The subterfuge helped to persuade the Kremlin to spend tens of billions of dollars on counter-measures against Ronald Reagan's pet project to develop a space-shield as a protection against nuclear attack, according to the New York Times.
Quoting four unnamed officials from the Reagan administration, the newspaper claimed that the deception was approved by Caspar Weinberger, the US Secretary of Defense from 1981 to 1987, and was based on a strategy to persuade the Soviet empire to cripple itself with debt. But they said fake information also found its way into closed briefings to Congress, bolstering the case for more spending on strategic defence.
The officials identified one specific test in June 1984, in which those involved in the Strategic Defence Initiative, as it was officially known, set out to fool both their arch-enemy and their own government. It happened, they claimed, while scientists were conducting a programme involving attempts to hit a target missile launched from California with an interceptor missile fired from the Pacific Ocean.
After the first three tests failed, project officials decided to fake the fourth. 'We would lose hundreds of millions of dollars in Congress if we did not perform it successfully,' one project scientist said. 'It would be a catastrophe. We rigged the test. We put a beacon with a certain frequency on the target vehicle. On the interceptor, we had a receiver . . . The hit looked beautiful, so Congress did not ask questions.'
The test was then presented as the first example of a missile intercepting a long-range ballistic missile in flight - a technological hurdle that the SDI scientists regarded as crucial, and which was presented to the world as a major breakthrough. It was nearly seven years before the scientists achieved the same feat legitimately.
Mr Weinberger denied yesterday that Congress had been deceived. 'It's a pile of nonsense,' he said.
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