WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon is defending its high-stakes efforts to develop a national missile shield, rejecting assertions by some observers that it has rigged testing of the proposed $36 billion system.
The Air Force general in charge of the system, Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, told Congress there was no deception.
Kadish said he'd tell his own children the interceptor defense is worth developing because the country is defenseless against long-range nuclear missile attack from hostile nations or terrorists.
Critics have said the Pentagon hasn't proved its proposed system of interceptor missiles will work. One test succeeded but a mock warhead slipped through in another. The next test is scheduled for July 7 over the Pacific Ocean.
Military officials have said they eventually want to base 100 interceptor missiles in Alaska's Interior and an X-band radar system to support the missile defense system on Shemya Island in the Western Aleutians.
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 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.
He appeared at a news conference on the Capitol lawn with Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and other Democrats, who called for an inquiry into allegations by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Theodore Postol of Pentagon and subcontractor deception in the testing.
''If we're relying on this technology to protect the United States and the technology is being advanced with false information, the people have a right to know,'' said Kucinich, holding up a black umbrella full of gaping holes as symbol of an ineffective missile defense.
Kucinich and 52 other Democrats wrote FBI Director Louis Freeh calling for the investigation.
''The American people need an independent investigation of this matter to determine if the well-documented and serious allegations of fraud in the National Missile Defense system are true and if a cover-up of that fraud has taken place,'' the letter said.
President Clinton has yet to decide whether to go ahead with a national missile defense, but the chairman of the congressional subcommittee overseeing Pentagon research, Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., said Thursday that Clinton has to give a thumbs-up because he signed a law that requires such a system.
Earlier this week, Defense Secretary William Cohen indicated he might recommend going ahead with the system even if the July 7 test fails. The test involves a missile collision over the Pacific.
Weldon accused critics of an ''outrageous, despicable lie'' in their allegations of fraud.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, meanwhile, said he is ''not going to be outraged'' if Clinton passes a decision on developing missile defenses on to his successor.
Clinton has suggested he plans to make a deployment decision this fall, but Lott said he believes the president may avoid that so as not to cause problems for presidential candidate Al Gore.
Lott is the first high-ranking Republican congressional leader to suggest that a delay by Clinton might be acceptable, leaving the decision to ''hopefully future President George W. Bush,'' who backs an even more ambitious anti-missile defense.
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