The Buzz

Failure to Launch

Misfires though they were, the seven missile launches by North Korea on July 5 shook up the U.S. missile defense program. And it could use the wake-up call.

More than $90 billion in the making since 1985, our system to detect and shoot down incoming ballistic missiles so far has proved unpredictable, behind schedule and way over budget. North Korea is to blame, in a way, for the program's failures and foibles. In 2002, to hasten protection from possible attacks by North Korea and the Middle East, President Bush ordered the Missile Defense Agency to rush part of the system into operation by 2004.

Under an acquisition strategy begun in 2001, the agency organized development into two-year increments, or blocks. The plan was to create a test bed, mature new sensors and weapons and then integrate them into the system for use. But Bush's order pushed developing a test bed to the back burner in favor of fielding ground-based midcourse defense by 2004. GMD consists primarily of land-based interceptor missiles designed to shoot down incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles. In 2004-2005, 10 interceptors were supposed to be fielded; only four were, two at Vandenberg Air Force Base on California's central coast, and two at Fort Greely in eastern Alaska.

MDA planned four tests in 2005 to evaluate whether GMD radars could track and detect incoming missiles, formulate a firing plan, and hit and kill a target. Two tests were stillborn. In each case, the interceptor failed to launch. Tests three and four were postponed. The failures were caused by a broken pin preventing separation of the booster rocket and kill vehicle in one case, and in the other, by the failure of two arms supporting the interceptor in its silo to retract and lock due to corrosion.

"MDA cannot be sure how well the [system] will perform because tests needed to characterize [its] performance have not yet been conducted," according to a March 2006 Government Accountability Office report (GAO-06-327).

Flunking Security

Federal agencies are doing a lousy job protecting the United States, say top foreign policy experts. Reviewing efforts across government, they gave only the National Security Agency a passing grade-5.2 on a zero-to-10 scale. Results of a survey of more than 100 experts were published in the July/ August issue of Foreign Policy magazine.

Those responding to the Terrorism Index, created jointly by Foreign Policy and the Center for American Progress, trounced the Homeland Security Department. The pros, Republican and Democrat alike, gave DHS the worst grade-2.9-and 36 percent said the department actually had a negative effect on U.S. security. A fifth said DHS' funding should be cut.

They were easier on the State Department, handing it a 4.8, and 87 percent thought funding for diplomats should be increased. This despite rating public diplomacy 1.8, lower than any other American policy initiative.

Experts agree we're in for more terrorism, but probably not right away.

Bad Grades

Here's how foreign policy experts rate the effectiveness of agencies involved in homeland security, on a scale of one to 10.

State Department 4.8
Defense Department 4.4
Director of National Intelligence 3.9
Homeland Security Department 2.9


Want to make money in the stock market? Buy shares in companies headed by former military officers. They've beaten Standard & Poor's 500 Index by three to 20 points per year during the one-, three-, five- and 10-year periods ending in September 2005. That's according to a study released June 16 by executive search firm Korn/Ferry International of Los Angeles and the Economist Intelligence Unit, the business information arm of the publisher of The Economist magazine.

Former officers' success in corporate corner offices appears to stem most of all from their early experience with leadership. "Young officers enjoy the opportunity to manage large teams and multimillion-dollar budgets at an age when a majority of their peers are taking the first steps on their career paths," the study noted.

Military leadership conveyed six traits that former officers said served them in heading companies:

  • A capacity to work well in teams
  • The ability to plan and effectively use resources
  • A knack for clear and compelling communications
  • The ability to define goals and to motivate others
  • A strong sense of ethics
  • Calmness under pressure

These traits help former officers deliver results and thus hang on to their jobs longer than those without military service, the study found. Average tenure for former officer CEOs: 7.2 years. For those without military service: 4.6 years.

One warning for folks in the ranks considering a future in business: Get out early. Of the 25 ex-military CEOs whose ranks were available, 24 left as lieutenants or captains. "The first 10 years in the military are really helpful in corporate life," said Chuck Wardell, Korn/Ferry managing director for the Northeast region. "Beyond the level of major, though, you get into the politics of the military, and that is a completely different game."

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