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On June 23, 1997, a prototype of a U.S. military “kill vehicle” designed to intercept nuclear missiles lifted off from a launch pad on the South Pacific atoll of Kwajalein. Its purpose was not to seek out and destroy. Instead, it was to fly by and observe a group of objects that had been launched into space more than 20 minutes earlier from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Santa Barbara, CA, almost 8,000 kilometers away-and determine whether it was possible to distinguish a cloud of decoys from the mock warhead they protected.

It was a big day for nuclear missile defense. Since the decoys used in this experiment were of very simple design, if the experiment showed that the warhead could not be reliably identified, it could mean the whole Star Wars defense plan would for all practical purposes be unworkable, since the most primitive of adversaries could defeat it with the simplest of decoys. Of even greater importance, it would also be a clear demonstration of the fundamental physical reasons why any missile defense that relied on kill vehicles of this type could never be successful.

It worked-at least that’s what we were told. But shortly after the experiment flew, three courageous people-a former employee of defense contractor TRW turned whistle-blower, a TRW retiree and a U.S. Department of Defense investigator-brought new evidence to light (see “Postol vs. the Pentagon”). Their information, coupled with my own investigation and repeated calls for a full accounting from U.S. representatives Howard Berman and Edward Markey, pointed to a different story-one of failure, a finding seemingly confirmed this February by a draft of a Government Accounting Office follow-on study, as reported by the journal Science. I believe that the top management of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (previously known as the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization) and its contractors have misrepresented or distorted the results derived from the experiment and rigged the follow-on test program that continues to this day. These deliberate actions have hidden the system’s critical vulnerabilities from the White House, Congress and the American citizens whom the missile defense program was supposed to protect.

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