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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 11, December 1996

Panel endorses US National Intelligence Council assessment of missile threat

In early December, a panel of experts appointed by the Senate to investigate a 1995 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE 95-19) on the threat posed by ballistic missiles, produced by the National Intelligence Council (NIC), found that both its methods and conclusions were valid and reasonable. The NIE claimed that no State, other than those already possessing ballistic missiles, was likely to pose a threat to the 48 contiguous States of the US (i.e. excluding Alaska and Hawaii) and Canada for the foreseeable future. Republicans had charged that the NIC was politically motivated, and effectively under instructions to reach conclusions endorsing existing Administration policy and predictions.

The panel's verdict was revealed to the Senate Intelligence Committee by its Chair, former CIA Director Robert Gates, who stated (4 December):

"[We have] found no evidence of politicization... [If anything, there was] too much of a hands-off approach by senior intelligence community management in the preparation of the estimate."

Gates concluded that this 'hands-off' approach meant that the NIE was "politically naive and not as useful as it could have been" - a significant crumb of Republican comfort. Gates, however, was satisfied with the asssessment of the likely threat from one 'rogue' State, North Korea:

"North Korea is one of the areas where we felt the chain of analysis within the intelligence community was very strong... [North Korea's ballistic missile programme] is going more slowly than was anticipated in 1993."

The NIE's conclusions were defended by NIC Vice-Chair John McLaughlin, also addressing the Senate Committee on 4 December:

"[No State will] develop or acquire ballistic missiles capable of reaching the contiguous 48 States or Canada by 2010... unauthorized launch of Chinese or Russian missiles remains...a remote possibility...[but one] that we would become more concerned about...in the event of a severe internal crisis in either country."

Reports: Threat from Russian, Chinese missiles is deemed remote, United States Information Agency, 5 December; North Korea still far from developing ICBM, AP Datastream Washington News Wire, 5 December; Committee finds long-range missile threat report not politicised, Armed Forces Newswire Service, 5 December.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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