When former Defense Secretary Harold Brown strode confidently into the Pentagon briefing room last August to announce the so- called "Stealth" technology, he was actually trying "to make the administration look good in an election year," says a subcommittee of the House of Representatives.
The secretary's announcement of the technology that can reportedly render aircraft all- but undetectable by radar was "a serious mistake and did serious damage to the security of the United States," adds the just-released report of the investigations subcommittee of the House Armed Services committee.
The existence of a Stealth program had been leaked to the press prior to Mr. Brown's Aug. 22 press conference, and he justified his announcement by asserting that the leaks no longer made it "appropriate or credible for us to deny the existence of this program."
The subcommittee rejects his claim of "damage-limitation," declaring that his press conference provided the Soviet Union with information of far more value than that revealed in the news leaks. "It amounted to official confirmation, which is far more helpful to the Soviets in making their own decisions about where to make their responses than are unconfirmed rumours," the report states.
The subcommittee was unable to determine the veracity of reports that preliminary leaks of Stealth information were orchestrated by the administration so it could convene a press conference and announce the program, claiming that the leaks had impelled it to do so.
But it adds that not even the FBI has been able to determine positively that press stories about Stealth were not deliberately inspired by official administration sources.
Adm. Elmo zumwalt (ret.), a former chief of naval operations, testified under oath to the committee that Pentagon and White House sources had told him that President Carter had authorized Stealth leaks in order to facilitate a fuller, official disclosure of the technology.
In response to a written inquiry by the committee, the President denied that he or his staff had disclosed classified information to unauthorized sources. He added that while he had not initiated Brown's press conference, he had approved it.
The report reveals that two days before the Stealth program was announced the House Armed Services Committee had been briefed on it and reminded that "absolute secrecy" was essential for its protection and preservation. But that evening ABC televitions's "World News Tonight" carried a colorfully illustrated item about it, expanding on earlier reports about a Stealth bomber in Aviation Week & Space Technology and the Washington Post.
The committee report concludes that the machinery for protecting secrets in the Pentagon "is in deplorable shape and desperately needs a total overhaul." It declares that "a total revamping" of procedures to protect classified information must be undertaken immediately, adding that no declassification of the nation's most vital military secrets should be made by any single official -- even the se cretary of defense.