Photo by Myles RobinsonFor anyone with eyeballs and a lick of reason, last Tuesday's horrific airliner attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., ought to have killed George W. Bush's pet project—his multibillion-dollar scheme to provide the U.S. with what he calls National Missile Defense (NMD).

The Sept. 11 attacks used no missiles or bombs. They leveraged American infrastructure—commercial aircraft loaded with fuel, open skies and big steel buildings—into concentrated, deadly attacks on Americans. NMD would have done nothing to stop them.

But within hours, politicians and members of the media were calling for swift funding of NMD, the 20-year-old dream of shooting down missiles in flight. The Chattanooga Times, Washington Times and the Dallas Morning News editorialized that the U.S. needs missile defense more than ever. Bush administration officials said the attacks actually underscored the value of missile defense, defending it against its glaring deficiencies.

"I don't think it's fair to say a system designed for a specific purpose is flawed because it doesn't do something it's not designed to do," said U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith.

J.D. Crouch II—the assistant secretary of defense for international security policy—also believes now is the time for NMD. "A missile launched at New York would cause much more damage," he said, while fires still burned in New York and the nation's capital.

A number of firms stand to benefit from such nonsense, many of them in Orange County. And it may be that their financial interest—not strategic need—is the real force behind the survival of NMD after Sept. 11.

Research on missile defense has already consumed $68.7 billion in the past two decades. The result: huge corporate profits to select firms, a number of toxic manufacturing sites, and, in many cases, contaminated ground water. Undaunted by this record of failure, one month ago, the Bush administration submitted its $8.3 billion ballistic-missile defense wish list to Congress. In addition to the NMD program, Bush wants increased funding for airborne-laser aircraft and space-based lasers. Two days ago, Senate Democrats dropped their oppostion to the current missile-defense package.

According to 1999 missile-defense contract information gathered by the group Physicians for Social Responsibility, tens of millions of dollars in missile-defense-related contracts have gone to companies located throughout Orange County.

Big firms like Boeing, Raytheon, Hughes, Honeywell, TRW and Northrup Grumman have worked on lasers, satellites, relay stations and a host of other NMD-related systems at plants in Anaheim, Fullerton, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Newport Beach, Santa Ana and Seal Beach. Smaller companies like Scientific Research Inc., Simpex Technologies, AVYD Devices, Novex Corp. and MOSET Corp. have brought missile-defense work to Aliso Viejo, Brea, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Garden Grove, Lake Forest, Laguna Hills and Yorba Linda. In addition, laser testing is still ongoing at the TRW facility in San Clemente.

"When people see money coming into Southern California for these kinds of weapons, their first instinct is usually to say, 'This is great! It will really help the economy,'" said Jonathan Parfrey, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility in Los Angeles. "But virtually all of these places that built weapons during the Cold War have become Superfund sites."

Indeed, the Aerojet Facility in Azusa so contaminated ground water that it turned the entire San Gabriel Valley into a Superfund site. The Rocketdyne facility in LA County is so horribly polluted that environmental officials say human beings can never again inhabit the area.

"What I fear is another emergency effort to develop weapons in which the government will act above the law," said Parfrey.

Even worse is the possibility that renewed emphasis on missile defense will siphon resources from effective counterterrorism efforts and a serious re-examination of American foreign policy—such as U.S. support for repressive, anti-democratic regimes throughout the Middle East. In an irony matching the use of our own airplanes against us, NMD may well lead to further and bloodier terrorist acts.


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