When President-elect Bush announced he would nominate General Colin Powell to be secretary of state, one of Powell's first statements was that the country needs a missile defense to thwart the "blackmail" of enemies who have long-range missiles.
But as the Bush foreign policy team plans its dream defense, it might want to talk to MIT Professor Ted Postol, who says the whole system currently being tested by the Pentagon is fatally flawed. And he says the Defense Department and the Justice Department have known that for years.
"When I talk fraud, I'm being careful about the use of the word," said Postol. "I'm not saying there are people who have made a mistake, and I disagree with them....I'm saying that there are people who know that this system will not work and are trying to cover it up. That's what I'm saying here. So I am making a serious charge, I know that."
And Postol said Nira Schwartz provided him with the documents and data that prove it. In 1996, Schwartz was a senior staff engineer at TRW, a major defense contractor on the missile defense program. "That's when I saw that the technology will not perform to the level that TRW reported to the government," she said.
And Schwartz said she is still certain it will not work. "I did more and more tests, which confirmed that the technology does not work and will not work with the technology of today."
Schwartz, who was born in Israel, is an American citizen. She has a doctorate in physics and engineering and was hired by TRW to test the critical computer programs used to discriminate between warheads and decoys.
"The tests that I performed validated the level of performance of TRW to be only 10 percent of what they reported to the government," said Schartz. "They reported to the government 99.9 probability to differentiate the warhead out of the decoys and the replicas."
But when she tried to bring the discrepancies to her superiors' attention, Schwartz was let go, she said. "I say to my boss, 'It is wrong, what we are doing; it is wrong.' And the next day, I was fired."
Schwartz eventually sued TRW on behalf of the U.S. government, accusing the contractor of committing fraud and saying it "knowingly made false test plans, test procedures, test reports and presentations to the United States government...to remain in the...program."
The Justice Department could have joined the lawsuit, but, at the urging of the Defense Department, did not. In court documents, TRW rejected all of Schwartz's assertions. The company declined a request for an interview, but did send a written statement: "TRW scientists and engineers devoted years to this complex project, while Ms. Schwartz, in her six months with the company, worked a mere 40 hours....Her understanding of the decisions made abou this program is insufficient to lend any credibility to her allegations."
But Roy Danchick believes Schwartz is very credible. Danchick is a mathematician who worked at TRW for 16 years. "She was fired because she pointed out to her superiors that the software, that the computer programs that they were building would not do the job of discrimination," he said.
Before retiring, Danchick worked in the aerospace industry for 40 years. At TRW, he worked on missile defense projects.
"I actually worked in the laboratory, in the computational laboratory, with the people who were doing discrimination," recalled Danchick. "And I watched them struggle and trying to massage the data, and that's scientifically, statistically, mathematically impermissible."
When the Pentagon started to look into these charges, it asked Danchick to contribute to an investigative report. "It is not a crime in the research and development process to build...a failed computer program," he said. "That's part of the process. What is a crime is to claim that a failed computer program actually works, does the job. That's fraud."
A Pentagon criminal investigator did extensive interviews with Danchick and Schwartz. For three years after she was fired, Schwartz was allowed to keep her security clearance so that she could monitor the work at TRW with the criminal investigator. That criminal investigator concluded and reported back to the Department of Defense that there is "absolute irrefutable scientific proof that TRW's discrimination technology does not, cannot and will not work." He accused TRW of "knowingly covering up its failure."
"I think Nira's telling the truth, and I think that the contractor, TRW, and the government, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, the Pentagon, for whatever reasons - and I, I've thought long and hard about it - I think they are not telling the truth," said Danchick.
The criminal investigator, who is now retired, complained to the Pentagon repeatedly that it was ignoring his findings against TRW. CBS News asked Lt. General Ron Kadish - the man now in charge of the missile defense program - about that investigation.
"We take every accusation of that nature very seriously, and this happened in 1996, I believe," said Kadish. "And my predecessors put a team together of experts to make sure that we understood the nature of the allegations."
That team of experts concluded that TRW's computer programs for the infrared sensors were "well designed and work properly" provided that the Pentagon does not have wrong information about what kind of warheads and decoys an enemy is using.
The reports that came out from that investigation concluded there was no merit to the allegations being made at the time.
TRW also said it was cleared by a second review panel, but CBS News has been unable to obtain that report.
No TRW is no longer working on the infrared sensor project. But Postol says the proof that the Pentagon has not solved this basic problem is that it has had to change the way it uses balloon decoys in its tests. "What they've done is remove the decoys that are most capable from the test series, substituted objects that are easily identified as decoys. And then they're going about creating what I consider to be a deception, that they can tell the difference between warheads and decoys," said Postol.
The Pentagon has shifted its position in the Schwartz matter and now says it is not closed, that there is an ongoing investigation of defense contractor TRW. The General Accounting Office has also launched an investigation and interviewed witnesses. At the urging of more than 50 congressmen, the FBI has begun a preliminary inquiry.
But the missile defense program also has hundreds of supporters on Capitol Hill - none more outspoken than Congressman Curt Weldon, R-Pa. "If we don't build a new aircraft carrier, we have older ones. If we don't build a new fighter plane, we have older ones. If we don't build a new tank, we have older ones. If we don't build missile defense, we have nothing," said Weldon.
Weldon responded to Postol's allegations that the anti-missile defense system will not work. "There are also Flat Earth Society people who also believed that the Earth was flat years ago, and there were scientists who made the case against John Kennedy that it was crazy, we'd never land on the moon. And I characterize Ted Postol now as one of those people," said Weldon.
But it isn't just Postol who holds this view. Fifty Nobel Prize winners signed a letter to the president calling the system ineffective and a grave danger to the nation's security.
"Well, I don't know any of them that's come to Congress or to me," responded Weldon. "I've not seen one of their faces. I mean, you know, it's easy to get anyone to sign a letter. I sign letters all the time."
Kadish conceded there is a lot of pressure for this project to succeed and much of that comes from politicians. "I have to say that this is a very passionate subject for many years," said Kadish. "Certainly the drive for missile defense has a political dimension to it. But that's our system. We have to decide as a country what it is we want for a defense."
"There are a lot of ways to try to solve a missile defense program in particular that we need to try because it's unprecedented technology. Right now, from what I see, there's no reason to believe that we can't make this work. But there's a lot more testing to be done. There's a lot more effort to be expended," he said.
The next test is scheduled for the first half of next year. Critics say the missile defense system would violate a major arms treaty with Russia.
Just last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that building the system wold lead to a collapse of international security.