WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is defending its high-stakes efforts to develop a national missile shield, rejecting assertions by some observers that it has rigged the testing of the proposed $36 billion system.
The Air Force general in charge of the system, Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, told Congress there is no deception in the up-and-down testing of the system.
Kadish said he'd tell his own children the interceptor defense is worth developing because the country is now defenseless against long-range nuclear missile attack from hostile nations or terrorists.
Critics say the Pentagon hasn't proved its proposed system of interceptor missiles will work. One test succeeded but a mock warhead slipped through in the latest one, and another test is scheduled July 7 over the Pacific.
Kadish, after briefing House members in a classified hearing Wednesday, said in an open session Thursday that allegations of fraudulent testing have been made since 1996 and have been taken seriously with no evidence of deception.
Kadish said the system, to be deployed in 2005, is ''high-risk'' and stressed that it would not protect against any massive attack.
''We will not be perfect against every conceivable countermeasure, but neither will our adversaries be perfect against our capabilities,'' he said.
In the toughest political challenge yet, more than 50 House Democrats urged the FBI on Thursday to investigate allegations by scientists of ''fraud and cover-up'' in testing of the system designed to defend the United States against limited accidental or intentional nuclear attack.
Physicist Robert L. Park, Washington director of the American Physical Society, said the limited testing conducted by the Pentagon is inadequate to ensure a viable system.
Park said his organization of scientists strongly supports an FBI inquiry into whether any tests have been rigged or whether data has been withheld.
President Clinton has yet to decide whether to go ahead with a national missile defense. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said he is ''not going to be outraged'' if Clinton passes a decision on developing missile defenses on to his successor.
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