consider Alaska and Hawaii and the separate treatment of the contiguous 48 states, frankly, was foolish from every perspective.

And third, and finally, on process, after months of delay and slow work on the terms of reference and the first draft, the final drafting of this estimate was done in haste in the fall of 1995. An estimate that should have been drafted with unusual care and thorough analysis was rushed to completion. This haste led to many of the presentational and analytical problems that we identified in the estimate.

And now, finally, presentation. Perhaps the most serious deficiency in the estimate is that the intelligence community's conclusions in the estimate with respect to the intercontinental ballistic missile threat to the United States are based on a stronger evidentiary and technical base than is presented in the estimate.

There was much that could have been added to the main text of the estimate that would have strengthened the analysts' case. For example, first, a review of successful missile programs capable of ICBM range in other countries such as India and its space-launch vehicle or China or even the United States and the Soviet Union would have shown that the lengthy time required to develop and test a ballistic missile with an intercontinental range, even to Hawaii. For example, China took more than 20 years to develop its CSS-3, and India took more than 15 years to develop its space-launch vehicle.

Second, the estimate failed to point out that development of a ballistic missile that could threaten the United States involves two separate challenges: Acquisition of the hardware and system integration. Even with clandestinely acquired critical technologies and hardware, integrating that hardware into the missiles would be a major and time-consuming challenge even with foreign engineering help.

Third, the text of the estimate should have presented more information on the technical obstacles to development of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the United States, such obstacles as propulsion, re-entry vehicles, guidance, staging, the technical challenges of moving from a Scud-based derivative missile to an ICBM and more. Much of that is in the backup materials to the estimate, but not in the text of the estimate itself.

Fourth, the estimate did not highlight at the outset where the intelligence community's analysis had changed since the last estimate, and with specificity why it changed.

Fifth, the estimate was not as categorical as it could have been that there would have to be a flight test of any missile actually intended to hit the United States. No country in the world has developed a long-range ballistic missile with multiple stages without testing it, if only for demonstration purposes. Further, virtually every flight test program for a new missile has lasted several years, no matter which country has developed it.

Sixth, and finally on this point, the estimate should have pointed out that missile development programs and weapons of mass destruction programs in other countries represent one of the highest- priority issues for U.S. intelligence agencies. And in this light, the estimate should have provided the policymakers what analysts will be looking for as evidence of progress in such missile programs. It should have provided an estimate of minimum likely times from observation of such a new development to the initial operating capability of a deployed threat.

Although the panel was impressed by the technical analysis and broad agreement across the intelligence community -- and in our briefings, we found this to be more so than in the estimate -- there were also some very important weaknesses and deficiencies in the analytical approach in terms of potential threats to the United States.

First, an important deficiency was the failure to address adequately the motives and objectives of governments developing missile programs and how they affect technology needs. The brief discussion in the estimate of motive focuses on prestige and deterrence.

When we were doing estimates on Soviet strategic forces, given their vast size, capability was considered all-important, and most policymakers did not object to the technical focus of these estimates. With the ballistic missile programs we're seeing now, however, motive matters a great deal and can significantly affect technology. What is required technically for a crude terror weapon is very different than what is required for a weapon that is militarily useful.

Indeed, it was conceivable to the panel that a country might assemble a missile that appears to have intercontinental range but never even test it, in order to intimidate the United States or other countries from taking action. With respect to ballistic missiles of strategic range, motive and how that might affect technology is given short shrift in the estimate because operational capability is judged to be so far into the future.

Second, by contrast, the panel believes the estimate did not give nearly enough attention to the potential for missiles launched from within several hundred miles of U.S. territory; for example, land- attack cruise missiles and sea-launched ballistic missiles. It also discounted the likelihood of such deployments. And so we ended up with a conflicting rationale. ICBMs were considered technically infeasible and thus motive was relatively unimportant. On the other hand, shorter-range missiles were considered technically feasible even now, but the general judgment was made that it was not likely.

This inconsistency brought us to another problem. On a challenge as important as the emerging missile threat to the United States, this estimate fails to ask a critical question: What if our potential adversaries pursue approaches, technical or otherwise, unexpected by the intelligence community? The consequences of being wrong on this issue are very high. This problem in our view cries out for an intelligence community-commissioned "red team," a group of technically innovative men and women outside the intelligence community challenged to explore alternative approaches that could lead to a missile threat, ballistic or cruise, to the United States earlier than 2010 and to keep on - (brief audio break) - to assure that there will be adequate time for appropriate U.S. responses to any observation of a new potential threat.

Fourth, the panel also believes that the possibility of a threat from missiles of less than intercontinental range warrants more attention than given in the estimate. Since developing missiles with sufficient range was identified as one of the most difficult technical obstacles which would have to be overcome before the United States would fact an ICBM threat, the lack of serious attention to possible alternative threats is all the more noteworthy.

Five, the panel believes the estimate places too much of a burden on the missile technology control regime as a means of limiting the flow of missile technology to rogue states.

Six, with major forces of change still in play in Russia, the panel believes the estimate's discussion of unauthorized launch from that country is superficial and may be overly sanguine. All agree that a launch unauthorized by Russian political leaders is a remote possibility, but it appear to be technically possible.

In this connection, finally, the seventh point, the panel notes that the economic conditions inside Russia are affecting the military, the military-industrial complex and weapons design and engineering institutions, and may provide incentives that increase the risk of leakage of hardware and expertise that could help governments aspiring to develop ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and weapons of mass destruction.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the estimate in our view too easily dismisses missile scenarios alternative to an indigenously developed and launched intercontinental ballistic missile by countries hostile to the United States, alternatives such as a land-attack cruise missile. The estimate should have assured policy makers that this issue will receive continuing high priority, and that all possible technical alternatives will be investigated vigorously and time to respond could be provided.

Mr. Chairman, in international affairs 15 years is a very long time. A decade ago the notion that the Soviet Union would collapse and disappear within five years would have been regarded by most as ridiculous. The United States cannot rule out the possibility of a strategic change of direction or policy in Russia or China or in other countries over a 15-year span of time that might lead to the sale of a long-range missile system to a third-world country. Nor can the United States rule out that potential adversaries will turn to missile threats other than ballistic missiles of intercontinental range.

All that said, however, the panel believes the intelligence community has a strong case that for sound technical reasons the United States is unlikely to face an indigenously developed and tested intercontinental ballistic missile threat from the third world before 2010, even taking into account the acquisition of foreign hardware and technical assistance, and that case is even stronger than was presented in the estimate.