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  • Lou Novacheck
    *20121004-LIFTING THE VEIL ON NRO SATELLITE SYSTEMS AND GROUND STATIONS* Documents Trace Effort to Declassify the Operations of America s Intelligence
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 19, 2012

      Documents Trace Effort to Declassify the Operations of America's
      Intelligence Satellite Agency



      ► National Security Archive / by Jeffrey T. Richelson

      Oct 4 2012 ► Oct 4. Today, the National Security Archive posts the fourth
      in a series of electronic briefing books concerning secrecy and satellite
      reconnaissance - one of the most sensitive areas of U.S.
      intelligence-gathering. Specific satellite programs whose declassification
      is covered in this briefing book include some of the earliest and, at the
      time, most secretive programs of their kind: CORONA, ARGON, LANYARD, GRAB,

      The 78-document collection, obtained mostly under the Freedom of
      Information Act, consists of eight parts covering declassification actions
      from 1973 to 2012 involving satellite programs, ground stations, and
      launches. With a focus on the decades-long debate within the U.S.
      intelligence community over the unveiling of one of America's most advanced
      spy systems, these materials not only describe

      previously unknown facts about the NRO's operations, but provide a
      fascinating look at the challenges involved in attempting to declassify
      information on U.S. intelligence activities.

      For example, long gaps can exist between the date a particular satellite
      program has been terminated and the date information about it is released
      -- up to almost four decades in some cases. Even then, major portions of
      the program may remain classified, sometimes because they relate to
      technical data or the wide-ranging justification of protecting "sources and
      methods," and sometimes because of a policy decision to conceal substantive
      information, such as imagery covering the state of Israel.

      According to the documents, even when a move is made to create more
      transparency, it can sometimes be the occasion for active
      misrepresentation. This was the case with a plan in 1972 to allow the
      National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to use weather data
      from hitherto classified Air Force satellite missions. In order to
      accomplish this, the then-head of NRO proposed rewriting history by
      designating the next satellite launch in an ongoing series as the first
      operational launch, and all previous (classified) launches as merely "R&D

      While the usually overwhelming reflex within the intelligence community is
      to keep most of its materials classified, this collection shows that
      arguments do surface internally for allowing at least certain information
      to reach the public. Beyond the perceived political need to respond to
      outside pressures, an understanding exists in some quarters - including at
      high levels - that benefits can and do accrue to the community, including
      actually strengthening the integrity of the security system itself.

      Among the specific revelations in the collection:

      * Original plans for declassification of the weather satellite effort
      called for misrepresenting earlier operational satellites as part of a
      "research and development" effort.

      * The first NRO-developed system to be declassified - a weather satellite -
      was publicly acknowledged in 1973 (but without reference to the
      then-classified NRO).

      * Similarly, declassification actions may take place without public

      * Declassification of the "fact of" QUILL as a radar imager and subsequent
      declassification of programmatic details about the satellite was triggered
      by a single Freedom of Information Act request.

      * The interval between the conclusion of an NRO space collection program
      and its declassification ranges between two and four decades.

      * There was an eight-year gap between the initiation of the effort to
      declassify the POPPY electronic intelligence satellite and ultimate

      * There was a fourteen-year gap between the initial NRO-initiative to
      declassify programmatic details of the GAMBIT and HEXAGON programs and
      their actual declassification.

      * The current (and in some cases new) designations for five key NRO Mission
      Ground Stations.

      Life is illusory and as fleeting as a bubble in a stream.
      ~ from the Diamond Sutra, the oldest printed book known, circa 868 AD

      "Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!": "Look behind
      you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you'll die!”
      ~ Tertullian in his Apologeticus.[3]

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