Deputy Defense Secretary says problems were significant : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

-- Frank Lee (I dont give a damn) (, January 03, 2000


January 02, 2000

Scary, quickly fixed failure 'blinds' satellite spy network

A New Year's Eve computer failure at the supersecret National Reconnaissance Office nearly blinded the agency's global satellite spying operations for several hours until a backup system was activated, the Pentagon said yesterday.

Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre told reporters the problem with "a satellite-based intelligence system" was "significant" and had reduced the ability of the spy agency to monitor world events. The problem is expected to last several days, he said.

"For a period of several hours we were not able to process information from that system," Mr. Hamre said, declining to provide specific details.

Asked whether U.S. high-technology spies were "blinded," Mr. Hamre said: "For a short period of time we were not able to process the information that the satellites were sending."

An official familiar with the incident said later that he agreed with Mr. Hamre's assessment that the data cutoff was serious, but that not all satellites were unable to transmit data. "Not everything was affected," the official said.

The disruption of the spy satellites is the only major year-2000 computer problem for the U.S. government reported so far. It occurred despite an earlier readiness test.

The reconnaissance office, known as NRO, operates a small number of satellites capable of photographing images on the ground and transmitting them back to Earth. The satellites' precise capabilities are classified, but intelligence officials have said privately they can identify objects on the ground as small as 24 inches.

The most advanced imaging satellites are maneuverable and can transmit live video with no delay. Some have the capability to see through clouds and most contain separate electronic eavesdropping systems.

The satellites, which cost as much as $1 billion each, operate primarily in orbit about 300 miles high. They monitor hot spots around the world such as Russian military operations in Chechnya, North Korea's pending long-range missile launch and Iraqi military activities.

Mr. Hamre declined to say where the computer failure occurred. The backup system is not providing the same level of intelligence as the primary one, he said.

The satellites are operated by computers and communications systems at NRO's headquarters in Chantilly, as well as at various ground stations around the world.

The disruption did not affect the Pentagon's ability to monitor strategic nuclear missile launches, which rely on satellites that detect the heat of rockets, Mr. Hamre said.

The problem occurred at 7 p.m. Eastern time and prevented satellite data from being processed for several hours, Mr. Hamre said.

"We were able to adopt backup procedures, which had indeed been planned and rehearsed, and they are in place right now as we're working through the final details," he said.

"We are operating at less than our full peacetime level of activity today. But all of our high-priority needs, both for the Department of Defense and other national customers, are fully being met."

NRO provides photographs and other spy imagery for other agencies, including the CIA and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. Both analyze and report on the pictures to U.S. policy-makers.

Other Pentagon computer woes included a cash register failure at a military base in Okinawa, Japan, and a power outage at a base in Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean.

Mr. Hamre said it was not known whether the power failure was related to the year-2000 computer problem, which refers to older systems that may "think" the year 2000 is 1900 and then malfunction or shut down.

A signal station operated by a military service also had a problem with its physical security system that affected how employees enter the facility, Mr. Hamre said.

He said the satellite problem occurred despite testing in advance of the date rollover to 2000.

"When you conduct a test, part of what you need to do is to establish the link and where that satellite is at that point in time and space," Mr. Hamre said of the mostly classified satellite operations.

"But of course that's not where it's going to be on the 31st of December at one minute to midnight," he said. "So you have to do some operational workarounds to try to get as realistic a testing environment as possible. And I suspect that that's where we had the problem."

On another front, Mr. Hamre said the number of computer attacks on the Pentagon was less than normal.

"We had fewer problems in cyberspace. There's always skirmishing going on in cyberspace . . . and we've had less this weekend than we normally had," he said.

-- kermit (, January 03, 2000.

The problem is already fixed, relax......GG

-- (, January 03, 2000.

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