In an oversight hearing on the US missile defense program last month, Philip Coyle III, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense and Director of Operational Test and Evaluation in the Department of Defense from 1994-2001, spoke to the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs about the almost impossible position it’s in when it comes to oversight of this $150 billion – and counting – weapons program: “Congress does not have the information it needs to do oversight. If you don’t have the information, and the Pentagon just says ‘trust me’, you can’t really do oversight.”
Yesterday on Capitol Hill, Lieutenant General Henry A. “Trey” Obering III, Director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), appeared before the subcommittee for the third in this series of hearings: “Oversight of Missile Defense (Part 3): Questions for the Missile Defense Agency.” It seemed the General was there to illustrate Coyle’s very point, as evident when Chairman John Tierney tried to gauge how realistic the testing has been for the system which purports to defend the US and Europe from ICBMs. Has the system been tested against even the most basic countermeasures and decoys that we would anticipate from a nation capable of developing such missiles?
“What I can say is we have flown against countermeasures in the past… we will continue to expand that in our future program,” Gen. Obering said. “To have this conversation in a genuine fashion I need to go closed.”
“I gotta tell you, General, how the American public is supposed to decide on something with this kind of enormity of expense and speculation [about] some of the capabilities is mind-boggling,” Rep. Tierney said. “We over-classify so much in this country. Back when the President made the decision that he wanted to try to deploy this inoperable system in 2004, we asked for a General Accountability Office study on this – it was done. There were 50 questions addressed in the study. It came back, and the minute it came back it was classified all of a sudden. And… they don’t classify stuff when it’s good news around here these days…. I don’t think it does a service to the American people at all or to this Congress to keep classifying everything on that basis.”