Mark Prado"> Mark Prado"> President George W. Bush has put the National Missile Defense (NMD) system back up high on the U.S. defense budget. However, the issue is being approached dangerously, according to the special interests of money politics, while feasible, appropriate and safe defense systems without a big money constituency are being ignored, as are the commercial spinoffs which would rival the internet economy of the late 1990s. Whether Bush, "Son of Star Wars", can lead any better and more responsibly than Clinton-Gore, or have more of "the vision thing" than his father, rather than follow his own special interest forces, is questionable.

Shortcut to the solution

Note: In this article, I use the phrase "Star Wars". It's pretty much the only phrase that has survived the test of time. We've had acronyms like BMD, ABM, SDI, NMD and now MD. People forget what acronym means what, but they understand "Star Wars".


Much of today's fresh talent, not yet entrenched into special interest defense money, is too young to remember much of the history of the NMD, and aren't aware of the issues.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), better known as "Star Wars" by skeptics across the scientific and political spectrum.

The founder of PERMANENT, Mark Prado, worked for the Pentagon on this program in the mid to late 1980s, performing a variety of roles, most notably the analysis of sensor technologies, the issues surrounding the discrimination of warheads from countless decoys, and ABM Treaty (Anti-Ballistic Missile) compliance issues.

Research into NMD technology was not new in 1983. The ABM Treaty was signed by the U.S. Nixon Administration (with the Brezhnev Administration of the USSR) in 1972 in an attempt to reduce the costly and fruitless arms race. Nuclear peace between the superpowers at the time, namely the U.S. and the Soviet Union, was based on Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) in case either side attempted a first strike. It was a bilateral treaty between the two superpowers of the time. The reasoning behind the ABM Treaty was to eliminate the ability of either side to gain a significant strategic advantage, reduce uncertainty, and avoid an arms race of not only developing missile defenses but also of developing overwhelming numbers of new kinds of weapons in an attempt to get around each other's future perceived missile defenses. The ABM Treaty assured that the nuclear arms race would end, more or less, with the current status of MAD, as regarded the two superpowers.

In the U.S., the Reagan-Bush administration came to power in 1980 with support by elements wanting to withdraw from the ABM Treaty.

In 1983, President Reagan announced that funding for research on NMD would dramatically increase under a new project called the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which critics called "Star Wars".

Reagan's Vice President, George Bush, continued this program when he became President in 1989. When Bill Clinton was elected and became President in 1993, SDI aka "Star Wars" was toned down and relegated to a lower agency, renamed the Ballistic Missile Defense Office (BMDO). After George Bush Jr. became President in 2001, he called for ballistic missile defense to become a major priority again, and called for a break in the ABM Treaty. The new slang phrase for the missile defense system under George Bush Jr. is "Son of Star Wars".

The questions have become:

  1. Can anyone make such a system that will protect us against ballistic missiles?
  2. At what cost?
  3. Can an adversary use other weapons besides ballistic missiles to achieve the same thing?
  4. Overall, how are our limited resources best applied, and what are our priorities?

A related issue is what other serious threats exist besides ballistic missiles, and what are we doing about them. Is our current leadership stuck in an outdated mentality?

Basic Problems with NMD

There are several problems with the current status and plans for NMD. The effects of traditional nuclear technology are quite limited in comparison, and the budget should reflect this. But George Bush Jr. and his old cronies must first graduate from the old school to the new.

First, to the support of Bush et al., the world has changed a lot since 1972, whereby many more nations and rogue transnational "terrorist" groups have acquired and will acquire the ability to deliver weapons by missile, and cities and other strategic sites are practically defenseless, thanks partly to the ABM Treaty. Countries such as North Korea, China, Iraq and Iran threaten to deploy missiles against their adversaries, and anti-missile defenses could deter or destroy cheap shots. Unauthorized launch of a missile by a rogue element is another possibility. Tactical or "theater" use of missiles against UN or NATO forces is another factor. The ABM Treaty with the now-defunct Soviet Union hampers the development of American technology to defend against the threat of weapons delivered from a great distance by missile.

Second, however, the threat of nuclear missiles is actually a much less likely and limited threat against population centers. Biological and chemical weapons, including those delivered by suitcase or other means are more credible, and are much easier to make, conceal and deliver. In fact, as biotechnology advances, the human race is developing the capability to make itself extinct, e.g., by the technological development of a supervirus or nanotechnology "grey goo" machine, as covered in the PERMANENT section on biotechnology.

Third, the development of exotic American technologies, such as lasers and particle beams, introduces a new threat. It is human nature that technological secrets can't be kept secret. As an old saying in intelligence circles goes: "There are few secrets, just illusions [of secrets]". If we want to increase our security, then we should invest carefully in NMD and other technologies, because the technology so developed will, eventually, fall into others hands. However, try telling that to the special interests within the military-industrial complex (as President and General Dwight Eisenhower warned in his exit speech to the American people shortly before President Kennedy was inaugurated), especially as they are making exciting new advances and have the backing of major government contractors and research labs.

It goes without saying that I haven't addressed the technical issues facing an NMD. Nonetheless, I will note in general my opinion that technically, it's worth pursuing terminal and boost phase defense (not warhead/decoy mid-phase anytime soon), but only with a carefully managed budget. This is technically. On the other hand, in terms of current politics and corruption in the American government, I don't think that an NMD is worth pursuing along the present lines, and in fact could be counterproductive to the security of both Americans and non-Americans worldwide by reducing resources available to other programs.

Beyond that, the issue of NMD should be changed to MD -- drop the N for either National (or Nuclear). The fact that "national" or "nuclear" remain at the forefront of Bush's political lexicon reflects the fact that it's a return to the old political guard and special interests in Washington, D.C.

Missile defense (MD) is increasingly important, and it is my opinion that basic missile defense technology should be pursued responsibly, but mainly "kinetic" defenses, i.e., an object to strike and destroy during ballistic flight, with a conventional explosive onboard. Lasers, particle beams and other exotic technologies will be in high demand by transnational criminals (not just terrorists) offering money and engaging in other tactics to acquire technology secrets for resale or use. Of course, the American government and certain other governments have no shortage of enemies. Further, when you look at the tactics of espionage combined with human nature (both advertant and inadvertant), it's pretty clear that Americans' greatest enemy is the advanced research paid for by their own government to their own all-too-willing contractors.

However, delivery by missile is not the only serious threat, and should not be blown out of proportion over other means of delivering "weapons of mass destruction".

In fact, leading reports available to the general public over the internet, and indeed promoted by leading news and government websites, look into such scenarios as dropping deadly-poisonous plutonium or other substances into city drinking water reservoirs or further into the supply system, missiles launched from commercial ships in port, and weapons walked or swum across borders and loaded into a car. Who needs 20th century space age launch technology, or missiles or Russian engineers on the black market?

If we can't stop the flow of drugs across our borders, and indeed illegal immigrants, then how can we seal our borders against biological and other weapons?

Intangible Leadership Challenges

Real defense requires new thinking and adaptation. In turn, that requires real leadership, intelligence and vision. (Does George Bush Jr., Son of Star Wars, have the right stuff?)

It also requires trust, because some of the necessary measures require invasions of privacy for the purpose of verification, such as inspection of ships, cars, suitcases and other concealments.

Trust must be deserved. Any administration that exudes self-righteousness, excessively asserts its power over those with less political power ("power corrupts"), does not express its complete understanding of alternative views and opinions, much less respect and honor them, and who promotes powerful special interests will go down in history as part of the problem, not the solution, which led to excessive damages to national and international security.

Successful national and international security can only be led by someone of the broadest appeal and who people trust. This means that leaders must stand up to the special interests that often bring them to power. Unfortunately, no American president since John F. Kennedy has done so. (Indeed, JFK paid for it with the ultimate price, though riding in an open limousine in Dallas, of all places, was incredibly stupid. See also Oswald the patsy.) Today's world is interdependent, and Bush must start by dropping the N in NMD, and looking beyond the special interests that brought him to power. Bush is not only vision challenged, he's also gotta buck The Reagan Thing.

I have no doubt that there will be people of both political extremes who will vociferously disagree with me here, and claim objectivity. Of course, we have also seen the recent phenomenon of the institutional ultimate in objectivity -- judges exercising their sworn allegiance to objectivity -- deciding whether and how all the votes in the U.S. State of Florida should be counted. As we know, the judges' objective opinions correlated with the political party who appointed them, from the lowest courts all the way thru the Supreme Court. We can only wonder what their articulate opinions would have been if Al Gore were ahead by the same margin of votes. Such is the nature of the two-party system. (By the way, I am a supporter of Bush more than Gore, for reasons of free trade and less government, but neither has my enthusiasm as a leader rather than a follower of special interests. It's just that Bush won, so he's the subject of power and leadership.)

