Sattelite plan shrouded in mystery
Senator: Mystery Spy Project Dangerous
WASHINGTON (AP) - The latest mystery in Washington espionage circles came to light in an unlikely venue: the floor of the U.S. Senate.
Tucked inside Congress' new blueprint for U.S. intelligence spending is a highly classified and expensive spy program that drew exceptional criticism from leading Democrats.
In an unusually public rebuke of a secret government project, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, complained Wednesday that the program was ``totally unjustified and very, very wasteful and dangerous to the national security.'' He called the program ``stunningly expensive.''
Rockefeller and three other Democratic senators - Richard Durbin of Illinois, Carl Levin of Michigan and Ron Wyden of Oregon - refused to sign the congressional compromise negotiated by others in the House and Senate that provides for future U.S. intelligence activities.
The compromise noted that the four senators believed the mystery program was unnecessary and its cost unjustified and that ``they believe that the funds for this item should be expended on other intelligence programs that will make a surer and greater contribution to national security.''
Each senator - and more than two dozen current and former U.S. officials contacted by The Associated Press - declined to further describe or identify the disputed program, citing its classified nature. Thirteen other senators on the Intelligence Committee and all their counterparts in the House approved the compromise.
Despite objections from some in the Senate, Congress has approved the program for the past two years, Rockefeller said.
The Senate voted to send the legislation to President Bush on Wednesday night. The bill is separate from the intelligence overhaul legislation that also won final congressional approval Wednesday.
The rare criticisms of a highly secretive project in such a public forum intrigued outside intelligence experts, who said the program was almost certainly a spy satellite system, perhaps with technology to destroy potential attackers. They cited tantalizing hints in Rockefeller's remarks, such as the program's enormous expense and its alleged danger to national security.
A U.S. panel in 2001 described American defense and spy satellites as frighteningly vulnerable, saying technology to launch attacks in space was widely available. The study, by a commission whose members included Donald H. Rumsfeld prior to his appointment as defense secretary for Bush, concluded that the United States was ``an attractive candidate for a Space Pearl Harbor.''
Sending even defensive satellite weapons into orbit could start an arms race in space, warned John Pike, a defense analyst with GlobalSecurity.org, who has studied anti-satellite weapons for more than three decades. Pike said other countries would inevitably demand proof that any weapons were only defensive.
``It would present just absolutely insurmountable verification problems because we are not going to let anybody look at our spy satellites,'' Pike said.
Rockefeller's description of the spy project as a ``major funding acquisition program'' suggests a price tag in the range of billions of dollars, intelligence experts said. But even expensive imagery or eavesdropping satellites, as long as they're unarmed, are rarely criticized as a danger to U.S. security, they noted.
Is this some insane Star Wars killer program or could it be related to this BBC story:
Europe presses ahead on sat-nav
The Galileo satellite navigation system will soon become a reality after being given final approval in Brussels.
European transport ministers agreed to the next phase of the project - the construction and launch of spacecraft.
It is expected the European network will have orbiting satellites in place to begin operations beyond 2008.
Galileo will be interoperable with the US GPS, improving the accuracy and reliability of navigation and timing signals received across the planet.
"This is a real technological revolution," said the European Commissioner for Transport, Jacques Barrot.
"This will have many practical applications: direct information for emergency rescuers in case of car accidents, dynamic traffic management to help trucks avoid huge traffic jams, the prevention of natural catastrophes such as flooding or fires, and a lot of other useful applications."
Friday's meeting of ministers approved the "deployment" phase of Galileo. This covers the construction and launch of satellites and the building of ground receiving stations.
This will cost 2.1 billion euros (£1.4bn), with industry putting up two-thirds of the investment. More than a billion euros has already been released for research and development. Further funds will need to be approved to pay for the first years of operations.
Eventually, however, it is expected the running costs will be entirely covered by the private sector.
Galileo is expected to drive a multi-billion-euro industry in which receivers find their way into many more markets - from consumer devices such as mobile phones to safety-critical applications such as guided trains and buses.
"This programme will offer Europe a worldwide position with countries such as China and Russia using the system Galileo," said Jacques Barrot.
The final constellation of 30 satellites will more than double the spacecraft providing the American Global Positioning System, greatly improving the quality of signals users can receive.
The idea of the Europeans developing their own network had irked the US Department of Defense, which controls GPS, because of the potential of Galileo's signals interfering with those intended for use by the American military.
According to the BBC, the Pentagon may black the signals from this network to prevent certain powers from using it.
posted by Steve @ 1:02:00 AM