Tags: Report | Urges | Spy | Agency | Reorganization | Use | Commercial

Report Urges Spy Agency Reorganization, Use of Commercial Imagery

Friday, 17 November 2000 12:00 AM

According to documents released Thursday, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) will be directed to use more commercial satellites to provide imagery of political trouble spots and foreign military activities.

The report also revealed for the first time publicly that the White House approved licenses for a pair of advanced commercial satellites that will orbit cameras capable of detecting objects on the ground as small as one and a half feet in length.

One of the half-meter imaging spacecraft will be built by Colorado-based Space Imaging Inc. The name of the second license holder was not available. The satellites will have capabilities once limited to craft flown by government spy agencies.

A spokesperson for Space Imaging Inc. said that while the license for its satellite has been approved, final notification hasn't yet been received.

"Space Imaging submitted an application for a half meter commercial imaging system last December," said Mark Brender, Director of Washington Operations for the company. "This approval keeps the American remote sensing industry in a leadership position and provides a new source of visual information products for a growing list of customers." Launch of the satellite is planned for the 2004 timeframe, he said.

Since the late 1950s the U.S. government has been flying satellites in space capable of spying on the territory of other countries. Spy satellites have alerted the Pentagon to military activities of other nations as well as proving an effective means to verify compliance with arms control treaties.

But with the end of the Cold War, government spending on space equipment has declined while use of commercial systems has grown. At the same time, technology once secret has been declassified and other advanced space systems have become more affordable to commercial users and private industry.

Recent generations of privately owned and operated remote sensing satellites have contained cameras and other imaging devices capable of photographing objects about three feet (one meter) in size.

The two new satellites approved by the White House will be twice as capable. The only other existing satellites that contain cameras capable of such high resolution are believed to be the secret spy craft orbited by the Air Force and operated by the NRO. The U.S. government does not reveal details of such classified spacecraft and only officially revealed the existence of the NRO itself in 1994. The exact amount of money the agency spends and the number of spy craft in space are also classified.

Industry observers suggested the report was the first of many changes in store for the government spy agencies. The report called for the establishment of a new office for space reconnaissance that can coordinate development of new technologies for imaging the Earth, as well as speed the use of spy photography for military, diplomatic, and anti-terrorist activities as well as the war on drugs. The new office, to be managed by NRO, would be operated under the direct personal direction of the president, Secretary of Defense, and Director of the CIA.

Another change might be a slowdown in the release of older still-classified imagery. Charles P. Vick, a space policy analyst with the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C., said that with the licensing decision for the more capable satellites, older classified pictures might not be released for several more years. The reason, he suggested, was that by combining the older pictures with the newer ones, military trends over time could be established - something that he said the Pentagon might not wish to reveal.

"The latest arguments are that the more private systems are licensed, the less (older) data can be released," Vick explained. "The protection of sources and methods of how we knew and what we knew is very sensitive to the community."

(C) 2000 UPI All Rights Reserved.

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According to documents released Thursday, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) will be directed to use more commercial satellites to provide imagery of political trouble spots and foreign military activities. The report also revealed for the first time publicly that...
Report,Urges,Spy,Agency,Reorganization,,Use,Commercial,Imagery
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2000-00-17
Friday, 17 November 2000 12:00 AM
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