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Aerospace Daily December 13, 2004

Senators' Comments Suggest Existence Of Secret Space Program

By Rich Tuttle

Cryptic comments by two Democrats on the Senate floor about a major program in the fiscal year 2005 intelligence authorization conference report point to a secret space effort of some kind that has been under way for years, but which has been unknown to the public, analysts said.

Sens. Jay Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) both criticized the program without naming it on Dec. 8 during debate on the fiscal year 2005 intelligence authorization bill.

Rockefeller said it was "totally unjustified and very, very wasteful." He said the Senate has voted for the past two years to kill it, "only to be overruled in the appropriations conference." While the new intelligence authorization conference report fully authorizes the effort, Rockefeller said, it is "unjustified and stunningly expensive."

Wyden agreed, and said "numerous independent reviews have concluded that the program does not fulfill a major intelligence gap or shortfall, and the original justification for developing this technology has eroded in importance due to the changed practices and capabilities of our adversaries. There are a number of other programs in existence and in development whose capabilities can match those envisioned for this program at far less cost and technological risk."

"Because they're talking about an expensive acquisition program, it's a logical inference to assume that we're talking about a satellite program," Steven Aftergood of the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists said Dec. 10.

He said Wyden's comments gave the most clues about what it may be, and the senator's statement that the program is not as important today as it was in the past "suggests that it's something that might have made sense against the Soviet Union, but doesn't make sense against al Qaeda," Aftergood said.

John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, Alexandria, Va., said there are at least two possibilities - "a stealthy reconnaissance satellite or Discoverer II come back, a space-based JSTARS [Joint Surveillance Targeting Attack Radar System]." Discoverer II, which was to have consisted of many small radar satellites, apparently was killed some years ago.

Pike said he leans toward the stealthy spy satellite "because I've got more direct indication that there's actually some there there, whereas I'm not sure what's happened with Discoverer II." He said he didn't know "whether they really did drive a stake in its heart, or whether they took it so black [classified] that nobody could find it."

Copyright 2004 Aviation Week, a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies.