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Newsletter 15 - 1 JUNE 2001
Our feature article for the 1 June 2001 issue of UFO Magazine's fortnightly electronic newsletter concerns National Missile Defence and plans to weaponize space. This article, written by UFO Magazine's editor, Graham W. Birdsall, first appeared in our March/April 2001 issue. It stands as a timely reminder to politicians and journalists alike that plans to introduce elements of NMD here in Britain have yet to appear on the political agenda in the run-up to this month's General Election.
THE WEAPONIZATION OF SPACE
President Bush Keen To Proceed With ‘Son Of Star Wars’ Missile Shield
By Graham W. Birdsall
When the outcome of last year’s U.S. presidential elections was finally determined, albeit after long and bitter legal wranglings between both Democrat and Republican camps, the appointment of George W. Bush was greeted with despair by those opposed to American plans to introduce a National Missile Defence (NMD) shield in space, for which Bush is a keen advocate.
Concerns over NMD, which not only threatens to lead to the weaponization of space, but breach Article 5 of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the United States and Russia, were first raised in UFO Magazine [UK] some two years ago (Jan/Feb 1999).
Back then, I had been given unique access to plans which would see the early warning facility at RAF Fylingdales, and the communications listening base at RAF Menwith Hill - both in North Yorkshire - play a key role in any future NMD system.
Prior to publication, however, I alerted a journalist friend at the Yorkshire Evening Post to these revelations. After a series of checks to corroborate matters, it appeared as a front page story barely 48 hours later.
Curiously, not one strand of the national media picked up on it, and it was several months before the terms ‘National Missile Defence’ and ‘Son of Star Wars’ began to be publicly mooted in Britain and elsewhere around the world.
There remains a suspicion that some form of ‘damage containment’ exercise may have been mounted by the powers-that-be to suppress the story nationally. Certainly, mechanisms designed to safeguard the self-serving interests of politically expedient ministers have been adopted in the past - the Michael Howard UFO incident over the former Home Secretary’s Kent country residence being one notable example - and the fact remains that public outcry stemming from the Yorkshire Evening Post article was strictly confined to its circulation area.
This, after I helped reveal that two radomes, designed to house integral elements of the NMD system at RAF Menwith Hill, owned and operated by over 2,000 personnel of the NSA (National Security Agency) had been granted planning permission by Harrogate Council. Moreover, due to restrictions contained in an Act of Parliament (centred on long-standing intelligence gathering treaties between Britain and the United States), not one of the democratically elected council officials who sat on the planning committee could raise any objections to their construction. Hence, although planning permission sought by RAF Menwith Hill is a legal requirement, the planning procedure is but a token gesture.
As a result, local people were denied any form of public consultation whatsoever, and construction of the two new radomes was duly completed in February, 2000.
Whatever form of ‘spin’ the Government may chose to adopt in any future debate over plans to introduce national missile defence here in Britain, I am able to provide a factual example of how ‘political expediency’ has since reared its head over NMD proposals.
It comes in the form of a memo from Peter Hain, the Foreign Office minister, to Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, and leaked to The Times newspaper. Hain warned that Britain should be wary of endorsing America’s NMD proposals. Such plans, he said, ‘could lead to peace protests reminiscent of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s demonstrations against American missiles at Greenham Common in the 1980s.’
But what precisely is national missile defence? And what is its purpose?
BACK TO THE FUTURE
The original concept of a space-based weapons system came about during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Billions of dollars were injected into futuristic research and development programmes that came under the banner of The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), or ‘Star Wars’, and was designed to counter any intercontinental ballistic warhead targeted against the United States.
With unprecedented funds at their disposal, defence contractors began developing Space-based interceptors, such as ‘Brilliant Pebbles’. This would be parked in low earth orbit and was designed to lock-on to a warhead within seconds of its launch and destroy it high above the atmosphere.
But such interceptors were destined never to be fully tested in the vacuum of space. Calls for greater democracy had already begun to sweep across Eastern Europe, and the demise of communism among Warsaw Pact nations would eventually lead to the break-up of the Soviet Empire. As America’s greatest adversary imploded from within, the fall of the Berlin Wall and unification of Germany signalled the Cold War was truly at an end.