When it comes to international security, there are a lot more major players in the world than the United States of America. The rest of the world has grown up remarkably in the last half century, and civilization has to come to terms with the fact that America can not, and should not, be able to police the world on only its own terms. Of course, no other single entity can, or should, either. While a small minority of people enjoy bureaucracy, or think the United Nations is competant, that's not to say that Bush & associates have completely come to terms with interdependent, international security. From what I've seen so far, they're headed for some reality checks and then grumbling and finger-pointing blame on some disrespected adversaries.

(Of course, not to bash America, because America has a lot of good principles, as do more modern democracies. Also, there is a difference between American people and American officials, as America is a place with diverse opinions and individuals. These are basics which many readers might assume are shared by all people, but you would be surprised. There are a lot of crazies and nuts in this world, sometimes due to persecution, injustices, and/or the world ignoring their plight. You might also be surprised at how many people aren't very capable of, or too uncomfortable with, having an opinion which differs from their supporting peer group, including in the highest circles of American government. It's human nature.)

The meaning of the word "superpower" must be understood in the context of the power of the modern individual with technology, and protection of offensive elements within the borders of rogue nations which do not respect the freedoms and rights of peaceloving people of other countries and cultures.


International security requires government transparency, and the reasonable monitoring of activities and communications of individuals and rogue nations. Without a doubt, this should cross over many peoples' threshold of privacy. However, I'm sure that when "unconventional" weapons of mass impact start to hit society, as they eventually will, then the vast majority of these people will see the threats to themselves, their family, and the interdependent world economy and change their threshold. Maybe then even the ones with big narcissistic egos will realize that practically nobody in the intelligence community gives a rats ass about their business affairs, secret intergender affairs, tax evasion, etc., at least because those given such access have neither the time nor the inclination to think about such matters in view of so many other serious happenings. Countless petty crimes with victims can't get attention, either, not because nobody cares but because they can't. National and international security are the purpose.

Nonetheless, leaders in society must make clear the security reasons for less privacy, and must themselves facilitate institutions that are trustworthy, as well as support the development of technological systems that will really make us more secure. Quantitatively, it will take a lot of money, so we can't squander too much of it on national or nuclear missile defense, but must implement real solutions.

Qualitatively, it will need enlightened leadership, too. People need to relate to and trust their leaders.

Solution - The Institutional Side

This must be done not by a superpower by itself, but by an international institution which can be reasonably trusted. To accomplish this, its members must:

The establishment of this organization must not lead to excessive regulation of businesses and private enterprises, and indeed should strive for a relationship of mutual trust and support.

The organization will be set up much like the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), which is mainly a technical operation which intercepts electronic communications and processes them. However, unlike the NSA, this organization will be accountable to an international organization, and be interactive with the general public, mainly by the internet web.

The limits to electronic communications are well known. Terrorists and criminals often communicate only by word of mouth, handwritten documents and international couriers. Key information will often come from humans who log in from, say, internet cafes and give information, sometimes anonymously. Just as criminals use encryption, so it can be offered easily to the general public, using the same standard web browser system as e-commerce -- automatic SSL (Secure Socket Layer) whereby they simply go to a website address, get a verification of authenticity, and fill in the form. Likewise, the website can inform the public of what is believed to be going on in their particular location.

Criminals are adept at using the internet for their benefit, but so far, governments have proven to be largely inept at adapting to the internet to gain an advantage over the crooks.

Notably, this has been proposed in the past but has been rejected. After the end of the Cold War, the CIA was said to be in search of a mission for its loyal employees, and is now in charge of much of the "transnational crime" realm of research and operations. Given the history of the CIA's involvement in transnational crimes, this is a ludicrous insider arrangement involving money politics. There is little wonder why the CIA would give no more than lip service to the idea, and why the CIA's website accepts only job applications as its only input, a mere token.

The FBI is mostly kept out for turf reasons, a rivalry well known beyond just Washington, D.C. However, on the FBI website, it notes in the early history of the FBI that: "The new Director was also keenly aware that the Bureau of Investigation could not fight crime without public support. In remarks prepared for the Attorney General in 1925, he wrote, 'The Agents of the Bureau of Investigation have been impressed with the fact that the real problem of law enforcement is in trying to obtain the cooperation and sympathy of the public and that they cannot hope to get such cooperation until they themselves merit the respect of the public.'"

