'US fails to realise space threat'

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12/01/2001 10:21 - (SA)

'US fails to realise space threat'

Washington - An advisory commission headed until recently by Defence Secretary-designate Donald Rumsfeld said on Thursday that a lack of attention by the government to its satellites and space policy makes the United States "an attractive candidate for a space Pearl Harbour."

The United States depends on space more than any other country - for military surveillance, weather forecasts, cell phone connections - yet the White House, Congress and various government agencies fail to make space protection a top priority, the panel concluded.

And that, the commission said in its report to Congress, "could leave the US vulnerable to surprises in space."

"The US government - in particular, the Department of Defence and the intelligence community - is not yet arranged or focused to meet the national security space needs of the 21st century," the panel found.

The commission suggested several steps to restructure the government's space policy, which currently is scattered among more than a dozen military, intelligence and other federal departments.

"Right now, there are lots of little individuals who will give you lots of little individual space answers," said former Sen. Malcolm Wallop, a commission member who characterised the situation as "an enormous band of chieftains with no tribes."

Among the commission's recommendations:

Naming a new under-secretary of defence for space to co-ordinate national military and intelligence activities and research in the area. Having the under-secretary of the Air Force oversee the National Reconnaissance Office, which develops and operates satellites. Forming a presidential advisory board to provide guidance and help press the importance of space activities upon the White House. Establish within the National Security Council a group of senior space advisers and staff from various federal agencies who could be included in any security decisions. Assign regular meetings between the secretary of defence and director of central intelligence to "address national security space policy, objectives and issues." The government must also do more to encourage students and tap experts who could help make contributions to the space industry, the advisers said.

"The investment in science and technology resources, not just facilities but particularly people, is essential if we're going to continue to be a leader as a space-faring nation, and we don't see that robustness today," said retired Adm. David E. Jeremiah, one of the commissioners.

Jeremiah said other nations may soon act upon America's dependence on its space satellites and "are going to be attracted to our vulnerabilities."

He pointed to one satellite problem in 1998, in which 85 percent of the nation's pagers were silenced, as a possible "space attack."

"The difficulty of space is that you can't tell," he said. "We don't know if the interruption of all the pagers not so long ago was an attack or an anomaly that showed up in the hardware."

In its report, the 13-member commission stressed that while organisation and management of the nation's space efforts were important, "the critical need is national leadership to elevate space on the national security agenda."

The commission was led by Rumsfeld until he stepped down following his nomination by President-elect Bush to be defence secretary. Rumsfeld has listed "defence of our space assets" as one of his top priorities. - Sapa-AP



-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), January 13, 2001

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