The Strategic Defense Initiative was duly scrapped. But not entirely. For
shortly before leaving office, President Reagan set up the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, specifically designed to pursue his ‘Stae Wars’ initiative.
It is interesting to note, however, that concerns expressed at the outset by the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, over a possible breach of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, persuaded President Reagan to shelve several of the SDI projects.
In stark contrast, responding to similar concerns raised on 2 May, 2000 by Mike Grapes, M.P. (Ilford, South), Keith Vaz, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said: ‘In expressing views on the ABM treaty, we have been careful to emphasise that it is primarily a matter for the parties to that treaty.
‘As my hon. Friend knows, we are not such a party; that is an important distinction in international law, and one that we need to keep firmly in mind when debating this issue. It explains why we have not been, and will not be, directly involved in negotiations on the future of the treaty.’
The minister added:
‘Reports that we have already agreed to host elements of the [NMD] system are simply untrue.’
It may be presumptuous of us, but we cordially invite the minister to try and obtain a visitors pass to RAF Menwith Hill. He will discover, as many MP’s before him, that ‘obstacles’ may block his path.
By 2006, ‘Son of Star Wars’ will be a reality, born from a perceived threat posed by North Korea, Iran and Iraq, each of whom have been cited as ‘rogue nations’ by past and current U.S. administrations.
At present, were RAF Fylingdales (which employs over 800 local people) to detect the launch of an intercontinental ballistic warhead, it would instantly feed the data to a central grid inside Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, headquarters of the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
Under any new national missile defence arrangement, data routed to RAF Menwith Hill, acting as a key communications conduit, would alert operators of a newly built high-powered radar station in the Aleution Islands, off Alaska.
They in turn would relay coordinates to two sites: a bank of interceptor missiles stationed on the plains of North Dakota, and one in Alaska itself. Both sites would carry between them 250 interceptor missiles, each of which, according to Pentagon figures, would cost $26.6 billion to construct. It is estimated that within 15 minutes of its launch, the in-coming target would be destroyed.
RAF Fylingdales is one of five early warning sites which would see its computers and software altered to accommodate what a spokesman for the US Ballistic Missile Defense Organization called, the ‘first phase development’ of NMD. The other sites are at Thule, Greenland, Cape Cod, Massachussetts, central California and central Alaska.
Little is known about the weaponry that is destined to be parked in space. But having spent billions of dollars on projects such as ‘Brilliant Pebbles’, it would come as no surprise to see these re-emerge with other advanced weapons in the fullness of time.
'HAWKS’ AT THE WHITE HOUSE
Having gained office, Bush moved swiftly in nominating Donald Rumsfield, a fierce proponent of national missile defence, as his Defence Secretary and Pentagon chief. Rumsfield’s influence is key to how Bush may face up to a range of options in the coming months.
First, he must decide whether to give the go-ahead for a comprehensive NMD system, which would cost the American taxpayer $60 billion. Alternatively, he could incorporate NMD research into preparations for an expanded national system. Or, he could opt for a cheaper, swifter version.
According to one expert close to Rumsfield, Bush may initially give precedence to a $10 billion scheme that could be ready for deployment in four years. This could include a joint base with Russia, who would then share the protection.
That scheme, however, would also see interceptor missiles housed on US military cargo ships and commercial drilling platforms. As unlikely as this sounds, according to Richard Garwin, one of America’s top arms control experts: ‘The new administration will explore this proposal. It may become a priority that could relegate other programmes.’
But other experts believe that Bush would view this plan as no more than an interim project on the way to a far more ambitious system.
Such a system, with sensors and interceptors on land, in space and on naval ships, could eventually cost a staggering $100 billion.
Michael O’Hanlon, a defence expert at the Brookings Institute, said defending America against short-range ballistic and cruise missiles alone would require extensive coastline military networks: ‘The west coast, Caribbean and east coast would be militarised,’ he said. ‘The perimeter would be constantly monitored, as if we were at war.’
While the latter scheme would not incorporate RAF Fylingdales and RAF Menwith Hill, any other form of national missile defence would see both bases upgraded.
In making his decision, the majority of political and military commentators believe that President Bush will most likely listen to Rumsfield.
