Shocking Menace of Satellite Surveillance
Unknown to most of the world, satellites can perform astonishing and often menacing feats. This should come as no surprise when one reflects on the massive effort poured into satellite technology since the Soviet satellite Sputnik, launched in 1957, caused panic in the U.S. A spy satellite can monitor a person’s every movement, even when the “target” is indoors or deep in the interior of a building or traveling rapidly down the highway in a car, in any kind of weather (cloudy, rainy, stormy). There is no place to hide on the face of the earth. It takes just three satellites to blanket the world with detection capacity. Besides tracking a person’s every action and relaying the data to a computer screen on earth, amazing powers of satellites include reading a person’s mind, monitoring conversations, manipulating electronic instruments and physically assaulting someone with a laser beam. Remote reading of someone’s mind through satellite technology is quite bizarre, yet it is being done; it is a reality at present, not a chimera from a futuristic dystopia! To those who might disbelieve my description of satellite surveillance, I’d simply cite a tried-and-true Roman proverb: Time reveals all things (tempus omnia revelat).
As extraordinary as clandestine satellite powers are, nevertheless prosaic satellite technology is much evident in daily life. Satellite businesses reportedly earned $26 billion in 1998. We can watch transcontinental television broadcasts “via satellite,” make long-distance phone calls relayed by satellite, be informed of cloud cover and weather conditions through satellite images shown on television, and find our geographical bearings with the aid of satellites in the GPS (Global Positioning System). But behind the facade of useful satellite technology is a Pandora’s box of surreptitious technology. Spy satellites–as opposed to satellites for broadcasting and exploration of space–have little or no civilian use–except, perhaps, to subject one’s enemy or favorite malefactor to surveillance. With reference to detecting things from space, Ford Rowan, author of Techno Spies, wrote “some U.S. military satellites are equipped with infra-red sensors that can pick up the heat generated on earth by trucks, airplanes, missiles, and cars, so that even on cloudy days the sensors can penetrate beneath the clouds and reproduce the patterns of heat emission on a TV-type screen. During the Vietnam War sky high infra-red sensors were tested which detect individual enemy soldiers walking around on the ground.” Using this reference, we can establish 1970 as the approximate date of the beginning of satellite surveillance–and the end of the possibility of privacy for several people.
The government agency most heavily involved in satellite surveillance technology is the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), an arm of the Pentagon. NASA is concerned with civilian satellites, but there is no hard and fast line between civilian and military satellites. NASA launches all satellites, from either Cape Kennedy in Florida or Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, whether they are military-operated, CIA-operated, corporate-operated or NASA’s own. Blasting satellites into orbit is a major expense. It is also difficult to make a quick distinction between government and private satellites; research by NASA is often applicable to all types of satellites. Neither the ARPA nor NASA makes satellites; instead, they underwrite the technology while various corporations produce the hardware. Corporations involved in the satellite business include Lockheed, General Dynamics, RCA, General Electric, Westinghouse, Comsat, Boeing, Hughes Aircraft, Rockwell International, Grumman Corp., CAE Electronics, Trimble Navigation and TRW.
The World Satellite Directory, 14th edition (1992), lists about a thousand companies concerned with satellites in one way or another. Many are merely in the broadcasting business, but there are also product headings like “remote sensing imagery,” which includes Earth Observation Satellite Co. of Lanham, Maryland, Downl Inc. of Denver, and Spot Image Corp. of Reston, Virginia. There are five product categories referring to transponders. Other product categories include earth stations (14 types), “military products and systems,” “microwave equipment,” “video processors,” “spectrum analyzers.” The category “remote sensors” lists eight companies, including ITM Systems Inc., in Grants Pass, Oregon, and Satellite Technology Management of Costa Mesa, California. Sixty-five satellite associations are listed from all around the world, such as Aerospace Industries Association, American Astronautical Society, Amsat and several others in the U.S.
Spy satellites were already functioning and violating people’s right to privacy when President Reagan proposed his “Strategic Defense Initiative,” or Star Wars, in the early 80s, long after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 had demonstrated the military usefulness of satellites. Star Wars was supposed to shield the U.S. from nuclear missiles, but shooting down missiles with satellite lasers proved infeasible, and many scientists and politicians criticized the massive program. Nevertheless, Star Wars gave an enormous boost to surveillance technology and to what may be called “black bag” technology, such as mind reading and lasers that can assault someone, even someone indoors. Aviation Week & Space Technology mentioned in 1984 that “facets of the project [in the Star Wars program] that are being hurried along include the awarding of contracts to study…a surveillance satellite network.” It was bound to be abused, yet no group is fighting to cut back or subject to democratic control this terrifying new technology. As one diplomat to the U.N. remarked, “‘Star Wars’ was not a means of creating heaven on earth, but it could result in hell on earth.”