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Responding to the North Korea Missile Threat


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: With al Qaeda, Iraq, Iran and North Korea, there are plenty of challenges to U.S. national security these days. The latest U.S. eye in the sky was launched this week.

CNN national security correspondent David Ensor is live for us in Washington D.C. He's got an exclusive look at some of these satellites.

Hey, David, good morning.


That's right. You know, the American way of war and the American way of gathering intelligence relies very, very heavily on spy satellites. And as other nations are seeking to get into the spy satellite business, the goal of the National Reconnaissance Office is both to make sure that American satellites are secure and to try to make sure that America keeps its massive technological edge in space.


ENSOR (voice-over): U.S. satellites, including the ones used for spying, have sometimes been deployed by the space shuttle. But most of them go up the old-fashioned way, by rocket. This surveillance relay satellite under construction in California will go up that way soon.

(on camera): You've got to take 8,000 pounds and get it 22,000 miles up?


ENSOR (voice-over): And get it to a precise place where you need it to be and hold it there for ten years?

SEE: Yes.

ENSOR: Spy satellites are essential to the national security of the United States, and other countries know it. (on camera): Are American spy satellites vulnerable to attack?

DONALD KERR, DIR., NRO: It's certainly possible to do a direct dissent kinetic attack on a space system, but it's very hard to do, and it would likely be observable for a variety of reasons, particularly if it involved a missile launch.

ENSOR (voice-over): National Reconnaissance Officer Director Donald Kerr says adversaries know there would be retaliation. One day the U.S. will know it's at war, say analysts, when its eyes and ears in the sky get hit.

JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: These spy satellites are basically our glass jar. They're easy to track, and for a country with rocket capabilities like China, not that difficult to shoot down.

ENSOR: To make that less likely, the NRO, sources say, is working on a new generation of stealthy satellites.

PIKE: I could make it blend into the space debris, the space junk in low-Earth orbit. That way, an enemy wouldn't know when it was overhead, they wouldn't be able to track it, and they wouldn't be able to shoot it down.

ENSOR: America's spy satellites were crucial in the Cold War, but their role in tracking al Qaeda is less clear.

(on camera): Some senior officials have said that in the post 9/11-world, what's really needed now is a lot more and better human intelligence, and that satellites are less useful. What do you think about that?

KERR: One of the important things that people need to remember is that in some cases, the best HUMINT is in fact that which is supported by a technical collection, because human sources are notoriously unreliable.

ENSOR (voice-over): Satellites not only take pictures and eavesdrop from hundreds of miles above the Earth, they can also detect heat in an underground, hidden nuclear plant, using infrared sensors. U.S. scientists are also working on hyper-spectral sensors, that can track a hidden-weapons plant by finding trace amounts of chemicals in the air.


ENSOR: How far along are they on that? Don't ask, Soledad. It's top secret.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, how did I know you were going to say that? David Ensor for us this morning. David, thanks -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: He'd have to kill you, you know.

S. O'BRIEN: Exactly.


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