[FPSPACE] Stealth spysat?
paolo.ulivi at tiscali.it
Sun Dec 12 04:48:42 EST 2004
>From the NY Times:
New Spy Plan Said to Involve Satellite System
December 12, 2004
By DOUGLAS JEHL
WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 - A highly classified intelligence
program that the Senate Intelligence Committee has tried
unsuccessfully to kill is a new $9.5 billion spy satellite
system that could take photographs only in daylight hours
and in clear weather, current and former government
The cost of the system, now the single biggest item in the
intelligence budget, and doubts about its usefulness have
spurred a secret Congressional battle. The fight over the
future of a system whose existence has not yet been
officially disclosed first came to light this week.
In public remarks, senators opposed to the program have
described it only as an enormously expensive classified
intelligence acquisition program without specifically
describing it as a satellite system.
Outside experts said on Thursday that it was almost
certainly a new spy satellite program that would duplicate
existing reconnaissance capabilities. The Washington Post
first reported the total cost and precise nature of the
program on Saturday, saying that it was for a new
generation of spy satellites being built by the National
Reconnaissance Office that are designed to orbit
The officials would not say how many satellites were
planned as part of the program, but they said the system
included the satellites themselves, their launchers and the
technology necessary to transmit the images they collected.
Some current and former government officials expressed
concern that the disclosure of the existence of the highly
classified program might be harmful to national security.
They said Congressional Republicans were questioning
whether the public hints first dropped by four Senate
Democrats opposed to the program, including John D.
Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, might have represented a
violation of Congressional rules. Mr. Rockefeller's office
said earlier in the week that the senator had consulted
with security officials before making a carefully worded
statement on the Senate floor that described the classified
program as unnecessary and too expensive, but did not
identify it further.
But other officials said the depth and intensity of
opposition to the program, expressed behind closed doors
for more than two years by Senate Republicans as well as
Democrats, had finally tipped the balance between secrecy
and candor in a way that has led to an extraordinary
Among the champions of the program, officials said, has
been Porter J. Goss, the new director of central
intelligence, who served until this summer as the
Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
But critics, including Democrats and Republicans on the
Senate Intelligence Committee, have questioned whether any
new satellite system could really evade detection by
American adversaries and whether its capabilities would
improve on those already in existence or in development.
"These satellites would be irrelevant to current threats,
and this money could be much better spent on the kind of
human intelligence needed to penetrate closed regimes and
terrorist networks," said a former government official with
direct knowledge of the program. "There are already so many
satellites in orbit that our adversaries already assume
that just about anything done in plain sight is watched, so
it's hard to believe a new satellite, even a stealthy one,
could make much of a difference."
A Central Intelligence Agency spokesman declined to comment
about the existence of any classified satellite program, as
did the White House. A spokeswoman for Mr. Rockefeller, who
is the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee,
also declined comment. A compromise between the Senate and
House that was approved in both chambers this week
authorized spending on the program for another year. Money
for the program had earlier been allocated as part of a
defense appropriations bill that reflected strong support
for the system among members of the House and Senate
But Mr. Rockefeller and other Democrats on the Senate
intelligence panel, including Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon,
said in calling attention to the issue this week that they
would seek much more aggressively to scuttle the program
The idea that the disputed program might be a stealth
satellite program was proposed in an interview on Thursday
by John Pike, a satellite expert who heads
Globalsecurity.com, a defense and intelligence database.
The existence of the first stealth satellite, launched
under a program known as Misty, was first reported by
Jeffrey T. Richelson in his 2001 book, "The Wizards of
Langley: Inside the C.I.A.'s Directorate of Science and
Technology." Mr. Richelson said the first such satellite
was launched from the space shuttle Atlantis in March 1990.
A second Misty satellite is believed to have been launched
in the late 1990's and is still in operation, current and
government officials said.
The program now in dispute would represent the third
generation of the stealth satellite program, and is being
built primarily by the Lockheed Martin Corporation, the
officials said. The company has refused to comment on its
involvement in any classified programs.
To date, the cost of the program has been in the
neighborhood of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, the
officials said. But they said that the overall price tag
had recently soared, from initial estimates of about $5
billion to the new $9.5 billion figure, and that annual
outlays would increase sharply in coming years if the
program is kept alive.
"Right now, it's not too late to stop this program, before
billions of dollars are spent on something that may never
get off the ground and may add nothing to our security,"
the former government official said.
In his public comments, Mr. Wyden did not mention Lockheed,
but he expressed concern about the rapidly escalating cost
of the satellite program and the way in which the
contractor was selected.
The mere existence of the National Reconnaissance Office
was not publicly acknowledged until the early 1990's, and
it remains the most secretive among American intelligence
agencies. Its main responsibility is building and launching
spy satellites to collect images and intercept
communications for the National Geospatial-Intelligence
Agency and the National Security Agency.
There are many kinds of reconnaissance satellites, and some
of them have the capability, through infrared and radar
technology, to acquire images at night and in cloudy
weather. Officials have suggested that new technologies may
also be able to detect the presence of objects underground.
The sharpest images come from photo reconnaissance, but
those satellites can generally operate successfully only
during the day and in sunny weather.
Officials critical of the new stealth satellite program now
in dispute said it would have only photo reconnaissance
capability, though with high resolution. The secret nuclear
programs in North Korea and Iran are widely believed to be
developed underground or otherwise out of view of photo
"These days, you really have to assume that if there's
anything we see in North Korea, it's something they intend
for us to see," said Mr. Pike, the private satellite
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