Before commencing, I would like to take care of one administrative matter on behalf of the distinguished gentleman from Florida, Mr. Petersen. After consulting with Mr. Dellums, I ask unanimous consent that effective today, Mr. Petersen be assigned as a member of the Subcommittee on Military Personnel in order to fill an existing vacancy.
Is there objection? Hearing none, without objection it is so ordered.
I want to welcome our witnesses and thank them for being with us this afternoon. The committee is beginning a five-week stretch of hearings leading up to the Easter break in April. While the full committee and the subcommittees will address a range of topics in the weeks ahead, the topic of today's hearing -- ballistic missile defense -- will once again be an issue of great interest and focus.
As everyone knows, the President vetoed the defense authorization bill last December due primarily to the legislation's direction that a national missile defense system be deployed by the year 2003. As I commented during the veto override debate, on a political level, the veto did serve to more clearly define the stark differences between the Clinton administration and this Congress on key national security issues such as ballistic missile defense. It is unfortunate that an issue as fundamentally important as whether or not the American people should be defended against the threat of ballistic missiles in the decade ahead has become so controversial-- but it is where we find ourselves.
Adding further to the controversy, the Department of Defense announced last week that they do not intend to spend all of the funding appropriated for national missile defense programs this fiscal year, as well as the surprising decision to delay several of the most promising theater missile defense programs -- an area in which I did not believe there was much controversy until now. The combination of the President's strong opposition to deploying a national missile defense and now, an apparently conscious decision to scale-back theater missile programs leaves us plenty to begin sorting through.
This committee has a responsibility to raise the visibility of important security issues and through discussion, debate and even disagreement, to hopefully inform and educate the citizens of this country. Citizens who, interestingly enough, polling data indicates believe that this country already has a defense against ballistic missiles.
One of the principal reasons behind the President's veto was his assertion that there was not a significant enough threat to the U.S. in the next decade to warrant deployment of a national missile defense system. This afternoon's hearing is intended to explore this very issue of the threat in more detail.I would also note having read through our witnesses statements, that there is some interest in the issue of whether or not the Intelligence Community has downgraded the threat in its most recent National Intelligence Estimate completed late last year. Because this is a complex issue, involves highly classified analysis and the question of politicization has been raised, the committee will have to address it in a more comprehensive and detailed fashion in the future. To assist the committee in its analysis of this issue, I have written to GAO and asked for their independent assessment of the recent NIE in comparison to both past intelligence assessments as well as relative to the broader body of authoritative unclassified analysis. Once GAO has completed its work, the committee will be in a stronger position to pursue the issue of intelligence estimates in more depth.
I would also like to say that I welcome the remarkable speed with which the Intelligence Community has declassified much of the recent NIE for the purposes of Mr. Cooper' s testimony later this afternoon. Last year I wrote to then Acting CIA Director Admiral Studeman and urged greater efforts to provide declassified analysis on issues such as proliferation, weapons of mass destruction and missile delivery systems. While polite, the response I received about the sensitivity of information and sources, and the lack of subsequent unclassified analysis speak for itself.
So now, almost one year later, the essence of the most recent classified NIE has been suddenly declassified for testimony today. It is not enough to permit comprehensive or comparative analysis in an unclassified form, but knowing how willing the intelligence community has apparently become to declassifying heretofor sensitive analysis is encouraging.
Accordingly, let me introduce our first panel of witnesses:
Mr. Frank Gaffney -- Director of the Center for Security Policy Dr. William Graham -- the former Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology and, Dr. Keith Payne -- President of the National Institute for Public Policy
Following our first panel's testimony and the members' questions, the committee will next hear from Mr. Richard Cooper-- Chairman of the National Intelligence Council
Before turning this over to our witnesses, let me recognize the gentleman from California, and Ranking Democrat, Mr. Dellums, for any comments he might like to make. Due to the interest and involvement of the R&D Subcommittee on this issue, following Mr. Dellums I would invite Mr. Spratt, the subcommittee' s Ranking Democrat followed by Mr. Weldon, the subcommittee's Chairman, to make whatever brief opening comments they might like.