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Copyright 2000 National Broadcasting Co. Inc.  
NBC News Transcripts
SHOW: SATURDAY TODAY (7:00 AM ET)

July 8, 2000, Saturday

LENGTH: 585 words

HEADLINE: JOHN PIKE DISCUSSES FAILURE OF MISSILE DEFENSE SYSTEM

ANCHORS: DAVID BLOOM; SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

BODY:
   DAVID BLOOM, co-host:

On CLOSE UP this morning, the controversial national missile defense system. Overnight the Pentagon suffered a major setback when a crucial test of the proposed missile shield ended in failure. Will the $ 60 billion system designed to protect the United States from nuclear attack ever be built? Among the leading critics is John Pike, defense analyst with the Federation of American Scientists. Good morning, Mr. Pike.

Mr. JOHN PIKE (Federation of American Scientists): Good morning, David.

BLOOM: As simply as you can, explain to us what happened last night. Why did this test fail?

Mr. PIKE: Well, what happened is this is a three-stage interceptor. The booster fired successfully, apparently the second stage fired successfully, but then the third stage, the part that's actually supposed to collide with the incoming atomic bomb, didn't separate from the second stage, so the whole thing fell into the water, and...

BLOOM: What does the...

Mr. PIKE: ...it never attempted to do an intercept.

BLOOM: And what does the failure of this intercept say to you, a leading critic of this plan?

Mr. PIKE: Well, what it says to me is that this is obviously an enormously complex system, far more complex than any other weapons system that we've built to date. There are an awful lot of things that can go wrong, and even in these extremely simple tests a lot of those things are going wrong.

BLOOM: Mr. Pike, earlier...

Mr. PIKE: This is not something they're going to bet the country on.

BLOOM: Mr. Pike, earlier this week your organization wrote a letter signed by 50 Nobel laureates to President Clinton calling the system, quote, "premature, wasteful and dangerous." Why do you say that?

Mr. PIKE: Well, basically the threats that have been driving the system have been reduced certainly in the last several weeks. We've seen the summit in...

BLOOM: You're talking about North Korea and Iran and the long-range missiles that they might have?

Mr. PIKE: Absolutely. We've seen a significant improvement in relations in Korea, no further developments in Iran. What we've seen in the test program is that there've been a lot of failures, not very much success. There's been a lot of concern about the future of the arms control agreements that are going to have to be changed for this system. So overall it doesn't look like this system is going to solve any problems. It clearly looks like it's going to create them.

BLOOM: Mr. Pike, let me ask you this, your organization, the Federation of American Scientists, was founded by members of the Manhattan Project, who built the first atomic bomb.

Mr. PIKE: Right.

BLOOM: If they would have been held to the same strict requirements--that is, prove that it works before we begin the project that you want this project held to, the atom bomb would never have been built. This country is engaged in a lot of endeavors, like putting a man on the moon, where we've set off on them before we knew whether they would be successful or not.

Mr. PIKE: Well, we did--they did set off an atomic bomb in New Mexico before they dropped one on Japan. I think that the bottom line is that it's an awful lot easier to build an atomic bomb to blow up a city than it is to intercept that bomb before it gets to the city. And that's what I think last night's test demonstrated.

BLOOM: Final quick question, can President Clinton put this project on hold without hurting Vice President Al Gore's chances? Couldn't George W. Bush then say you're exposing the country to nuclear blackaail?

Mr. PIKE: I think that that's exactly what's going to happen. President Clinton's probably going to make a political decision to deploy this, and it's going to be up to the next president to actually try to figure out what that was supposed to mean.

BLOOM: Mr. John Pike, thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. PIKE: Thank you.

BLOOM: And now here's Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, co-host:

David, thank you very much.