James Woolsey -- a former CIA chief -- and Rebeccah Heinrichs worry that Barack Obama's administration might inadvertently give away technical secrets in its quest for missile-defense cooperation with Russia. "Should the United States share critical information about its missile defenses with the Russians, a Russian entity -- official or otherwise -- could pass that information along to Tehran, enabling the Iranians to capitalize on the weaknesses in the U.S. system," they write.
If so, this would be just another problem to add to the long list of concerns about the deeply flawed missile-defense concept -- but it shouldn't be the main thing keeping Woolsey and Heinrichs up at night.
What they should really be worried about is that the system will never protect the United States or NATO -- no matter how many more billions of taxpayer dollars are thrown at it -- and that it may actually lead to more nuclear weapons worldwide, not fewer.
Missile defense, as it's currently being set up, can be easily defeated by any country that can field ballistic missiles -- no deep secrets leaked from the bowels of the Pentagon are needed at all. As the CIA's own top specialist in strategic nuclear programs testified in 2000, "Many countries, such as North Korea [and] Iran … probably would rely initially on readily available technology … to develop penetration aids and countermeasures. These countries could develop countermeasures based on these technologies by the time they flight test their missiles."
Nothing has changed in the intervening decade to change this calculus. The simplest countermeasures are cheap inflatable balloon decoys similar to the shiny ones at children's birthday parties. Because the missile-defense interceptors try to strike the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) warheads in the vacuum of space, these balloons and the warhead would travel together, making it impossible to tell apart the decoys from the real thing. An enemy bent on delivering a nuclear payload to the United States could inflate many such balloons near the warhead and overwhelm the defense system by swamping it with fake signals. No technical secrets are needed to defeat the system because these obvious weaknesses have been repeatedly pointed out by the country's top scientists since the 1960s.
As the Pentagon's proposed missile-defense system is predominantly sea-based, an even simpler way for North Korea (or Iran, possibly in the future) to defeat it would be to wait until the weather is stormy. The missile-defense system has not been tested in really rough sea conditions and is well-known to be unreliable beyond a certain sea state.
We could certainly pray that North Korea or Iran attacks during calm sea conditions. But a faith-based missile defense is probably not what most taxpayers had in mind when they were asked to pay for it -- a tab that so far runs into the hundreds of billions of dollars.
So, if missile defense could be so easily defeated by North Korea and Iran, why are the Russians so up in arms about it? The answer is simple: Their military planners are paid to be paranoid -- just like the ones in the Pentagon -- and they must assume a worst-case scenario in which they treat the system as being highly effective, even when it isn't.