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November 24, 2010

Enemy of Privacy - What is the NRO?

 "It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself--anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face...; was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime..." ~ George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 5


Recently, I re-watched the 1998 action thriller, Enemy of the State, starring the Fresh Prince himself,  Will Smith.  The movie is very telling of the capabilities of government spy agencies, such as the CIA and National Security Agency (NSA), especially taking into consideration that it was made prior to the tragedies of 9/11/01.  

For those that have not seen the movie, the plot consists of a U.S. Senator being killed by a head agent of the NSA because the representative opposed legislation that would dramatically expands the surveillance powers of law enforcement agencies, a bill eerily similar to the Patriot Act.  If you haven't seen the movie, check it out, as it will open your eyes to the possible technologies available that can be used to spy on American citizens, particularly the use of surveillance satellites which can monitor all facets of life.  Although Enemy of the State is a spy-fiction, the truth is that spy satellites have been used by the United States since the late 1950s.  

On March 16, 1955, the United States Air Force officially ordered the development of an advanced reconnaissance satellite to provide continuous surveillance of 'preselected areas of the earth' in order 'to determine the status of a potential enemy’s war-making capability'.  The result of this order was the creation of a then-secret U.S.A.F. program known as WS-117L, which controlled the development of the first generation of American reconnaissance satellites.  

Between 1957 and 1999, approximately 4000 satellites were launched by the U.S. military, with the primary functions being reconnaissance and surveillance, but also including:  positioning and navigation, analyzing and recording information about the surface of the earth (remote sensing), and research and analyzing weather and weather conditions (meteorology).  From late-1961 onward, the development and management of U.S. surveillance satellites have been under the control of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).  

Although the NRO was officially created in September 1961, its present power came into force in March 1963 in an agreement between the U.S. Secretary of Defense and the Director of the CIA. The new agreement substantially strengthened the authority of the NRO and its director.  It named the Secretary of Defense as the Executive Agent for the National Reconnaissance Program (NRP).  The program was to be "developed, managed, and conducted in accordance with policies and guidance jointly agreed to by the Secretary of Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence."

The NRO was made the managing body of the the NRP "under the direction, authority, and control of the Secretary of Defense."  Disclosure of the existence of NRO was not seriously discussed until 1992.  Although the general existence of the programs were not acknowledged, they were widely known among defense personnel and contractors, and some politicians and members of the press, by the late 1960s.  Nevertheless, full announcement of the agency took place in 1994, with most details still highly classified.  Still today, a great deal of information about the NRO remains classified, and the NRO maintains the ability to keep themselves out of the mainstream press.

In late 2002, the NRO did make the press, although this press release did not receive the attention it deserved.  In what our government described as a bizarre coincidence, the NRO was planning an exercise on September 11, 2001, involving an accidental aircraft crash into one of its buildings. This has been cited by 9/11 conspiracy theorists as proof of their beliefs.  In charge of the exercise was CIA agent, John Fulton, head of the NRO's "Strategic War Gaming Division," classified division.  The exercise was not discussed in detail by the mainstream corporate media.     

This year, the NRO made the press again, as the NRO agency's director, Bruce Carlson, a retired Air Force general who took on his new role last year, has been politicking for an increase in power, authority and independence for the NRO.  Basically, Mr. Carlson is campaigning for the NRO to have more control over their budget.  Hopefully more budgetary control will help the NRO, who has had their issues with expenditures.

In 1999 the NRO embarked on a project with Boeing, entitled Future Imagery Architecture, to create a new generation of imaging satellites. In 2002 the project was far behind schedule and would most likely cost $2 to $3 billion more than planned, according to NRO records. The government pressed forward with efforts to complete the project, but after two more years, several more review panels and billions more in expenditures, the project was killed in what the Times report calls "perhaps the most spectacular and expensive failure in the 50-year history of American spy satellite projects."   

This passed Sunday, November 21, 2010, the NRO, along with the U.S. Air Force, launched a classified surveillance satellite from Cape Canaveral, FL.   Described as "the largest satellite in the world" and called the NROL-32.  It is believed to be a surveillance satellite intended to be used to gather electronic intelligence for the NSA.  The satellite was powered to orbit by a Delta IV rocket.  Although classified, the NROL-32 is believed by experts to be an electronic eavesdropping device with “a huge collecting antenna” according to the CBS report, and once on station is expected to “unfold a huge, lightweight antenna to tap into targeted military or civilian communications networks.”

This launch continues a surge of NRO spy satellite deployments after a lengthy lull. An Atlas 5 rocket began this campaign by dispatching a new-generation radar imaging satellite in September from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The upcoming schedule calls for several more significant launches in the next few months, marking the most aggressive launch campaign that the National Reconnaissance Office has had in 20 years.  

In 1996, a report entitled,  "Defining the Future of the NRO for the 21st Century", stated that while NRO's current mission is "worldwide intelligence," its future mission should be "global information superiority," which "demands intelligence capabilities unimaginable just a few years ago."  The panel also recommended creation of a fourth NRO directorate, which was subsequently established, to focus solely on the development of advanced systems, in order to "increase the visibility and stature of technology innovation in the NRO." 

After watching the NSA chase Will Smith around using satellite imagery and an ability to tap into all electronics in a movie released in the summer of 1998, one must wonder, what those unimaginable capabilities could be that the NRO discussed in their 1996 report.  Could the most recent satellite launches contain such advanced technologies?

So, in conclusion, watch Enemy of the State, let paranoia set in for a minute, and wonder if Big Brother is watching you and if the Thought Police could be listening to you.     

"The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed--would have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper--the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you. " ~ George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 1