Filling in the “Unknowns”: National Missile Defense and the Rumsfeld Commission



It was not until June 2002, amid the growing controversy over intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and supposed evidence of links to Al Qaeda that Donald Rumsfeld, then Secretary of Defense, informed a press conference of one of “Rumsfeld’s rules”: that those who wrote and read intelligence analyses should always beware of “the unknown unknowns,” the things that policy makers and analysts were not even aware that they did not know about.2 From then on the “unknown unknowns” became irrevocably associated with intelligence and the 2003 Iraq War. However, it was not the Iraq case that had inspired this Rumsfeld “rule.” This most infamous of Rumsfeld’s aphorisms had been coined four years earlier while its author served as head of the Congressionally mandated Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States.


Heritage Foundation Intelligence Community Clinton Administration Unknown Unknown Missile Defense 
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© Maria Ryan 2010

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