Donald Rumsfield was a former defence secretary under President Gerald Ford. In 1998, he headed a bipartisan commission which concluded that the danger of missile attacks by countries such as Iran, North Korea, Iraq and Libya had been underestimated.
That commission warned that, by 2003, rogue nations could develop missiles capable of sending chemical, biological or nuclear warheads into America ‘with little or no warning’. Rumsfield cited a scenario in which Tehran shipped North Korean missiles to a boat manned by militants from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group. Were they to get within 100 miles of the US coast, they could then use mobile launchers to mount a devastating attack.
Speaking only last year, Rumsfield said: ‘A national missile defence system ought to be able to protect the 50 states and possessions. It ought to be able to deal with shorter-range threats as well as long-range threats.’
Such views have been publicly endorsed by two further Bush cabinet appointees who make up his national security team. Vice-president Dick Cheney and secretary of state General Colin Powell both shared Reagan’s dream of a ‘Star Wars’ defence shield.
But critics of NMD point to a catalogue of failed interceptor missile tests conducted under the auspices of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. Of 18 such tests since 1982, all but one were failures.
Moreover, in a joint study last April, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said a missile defence system would be easy for any attacking country or terrorist group to circumvent.
This is a view shared by Mike Gapes, who said: ‘If a rogue state wished to kill large numbers of Americans, it would be far more likely to chose methods of delivery other than ballistic missiles.
‘A light aircraft spraying anthrax over New York, a suitcase bomb or some other means of delivery would be easier, cheaper and probably more effective.’
Anthony Ralston, Professor Emeritus of Computer Science and Mathematics, of Imperial College London, stated: ‘Another big technical objection, as relevant now as it was when the idea of an anti missile system was first broached over 30 years ago, is whether the software controlling such a system can possibly be made to work, as it must, the first time it is needed.
‘If the computers controlling the missile-to-hit-a-missile have only to deal with a single missile from a ‘rogue state’, then the software problem is tractable. But any rogue state capable of building a nuclear missile will also be capable, with little additional effort, to produce a panoply of decoys to fool an NMD.
‘The software required to distinguish decoys from the real thing, without knowing in advance just what decoys would be used, would be of a complexity that would preclude its working the first time it was used.
‘Although great strides have been made in the past three decades in building and testing software systems, new system invariably have some bugs when first released. This is true even when the software designers know exactly how they wish the system to operate rather than having to allow for imprecisely defined threats.’
But Rumsfield and his supporters argue that the need for a defence shield was emphasised as recently as 1998, when North Korea fired a Taepo Don 1 ballistic missile over Japan. Had that same missile been armed with a nuclear warhead, it could have reached Seattle.
Rumsfield emphasised that were it to have carried a smaller payload, such as anthrax, it could have reached any city along America’s west coast. Within a few years, he expects Iran to have developed a missile capable of reaching either Washington or Philadelphia.
On the surface at least, ‘Son of Star Wars’ has some considerable way to go before it becomes a fully operational and credible system.
A new form of Patriot missile, the interceptor which brought down Iraqi scud missiles during the Gulf war, is currently undergoing trials at the White Sands missile range in New Mexico. But officials say that it will not be operational until 2007 at the earliest. Also being developed at White Sands is a high-energy laser, designed for use by the Israelis against rockets fired by Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon.
But how close is the United States to perfecting such laser weaponry, let alone one that could be deployed in space?
The US Air Force recently claimed that its programme to create an airborne laser to sit atop the body of a Boeing 747 will not be completed until 2008. The Air Force then went on to say that space-based laser weapons ‘are decades away’.
How does that square with the original concept of ‘Star Wars’, which depicted, albeit through the use of animation sequences, laser weapons being fired in space?
It was Bill Clinton who committed America to a national missile defence programme when he signed the Missile Defense Act in 1999. Even then, critics warned that he was treading a dangerous path.
The danger, they argued, was that the nuclear powers of Russia and China would regard America’s missile defence programme as destabilising and may counter it by stockpiling more weapons.
Mike Gapes, has little doubt of the potential political fall-out were national missile defence to proceed: ‘Let us be clear. The ABM treaty is intended to prohibit national missile defence. It permits only 100 launchers to defend a single site. Therefore, what the United States proposes is fundamentally at odds with the entire purpose of the treaty. If we amend the treaty to permit, rather than prohibit, national missile defence and then seek a further expansion of those defences, at some point it will cease to be an arms control treaty; it will become an arms expansion treaty.’
