Classified Incompetence

Top-Secret.jpgThings are looking a bit scatterbrained in the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) these days, especially in light of a November 2005 internal memo recently obtained and published by the Federation of American Scientists. Regarding the status and location of foreign-deployed missile defense systems, the document penned by MDA Deputy Director Gen. Marvin K. McNamara reads:

    There are many operational and political sensitivities that require varying levels of protection as we consider possible deployments. Therefore, I am requiring that potential host nations being studied or considered by MDA for operational deployments not be identified by country or city name on Unclassified computer systems or networks
Political sensitivities? While you ponder that one, watch how the memo in the same breath declares:
    The names of multiple foreign countries and/or cities undergoing study for consideration as a host nation are not classified. However, to ensure they are properly protected, they must now be e-mailed or documented ONLY on Classified computer systems or networks
To recap: theyre classified, but theyre actually unclassified, therefore MDA must take measures to safeguard their unclassified secrets. As decoded by Victoria Samson of Center for Defense Information, "when they claim that the new sites for missile defense deployment are not classified, they are actually classifying them by making the contractors etc only use classified networks when discussing them. So they are, in a sense, skipping around having to justify classifying the sites and yet getting to still do so. Very clever."Issues of reclassification aside, the question remains as to why MDA is so hush-hush about its operational foreign deployments, that in context seems to indicate ground-based interceptors. As we pause to consider this paranoia, it may help to recreate a relevant sequence of events:As far back as summer 2004, then-Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton stated that "were now engaged in discussions with Poland about the possibility of basing interceptors and radars here." This statement was followed by news reports of similar third-site prospects in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, to ostensibly counter an Iranian ballistic missile threat.standard_missile_interceptor_150.jpgBut months later in February 2005, the Bush administration suffered an embarrassing setback when, after months of trying to shove missile defense cooperation down Canadas throat despite widespread domestic opposition, the Canadian Prime Minister abruptly and unequivocally pulled the plug on all such plans.Fast-forwarding to November 2005, the administration and MDA may have learned from their Canadian missteps that when foreign missile defense deployments hinge on the outcome of democratic debate, it becomes much harder to impose less-than-popular policies upon informed electorates. That, in any case, is perhaps the most plausible explanation for the sudden classification or "secretification"? of what was previously public information.But no sooner was the memo passed around than a PowerPoint presentation containing the supposedly classified material was used by MDA Director Lt. Gen. Trey Obering at an AIAA conference, and then circulated widely. Right there, on slide 35, the presentation gives a complete rundown of desired foreign deployments, listing Poland, Czech Republic, and even the United Kingdom as potential third site candidates. Related or not, public debate over missile defense has mushroomed in Eastern Europe this summer, with 82 percent of Czechs opposed to the idea while Warsaw sizes up missile defense with its national interests.Whats the point of this exercise? Was MDA convinced that by classifying sort of facts that were already public knowledge, it could keep missile defense off the legislative floors in Prague and Warsaw? Did Gen. McNamara think this was the best way to avoid a repeat Canadian incident? Most befuddling, did anyone involved think they could hide something like this for more than ten minutes in Washington DC? It remains to be seen what their motives might have been, as does the fate of the third ground-based interceptor site in Europe. But one can be reasonably certain that deceiving allies and partners and ineptly at that may not be the best way to promote cooperative security.- Scott Morrissey, CDIUPDATE 3:41 PM Apparently the PowerPoint presentation was not leaked - it was shown at a quasi-public AIAA conference back in March. Thanks to the commenters for pointing this out!
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