Inside the Capitol

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Star Wars Worked. Who Knew?

FRI, 2-29-08

SANTA FE -- Is government secrecy a good thing or a bad one? There are secrets we need to hide from our enemies for security reasons and secrets we need to keep from friends for economic reasons. So secrecy can be a good thing.
But then there are secrets that protect government officials from us when they do something stupid and don't want us to know about it. Unfortunately the reason given for this secrecy is national security. As a result, an astounding percentage of government documents are labeled "top secret."
So how do we, the public, distinguish between security secrets and embarrassing secrets? We don't. And we can't. Perhaps fellow New Mexican, Donald Rumsfeld explained the situation best when he was secretary of Defense. He was answering questions about how we ever got ourselves into such an embarrassing position in Iraq and what we were going to do about it.
With a pleasant smile on his face and a grandfatherly demeanor, he explained that there are knowns we know and knowns we don't know. And there are unknowns we know and unknowns we don't know.
By the time he finished wrapping those around each other in every way imaginable, no reporter even made an effort to untangle the mess. The fact that Rumsfeld was completely in the dark himself made no difference because his intent hadn't been to explain anything, anyway.
An example of needing to keep secrets from other good guys occurred during the recent legislative session. Spaceport America designers needed to know exactly what Virgin Galactic, its anchor tenant, needed in the way of facilities. But Virgin couldn't tell our spaceport designers without fear our state officials would have to release the information to anyone who asked, such as a Virgin competitor. So New Mexico lawmakers were asked to pass a special law keeping the Virgin Galactic spaceship design specifications secret from competitors.
A much bigger secret occurred when our government revealed it would have to shoot down one of its spy satellites that broke. Where did we miss the part about us being able to shoot down satellites?
Wasn't that President Ronald Reagan's star wars technology that didn't work? Now our government tells us we've had the capability for 20 years? And we scored a direct hit on the fuel compartment of an object traveling 18,000 miles an hour.
Star Wars works, and they didn't tell us. What else didn't they tell us? The Soviets certainly would have figured it out through their spy system. Could that be why they unexpectedly gave up?
There's definitely a tremendous amount we don't know about our air and space program. Our government has finally been forced to acknowledge that the U-2 spy plane, the SR-71 Blackbird and stealth technology all were built and tested at Area 51, north of Las Vegas, Nevada.
But what else? We hear about the next generation Aurora. We hear about spaceships reverse-engineered from the saucer that crashed near Roswell. And we also hear that about half our nation's intelligence is misinformation intended to distract our enemies.
We may never know. But something we have found out rather recently, which no one may ever have even suspected was that while we all were encouraging our early astronauts into space, we had a parallel space program in progress. It had the same crew module but it also had a small space station to which our astrospies could dock and take pictures of what was going on in the Soviet Union.
And no more surprising, the Russians were doing the same thing themselves. We discontinued our manned astrospy program when our physicists figured out how to do the same thing with unmanned rockets. It took the Soviets a little longer. They put several men in space for extended periods of time to take pictures of us.
Neither country acknowledged its manned space spy program until decades later. Those astronauts never became famous. But several of the Americans reached the very top ranks of our military.

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