U.S. 'negation' policy in space raises concerns abroad
By Loring Wirbel
May 22, 2003 (1:26 p.m. ET)
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - While much of the talk around the Pentagon these days
focuses on "transformation" of the military, some of the United States' closest
allies worry about another buzzword being used in subtler ways at the National
Reconnaissance Office: "negation."
The nation's largest intelligence agency by budget and in control of all U.S.
spy satellites, NRO is talking openly with the U.S. Air Force Space Command
about actively denying the use of space for intelligence purposes to any other
nation at any time-not just adversaries, but even longtime allies, according to
NRO director Peter Teets.
At the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs in early April, Teets
proposed that U.S. resources from military, civilian and commercial satellites
be combined to provide "persistence in total situational awareness, for the
benefit of this nation's war fighters." If allies don't like the new paradigm
of space dominance, said Air Force secretary James Roche, they'll just have to
learn to accept it. The allies, he told the symposium, will have "no veto
Beginning next year, NRO will be in charge of the new Offensive Counter-Space
program, which will come up with plans to specifically deny the use of
near-Earth space to other nations, said Teets.
The program will include two components: the Counter Communication System,
designed to disrupt other nations' communication networks from space; and the
Counter Surveillance Reconnaissance System, formed to prevent other countries
from using advanced intelligence-gathering technology in air or space.
"Negation implies treating allies poorly," Robert Lawson, senior policy adviser
for nonproliferation in the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, said at a
Toronto conference in late March. "It implies treaty busting."
Hints of such a policy showed up in the Rumsfeld Commission report of January
2001, which warned of a "space Pearl Harbor" if the United States did not
dominate low-earth, geosynchronous and polar orbital planes, as well as all
launch facilities and ground stations, to exploit space for battlefield
The European Union complained in no uncertain terms five years ago that the NRO
and National Security Agency were using global electronic-snooping programs
like Echelon outside the boundaries of mutual NATO advantage. The European
Space Agency chimed in last fall, when the Defense Department tried to bully
ESA into changing its design plans for a navigational-satellite system called
In the aftermath of the successful Iraq campaign, concern goes much deeper and
extends to the heart of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command
inside Cheyenne Mountain near here. While Canada is supposed to be an equal
member of NORAD, representatives of Canada's military and civilian
establishment are complaining that they are not allowed to use space-based
communications and intelligence in the same way the United States can.
"We cannot address the way the U.S. views missile defense and weapons in space
without dealing with their insistence on space negation head-on," said Lawson
of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs.
Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Judd Blaisdell, director of the Air Force Space Operations
Office, said recently, "We are so dominant in space that I pity a country that
would come up against us."
Missile-defense critic William Hartung, of the Institute for Policy Studies,
said none of this should be a surprise. U.S. unilateralism in space was
codified in a Sept. 20, 2002, document titled the "National Security Strategy
of the United States."
After the administration renounced the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty last year,
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made it clear that the abrogation of treaty
constraints in the use of radar and tracking devices was not just for the
benefit of fielding a missile-defense system, but to build better unilateral
networks to manage the planet from space.
In fact, NRO director Teets said here and in earlier Congressional testimony
that it is artificial to see communication tools, intelligence tools and
missile-defense tools as separate. In reality, he said, the programs all feed
into each other and help reinforce the Pentagon's current overwhelming space
Currently, the NRO manages a series of imaging satellites, including the
20-year-old Advanced Crystal system. It manages a family of large radar
satellites called Lacrosse/Onyx, and two classes of listening satellites: a
microwave-only system known as Vortex or Mercury, and a multifrequency behemoth
known as Magnum or Orion. The last two geosynchronous satellites are so large
they must be launched by the massive Titan-IV rocket.
Even though billions were spent every year on these satellites in the 1980s and
1990s, they could not fulfill the new NRO mission of disseminating intelligence
beyond the nation's civilian leaders, direct to the attlefield. NRO lobbied
Congress for a radar satellite follow-on, now called Space-Based Radar. While
NASA is supposed to be a customer for such a system, Teets said its primary
purpose is to improve moving-target indication on the battlefield.
On the imaging and signals fronts, Boeing Corp. won separate contracts in the
late 1990s for a next-generation imaging network called Future Imagery
Architecture and for a listening satellite called Intruder. Both Boeing
projects now face Congressional scrutiny for being over budget and behind
To fill the imaging gap during the Afghan and Iraq wars, the NRO and the
National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) bought up all the image products
from two companies that fly commercial imaging satellites, Space Imaging Inc.
and DigitalGlobe Inc. In the first phase, ClearVision, the agencies merely
bought up existing photographs. But a new phase, NextVision, calls for NRO and
NIMA to specify how the commercial firms should build their next-generation
The constellation of 27 satellites in the Global Positioning Satellite
navigation network were used in Iraq to turn dumb bombs into precision weapons.
With further upgrades planned in the GPS-III system, DoD wants to be sure the
United States holds the trump in space-based navigation.
The SBIRS-High infrared detection system, meanwhile, has become one of the
Defense Department's biggest white elephants.
The SBIRS-High Increment 1 software finally was installed at Buckley Air Force
Base in Aurora, Colo., almost two years late, but the birds themselves are
plagued with problems involving the infrared telescopes and other glitches.
New communications satellites are being rolled out for the Defense Information
Systems Agency, under the management of NRO. The Advanced Extremely
High-Frequency satellite is the successor to Milstar. Voiceband communications
will be handled by the Multi-User Objective System satellite, or MUOS, while
new broadband video services will be handled by the Wideband Gapfiller.
But NRO's Teets said those three programs are only the beginning. The
Transformational Communication Office was established last September to meld
the communication and intelligence interests of the Defense Department. NRO and
NASA will spend more than $10 billion in coming years to define a network of
joint NRO-NASA satellites that will bring Internet-like space communications to
What will this massive palette of space resources bring? Teets told Congress
that what's already in place allows U.S. military dominance in any possible
This transformational use of space resources may play well since the end of the
Iraq War, but it is causing some defections. Several analysts at the Naval War
College and Air Force Academy published essays in the months leading up to the
Iraq assault, warning against assuming that the United States can maintain sole
dominance of space. In March, retired Brig. Gen. Owen Lentz, former director of
intelligence for Space Command, publicly voiced his opposition to using space
intelligence assets for first-strike warfare. Just because the strategy worked
in Iraq, Lentz warned, "does not mean that it should become a pattern for
future action against others."