Bombshell Looks Like Dud
Arms Technology Leak Looks More Like Dud
By Knute Royce
March 30, 1985
Washington - Several weeks ago a senior Pentagon official slipped a bombshell during a closed-door session with a conservative think-tank. The Soviets had acquired from a "friendly allied country" technology to manufacture a composite material that had "greatly increased" the accuracy of Soviet nuclear missiles.
"The probability that those missiles will effectively destroy military targets in the United States and abroad is concominantly increased," Richard Perle, assistant secretary of defense and an influential figure in the administration, told Heritage Foundation staffers last Jan. 30. He said that the sale of the "specialized equipment" occurred over the last few years and was worth $70 million.
"The cost (to the United States) of responding to that sort of improvement on the Soviet side is not in the tens of millions but in the billions of dollars," he said."…We think we just found the tip of the iceberg."
The composite, carbon-carbon, can substantially improve the accuracy of nuclear warheads, military experts agree.
Carbon-carbon is one of the new generation of composite materials. It is woven three-dimensionally and "densified" under extreme heat and pressure. Because it is so heat resistant, it is now being installed on the nosetips of the MX missile's nuclear warhead re-entry vehicles.
Graphite composites used earlier could crack under the intense heat of re-entering the atmosphere, thereby altering the intended trajectory of the warheads. Carbon-carbon is also used in the throats and exit cones of rockets and on the "hot points" of new military engines that must withstand temperatures of up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
So the implications of the technology transfer were enormous and the damage appeared to be only a shade less severe than the Soviet theft of America's atomic bomb blueprints more than 30 years ago. Word of this alarming bit of information naturally spread to parts of the defense community and in conservative circles.
ARMS LEAK BECOMES NON-ISSUE
Air Force Magazine, which had staffed the off-the-record briefing, revealed in the current issue that "highly placed administration officials" had disclosed "another horror story in the area of technology transfer." It divulged that carbon-carbon had "found its way from the U.S. to the Soviet Union," and concluded that, "on first blush, the resultant damage to U.S. national security appears to be enormous."
There was only one problem: There had been no transfer of the technology, according to evidence gathered by The Hearst Newspapers, which included Defense Department and industry documents and interviews with Pentagon, Customs and industry officials.
The dire account was, instead, an example of contemporary Washington hyperbole - the art of conveying "information" designed more for selling a program (in this instance to enlist support for tougher export control regulations and laws) than to enlighten an audience with facts.
THIS IS THE SAME REPORTER THAT WOULD TELL ANOTHER STORY WHEN HE RETURNED TO NEWSDAY AND FOUND THAT I HAD A RUSSIAN WIFE!
As in most such instances of embellishment, there was some grounding in fact.
Two weeks after Perle dropped his bombshell, British authorities, operating under new export regulations seized a special oven used for the manufacturing of carbon-carbon that was destined for the Soviet Union. It was valued at $7.5 million. The British had earlier approved the transaction. There was no evidence of earlier sales of carbon-carbon manufacturing equipment.
The Defense Department had learned from its British counterpart last December that the British subsidiary of a New Jersey-based firm, Consarc Inc., was about to ship the specially built industrial furnace to the Soviet Union.
The owner of Consarc's parent Company, Inductotherm Industries Inc., of Rancocas, N.J. said in an interview that the Soviets had approached Consarc, U. K., more than a year ago to place an order for the furnace, which is critical to the manufacturing of carbon-carbon.
"When we started to build the equipment we went to the U. S. government (Commerce Department) and the British government (Trade Ministry) and got clearance to accept the order and build the equipment," said Henry Rowan, whose company, Inductotherm, and its subsidiaries employ 2,600. No license was required, he said.
The British approval was confirmed by a senior Pentagon official involved in technology matters. But he said he had no evidence that the Commerce Department approved the sale. A Commerce spokesman said he could neither confirm nor deny the department had approved the sale, since such information is privileged.
"In December, the British government came and made a complete inspection of the equipment that we had built," Rowan said. They looked at all the equipment and all the paperwork and all the designs and gave us a clean bill of health."
In mid-February British officials seized the furnace as it was being transferred to a freighter bound for the Soviet Union. Under newly adopted British export regulations, a license was now required for the export of the furnace.
"They (British officials) came back to us and said, "Hey, we're sorry, but we've changed the rules and we're going to have to embargo that," Rowan said. Stephen Bryen, deputy assistant secretary of defense for international economic, trade and security policy, confirmed in an interview that only the single oven was involved in the carbon-carbon technology transfer allegation.
But he defended his boss, Perle, asserting. "He was not being hyperbolic. Had the technology transferred to the Soviets, it would have been disastrous."
This was not the first time that allegations concerning the possible transfer of the technology to the Soviets have surfaced.
ROYCE MAKES A NOSE CONE CONNECTION TO FMI!
In 1981, the owner of a Maine-based high-tech firm, which manufactures carbon-carbon and other composites, complained to Air Force authorities that the French had acquired his technology and were planning to sell it to the Russians, according to Air Force records.
Walter Lachman, owner of Fiber Materials Inc., of Biddeford, Maine, denied in an interview that he had made that allegation. "Is my signature on any of those documents?" he asked. His signature does not appear on the Air Force documents.
One document that bears his typed initials asserts: "Russian officials have stated to FMI (Fiber Materials) that they are negotiating to purchase 3-D (carbon-carbon) technology from France. FMI has informed (the Air Force) of this fact with no apparent result."
The records show that Air Force officials believed he had made that claim, checked it out and found nothing to support it. An Air Force spokesman said that he could find no evidence that the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations, which would likely have investigated the matter, ever did.
But Pentagon official Bryen said that there was no evidence that the French had sold the technology to the Russians.