And when senior political figures here in Britain, such as the leader of the Opposition, William Hague, come out and openly support national missile defence (in a statement issued on 12 January, 2001), he and others like him are helping to resurrect a long forgotten, but appropriate phrase in this instance - M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction).
Further evidence of how Russia has responded to American proposals that the two countries should jointly participate in any national missile defence system can be gleaned from recent events.
In June last year, American intelligence officials discovered that Russia had begun to redeploy its 4,000 tactical nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad, its western-most territory on the Baltic Sea.
Then last November, as two Russian naval reconnaissance aircraft ‘buzzed’ an American aircraft carrier in the Sea of Japan, its Air Force resumed regular patrols towards Alaska by long-range Bear bombers.
As if to rub salt into the wounds, Russia then engaged in arms talks with Iran, one of the so-called ‘rogue nations’.
And, during a speech to the Duma, Russia’s President Putin, issued this stark warning:
‘If the United States withdraws from the ABM treaty following ratification of START-2 and 1997 agreements, Russia will pull out of the entire system of agreements on strategic nuclear forces as well as START-2 and will carry out its own nuclear deterrence policy.’
Meanwhile, China warned that national missile defence will ‘oblige it to continue producing fissile materials for more nuclear weapons’.
That national missile defence should endanger nuclear test ban treaties, bring a halt to nuclear arms reductions, spark a new international arms race and bring about the weaponization of space is, in my view, utter folly.
When Keith Vaz, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, states that Britain ‘will not be directly involved in negotiations on the future of the [ABM] treaty’, he knows full well that without the British Government acceding to American proposals to deploy vital strategic elements of NMD on British soil, any ambitious national missile defence scheme promoted by Bush, Rumsfield and others would be well and truly scuppered.
But would the British Government put at risk the so-called ‘special relationship’ between the two countries by refusing to see elements of NMD housed on its soil?
It is a fundamental question which is not only dividing the Blair Cabinet, but officials at the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence.
Defence ministers are said to be more inclined to side with the Pentagon, while foreign ministers here and across the European Union view NMD as a treaty-breaking and unnecessary project.
In truth, Mr. Blair finds himself in a no-win situation. Were he to side with Bush on this issue, he would risk alienating Britain from the rest of Europe. Although a former member of CND himself, he knows that it would be nigh-on impossible to show President Bush the door.
According to The Times newspaper (13 January), a confidant of the Prime Minister said that Mr. Blair would not say ‘no’ to the Americans. ‘But he is by no means certain it is a question he will have to answer,’ he said.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Shadow Defence Secretary, said: ‘In its heart the Labour Party is still at the wire at Greenham Common and Tony Blair is still wearing the CND badge.
‘Labour have been caught sitting on the fence, secretly scared of the reaction of their own party, who are opposed to missile defence.’
But Mr. Blair believes that any key decisions over NMD are possibly months, if not years away. And any decision to house NMD elements here in Britain may be left to another future Prime Minister to consider.
However, in an interview with The New York Times, President Bush said he was prepared for Russia and China to object to NMD, but had no intention of backing down. ‘We’ve just got to explain why we are doing what we are doing,’ he said.
‘The Chinese know and the Russians know that there will be no system developed in the immediate future, or the forseeable future is a better word, that can conceivably intercept a multiple launch of missiles.’
But in that same interview, President Bush warned that he intends to cut off funding aimed at stimulating Russia’s market economy unless and until major reforms are carried out there. Barely 48 hours later, on 15 January, Moscow and Beijing revealed plans for a strengthened ‘strategic partnership’ to counter American global dominance and, in particular, ‘to underline their opposition to the Bush Administration’s proposals for a US missile defence shield’.
The announcement coincided with a flottila of Russian naval ships setting sail for the first time in five years from the freezing port of Vladivostok. Their mission? To reassert Russia’s role in Asian security after a decade of military decline.
Of one thing we can be quite certain: few British politicians out canvassing for votes in the lead-up to the impending General Election will be keen to address the matter with those constituents who are just beginning to discover for themselves the kind of American ‘Hawkish’ mentality we are facing.