The more the general public can be involved in this, the better.  

Solution - The Technical Side

The NSA is very secret about its capabilities for two reasons:

  1. It doesn't want adversaries to know what information it can get
  2. It doesn't want adversaries to know what information it can not get, lest the adversaries find out how to avoid the NSA's robot eyes and ears

The fact of the matter is that satellites in very low Earth orbit are one of the very best resources. They have clear access to transmissions without obstacles (unlike surface based receivers obstructed by buildings, hills and the horizon), they can have telescopes and sensors for night vision, and they go over the borders of rogue nations. Unfortunately, there aren't many such satellites in space, and they cross over rogue nations and within range of any particular place on Earth only briefly. Terrorists can hide while any satellite is overhead, which is less than one percent of the time, and do their usual thing the rest of the time. Or, they can ignore the satellites and with 99% probability be running around somewhere unknown.

The ultimate system would be a constellation of satellites in very low Earth orbit which would cover the Earth. These would be large satellites, actually satellite platforms.

Preferably, the intelligence applications would be operated by a transnational body akin to the United Nations, not a particular country.

How we would build this system, not only economically but profitably, and indeed may be able to rely mostly on the private sector under contracted law, is covered in an article on the website in the section 5 on products & services.

In brief, to deliver such a massive amount of material and fuel, these satellites would be made and fuelled largely from material from asteroids near Earth. In other words, they would not be blasted up from Earth on expensive rockets, but be made from materials already in space. Only the sophisticated computers and detail parts would be made on Earth and launched up.

This is not a new or far-fetched concept, but has its basis in research and development. This does not require breakthroughs in technology like NMD, but is basically just Earth mining and mineral processing technology adapted to space. We sent astronauts to the Moon and back in 1969, back when our technology was relatively primitive. But we first need to yank NASA and other space organizations out of the grip of established special interests competing for a very limited government budget.

(Some of the key research into "foxholes in orbit" was done by a small, low profile niche within the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) aka "Star Wars" in the 1980s. As a new organization at the time, there were fewer established special interest groups, which helped it succeed in getting the Clementine space mission which discovered ice at the lunar poles. Unfortunately, Clementine, named after the rhyme about the '49er miner, failed enroute to the asteroid it was to also prospect, due to a computer error en route. The budget for the next probe, Clementine 2, to visit and characterize multiple asteroids near Earth, was one of just three things cancelled by President Clinton's new and controversial line item veto, in a classic case of leadership ineptitude and caving into powerful competing special interests within the bureaucracy who wanted to kill the concept before it got strong enough to compete. Some of those who make fun of asteroid mining will be remembered and quoted in infamy, and will themselves remember the old Chinese proverb that whoever laughs last laughs longest.)

These platforms could be used foremost for various commercial purposes, such as worldwide internet. Because such a constellation would have to blanket the entire Earth, all points on Earth would have equal, high speed access. In fact, it is very similar to the Teledesic concept of wireless pioneer Craig McCaw with backing from Bill Gates. There would be a lot of angry dictators and national telephone monopolies around the world, but consumers would love the ability to be able to have internet for just a very small antenna and a computer (maybe the antenna built into the computer's screen or the circumference of a mobile phone), nothing like today's large satellite TV dishes.

In addition to these commercial applications, there would be the standard electronics eavesdropping equipment, large telescopes with sensors, and, if approved, interceptor rockets which would be placed on alert only when above suspected targets to hit missiles in the boost phase or in the upper atmosphere. These inteceptor rockets would perform the dual purpose of defending the satellites themselves, and the satellites would have massively abundant shielding (mainly the waste from processing asteroidal material).

We would mass produce very large telescopes (made in space more perfectly and more easily) to go onto these platforms, better than anything we've ever launched in a rocket package from Earth's surface.

These items are covered on the website, particularly in the section 5 entitled Products and Services.

The Ultimate Benefit

The ultimate benefit will be from space colonies. Someday, we will probably make a killer virus or nanorobot ("nanite") that will make human life extinct in Earth's biosphere. Even worse, we might make a nanite that kills most everything in the biosphere. Life from Earth will survive and carry on only from space colonies.

Like it or not, this is our future, and that of our children. The only question is whether we make the right decisions ourselves, and in sufficient time, for our own children and possibly for ourselves as well.

