Ex-national security bigwigs protest profligance

A group of ex-national security officials have sent an open letter calling for weaning America off the oil addiction and asking the Bush administration to spend $1 billion on develeoping more fuel-efficient automobiles.

Retail gasoline prices now averaging above $2 a gallon make US reliance on foreign suppliers a looming national security crisis, a group of 31 former officials wrote.

"This really constitutes a national security crisis in the making," said letter signer Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy and a Defense Department official under Reagan. Other signers included Robert McFarlane, Reagan’s national security advisor, and James Woolsey, CIA director under Clinton. Inan uncharacteristic move, the security experts sought input from groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It’s strange bedfellows but this is actually the real American majority," said Nicole St. Clair, a spokeswoman for the NRDC. "It’s common sense."

The letter urged the government to encourage car manufacturers to design vehicles from lighter materials, and endorsed "plug power"—hybrid vehicles that partially run off internal batteries which are charged by the internal-combustion engine.

Regulations known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards require automakers to achieve an average fuel economy of 27.5 miles per gallon for all passenger cars sold, and 20.7 mpg for vans, sport utility vehicles and pick-up trucks. The standards have not been tightened for more than a dozen years due to opposition from Detroit. The average fuel economy has steadily dropped since 1988.

The US should not depend on suppliers like Saudi Arabia for security reasons, the letter warned. Although Saudi officials say the kingdom’s oilfields are protected from terror attacks, McFarlane said the oil installations are "extremely vulnerable from a military point of view."

If Saudi oil facilities are damaged, "You’re not talking about $100 (per barrel) oil. You’re talking about well beyond that," McFarlane said. US crude oil prices peaked March 17 at $57.60 a barrel. (Reuters, March 29)

The letter comes a time of record-breaking oil prices.