Clinton administration officials misled the Joint Chiefs of Staff about efforts to reach an agreement with Russia at last month's summit on the complex issue of clarifying the Anti-Ballastic Missile (ABM ) Treaty, Pentagon officials said.
To prevent details from being disclosed to the press, the military service chiefs were not told in advance of the Moscow summit about a White House plan to hold detailed talks between the two presidents aimed at reaching a partial agreement on what short-range anti-missile defense systems are legal under the 1972 ABM Treaty, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Several days before the April 22 summit in Moscow, a Pentagon briefer, explaining the White House summit agenda for defense issues, told a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the issue of ABM theater missile defense (TMD) demarcation would not be brought up at meetings between President Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, or other defense officials, they said.
`At the [Joint Chiefs] meeting, the chiefs were told ABM -TMD demarcation will not be discussed at the summit,' one official said. `In fact that briefing was part of a deliberate deception plan on the part of the White House.'
The postsummit realization that some officials acted dishonestly with the military chiefs upset many in the Pentagon, particularly officials charged with developing missile defenses.
`Everybody was outraged,' one official said. `The only conclusion we could come to was that the White House negotiated with the Russians against its own military.'
A second official said a senior general who took part in the briefing, held in the secure Pentagon room known as `the tank,' specifically asked the briefer to clarify whether the issue would be raised. The general, concerned over Russian backtracking at earlier arms talks, was told missile defense would not be discussed at all, the official said.
`That conversation did occur, and that answer was received,' a spokesman for the general said, asking that his name and service not be identified.
The briefer, an aide to Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained that the only defense topics to be discussed at the summit would be the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, efforts to reach a nuclear test ban treaty, and chemical and biological weapons.
Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin said during a postsummit news conference on April 22 that they had discussed the ABM issue extensively.
Mr. Clinton told reporters `real progress' was made on the ABM -TMD issue during five hours of talks. `I'm convinced that if we do this in an open way that has a lot of integrity, I think we'll all be just fine on this and I think it will work out very well,' Mr. Clinton said.
A new round of ABM talks with Moscow on missile demarcation began May 20 at the Standing Consultative Commission (SCC) in Geneva. The White House official said the Russians presented proposals at the session with `wrinkles'--positions--opposed by U.S. negotiators.
An earlier round of SCC talks broke off after they were deadlocked over Russian insistence on reversing agreements reached earlier by U.S. and Russian officials outside the formal talks.
Russia announced in the earlier meeting that any Pentagon work on higher-speed regional missile defenses would be regarded by Moscow as illegal under the ABM Treaty until a second agreement is reached, a classified State Department cable said.
Pentagon officials said a political agreement reached by U.S. and Russian officials at the summit will limit U.S. use of space-based sensors with advanced missile defenses, such as the Navy's wide-area system known as Upper Tier. It also would bar work on the Air Force's airborne laser gun, which will be capable of knocking down missiles shortly after takeoff.
President Clinton's former CIA director yesterday accused the administration of playing down the threat of missile attack from Russia, China or elsewhere.
R. James Woolsey, who headed the nation's spy apparatus during the first two years of the Clinton administration, told a House committee that the administration has understated the missile threat on multiple fronts.
In particular, Mr. Woolsey criticized a frequently quoted National Intelligence Estimate that found little threat of a missile attack on the contiguous 48 states until well into the next century.
`I believe that the `contiguous 48' reference . . . can lead to a badly distorted and minimized perception of the serious threats we face from ballistic missiles now and in the very near future--threats to our friends, our allies, our overseas bases and military forces, our overseas territories and some of the 50 states,' Mr. Woolsey told the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.
A White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the United States has theater missile defenses that could be rushed into place to protect Alaska and Hawaii should a threat arise.
He said the administration was `absolutely in agreement' that the threat of terrorism must be met, but said Mr. Clinton opposes rushing a system into place when a slower pace might result in a better defense.
In his testimony, Mr. Woolsey said the chances of missile terrorism increase as potentially hostile states improve their technology.
`It is quite reasonable to believe that within a few years [Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein or the Chinese rulers will be able to threaten something far more troubling than firings of relatively inaccurate ballistic missiles,' Mr. Woolsey said. `They may quite plausibly be able to threaten to destroy, say, the Knesset [Israel's parliament], or threaten to create, in effect, an international Chernobyl incident at a Taiwanese nuclear power plant.'
Mr. Woolsey, now practicing law in Washington, has been embraced by Republicans seeking funding to deploy a national missile-defense system by 2003: Mr. Woolsey said after the hearing that he supports legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich to deploy the missile-defense system.
In an apparent endorsement of current administration priorities, Mr. Woolsey said the Pentagon should place `primary importance' on developing theater missile defenses while pursuing `a sound program to move toward some type of national defense.' But Mr. Woolsey criticized several aspects of administration policy. Specifically, Mr. Woolsey:
Criticized the administration for trimming funding for some theater-defense systems.
Questioned the administration decision to make highly accurate global-positioning-system technology available commercially, a move that enemies could use to make their missiles even more accurate.
Disputed Mr. Clinton's assertion that U.S. intelligence does not foresee an emerging ballistic-missile threat in the coming decade.