For instance, responding to questions raised over NMD at a confirmation hearing held on Thursday, 11 January, Donald Rumsfield dismissed the 1972 ABM treaty as an anachronism.
He told Senators: ‘That treaty is ancient history. It dates back even further than when I was last in the Pentagon.’
But if you look hard enough, you will find that Rumsfield is not alone in expressing such views. In a BBC ‘Look North’ regional documentary about NMD and RAF Menwith Hill, I gleaned the following quotes from four US Congressmen:
¥ ‘With regard to space dominance, we have, we like it, and we’re going to keep it.’
¥ ‘Advances in the next two decades will enable lasers with reasonable massive cost, to affect very many kills.’
¥ ‘No treaty should come between what our Government must do to protect the national security of our country and our people.’
¥ ‘It is politically sensitive, but it is going to happen. Some people don’t want to hear this, and it sure isn’t in vogue, but, absolutely, we’re going to fight in space.’
But fight against what? And against whom? I wonder...
By Graham W. Birdsall,
Editor, UFO Magazine [UK]
Because of a shift in power at the US Senate, President George W. Bush may struggle to introduce plans for a space-based National Missile Defence. We shall see whether the Democrat's are as good as their word in blocking such moves.
The weaponisation of space also figured during the Disclosure Conference, held at the National Press Club in Washington DC on Wednesday, 9 May. Due to a long-standing engagement with our Toronto, Canada-based North American distributors, Disticor, I was unable to travel to Washington and attend this historic event in person.
However, Mark Hall travelled from Newcastle, England to act as our representative and returned with a fabulous story to tell - complete with documents, video tape of the proceedings and one-to-one interviews with some of the key figures.
I have spent the best part of the last week composing an in-depth article on the conference and it's something to look out for in our July issue. I should add that a general overview does feature in our June issue, of course.
Last Wednesday I travelled to London to appear in a 30-minute 'live' TV show, broadcast by 'NOW TV' across the web and later scheduled for the 'Discovery Channel'.
UFO footage from Reading and Fleetwood, in the latter's case coupled with eye witness testimony, made for an excellent programme. The resident sceptic went on about Venus, but really, I have to say the footage stood out on its own.
I know that Russel Callaghan has included segements of the Fleetwood footage, together with exclusive interviews of the prime witnesses, in Hard Evidence 6. If you haven't obtained the video, then make a point of doing so. You will see some cracking UFO footage which has yet to appear on any television medium and some sparkling features alongside. And if further evidence were required to demonstrate that the Disclosure Conference has sent ripples around the world, I should add that Dr. Greer also featured in a telephone interview during that ‘live’ TV broadcast.
Many readers have written or phoned to ask what I made of the Disclosure Conference. I have to say that I thought the bulk of the witnesses did themselves and the subject proud, especially in the short time allotted. Mark Hall told me that many of the journalists present were highly impressed, to the point of being shocked.
It is the first stage. More has to be done and more will be done. I find it extremely interesting that in the very week that Dr. Greer was parading some 20 military, intelligence, scientific and corporate witnesses before the media, I was handed information centred on at least 8 former military personnel who profess to have in-depth knowledge of UFOs.
The man who contacted me is happy to reveal his name, and that of the specialist engineering factory in the county of Lincolnshire where he and the rest of the witnesses now work. Will one or more go before the cameras and speak publicly about their experiences and involvement? Hopefully, yes.
But for the time being at least, UFO Magazine readers can at least digest several statements about UFO activity here in the UK which has never seen the light of day before. Look out for our July issue.
In the meantime, our June issue is now on the newsstands and already people are expressing amazement at some of the contents. Take a look for yourselves and stay informed.
On a final note, the brand new ‘Eye Spy’ magazine (previously Unopened Files) has been launched by my brother, Mark Birdsall. Already we have controversy. The new telephone number for ‘Eye Spy’ was mysteriously altered while at the printing stage. The replacement number, if dialled, takes you to an internal British Army department housed within Catterick Garrison.
The original pages sent to the printers contained the genuine number, but no one can offer a clue as to how someone managed to penetrate their security and make what can only be described as a clandestine alteration.
Truth can indeed be stranger than fiction.
Graham W. Birdsall
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