Minor footnotes:

Clinton's Secretary of Defense left a lot to be desired, but there doesn't appear to be any improvement with the new Bush administration. Bush's Secretary of Defense is Donald Rumsfeld, who was Secretary of Defense under President Ford in 1975-77. However, more recently, Rumsfeld is better known as one of the biggest lobbyists in the Washington, D.C., arena, for nuclear, intercontinental missile defense. Beyond his lobbying activities, he is intimately associated with quite a number of the top proponents of a nuclear missile defense, and has received formal praise and awards from lobbying groups within the U.S. For example, the de facto lobbying center of the Star Wars lobby, The Center for Security Policy, an excessively partisan organization whose board is stacked with those who were both Star Wars leaders and some extreme right-wingers (government officials, defense contractor beneficiaries and congressmen) from the 1980s, and which is supported by generous donations from defense contractor beneficiaries, lists Rumsfeld as an "informal adviser and faithful supporter". (Sen. Jesse Helms, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, officially relied on this organization's lawyers to argue that the ABM Treaty died with the USSR and is no longer in effect.) It looks as if the U.S. government's official defense leadership is still stuck in the "good 'ol boy" Cold War contractor corruption circles, while real national and international security is left open-ended. This package may not fly in the world politically as well as alternative packages, though technically it's much better than nothing, as regards missiles.

Understand: It would be great to have a missile defense. I'm not saying I'm against missile defense. It's a matter of budget priorities. We have already spent tens of billions of dollars on it and gotten very little, while basic systems such as human intelligence by Internet, costing less than 1% as much, have not even received serious attention. Why? Is it ineptitude? Or is it money, power and corruption?

It's notable that I worked on missile defense for the Pentagon in the 1980s, and resigned.

It's also important that the power of intelligence not be concentrated into the hands of any one particular entity.

If the rest of the world doesn't grow up and take the initiative real quickly, then civilization and potentially the species will suffer and may not even survive. Since we know what's going on, we can only point to ourselves for inaction, possibly while looking into the eyes of our doomed children and life from Earth itself.

The best known research in the U.S. was known as the Homing Overlay Experiment (HOE), whereby missiles launched from Vandenberg AFB in California for Kwajalein Atoll in the south Pacific were watched in space by sensors launched up from Kwajalein. Four experiments were conducted, the last in 1984. The first three were failures, and the last was controversial.

The last of the HOE experiments was declared a great success, whereby it was alleged that an interceptor launched from Kwajalein intercepted the cold-body warhead in space using its sensors and on-board intercept algorithms.

Those arguments of success were used to get a lot more money out of Congress.

Years and many billions of dollars later, it was alleged that the last, HOE-4 experiment didn't accomplish or even do what they said it did, though secrecy eliminated a lot of possible accountability. (This was nothing new, given other weapons' successful "intercept" events in presentations to congressional committees and the general public. Starting around the time of the Gulf of Tonkin / "Pentagon Papers" event, there has been a countless series of gross secret/unaccountable events now known to bolster special interests.)

Those defending the SDI program and who also acknowledged that there might have been some trickery in HOE-4 claimed that the real losers were the Soviets who believed the reports, and that the SDI program itself brought about the downfall of the Soviet Union. Regardless of whether the Soviets knew of HOE-4's reality, or how greatly they were concerned about SDI, there was another, overriding factor in the downfall of the Soviet Union: The longtime Soviet old guard who ruled the country since World War 2 was finally dying off and a new generation of Russians were coming to power. In fact, the KGB's former head, Yuri Andropov, who succeeded Brezhnev (who died senile in office), had dramatically promoted his favorite person, a little known provincial guy named Mikhail Gorbachev, to the top ranks along with many of Gorbachev's allies, before the HOE-4 experiment or SDI. Yuri Andropov was known for a lot of things, from his intimate familiarity with the world and the west including culture and the arts, to some of his famous sayings such that the problem of central government was "promotion based on loyalty rather than competancy". The latter is known in the U.S. as "the good ol' boys network", a.k.a. "corruption". However, when one surrounds themself with ideologues who believe the same things and reinforce one's views and beliefs, and those with alternative opinions are weeded out, it's easy to see how clique groups persevere in stupid, outdated, and entrenched notions.

It's also easy to understand why contractors and their "good 'ol boys" running the programs from the Pentagon would like to report success and get more funding for their programs...

An interesting historical timeline of "Star Wars" is given at, from the Office of the UnderSecretary of Defense for Acquisition, which is the office that President Clinton deprioritized the Star Wars program (and renamed it from SDIO to BMDO).

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