Star Wars: US Tools of Space Supremacy

Star Wars: US Tools of Space Supremacy

by Loring Wirbel


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780745321141
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 12/20/2003
Pages: 194
Product dimensions: 5.32(w) x 8.46(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Loring Wirbel has been involved in military conversion & peace work for 25 years. He is currently editorial director for communications initiatives at CMP Media LLC, headquartered in New York & London. Wirbel worked with Mobilization for Survival in the American southwest on campaigns to end the mobile basing strategy for the MX missile, & to phase out Rocky Flats as a plutonium factory. His cover story on the National Security Agency for The Progressive magazine took a top Project Censored award in the early 1980s. A series on Reagan's Star Wars programs won a Scripps-Howard award.

Read an Excerpt


The Birth of Intelligence Policy and Space Use

Before rocketry had captured the imagination of either civilian scientists or military leaders as a near-term reality for space exploration or warfare, before nuclear weapons had graduated from one-time exemplar of terror to a regular tool of superpower leverage, signals intelligence already had demonstrated its utility to a small, tightly-knit cabal within the victorious allied powers. The number of people that understood the way that interception of radio traffic and cracking complex military codes interleaved in the new complex science of cryptography and signals intelligence, were numbered in the low hundreds at the end of World War II. Yet cryptography's importance was obvious to those in the know. The cracking of the Soviet Venona one-time-pad codes1 at the end of World War II allowed the United States to verify the existence and identity of Soviet spies operating within the US, and proved the utility of the Signal Security Agency and its successor, the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA). It took the temporary defeat of US forces on the Korean peninsula in 1950 to finally turn the small US signals intelligence community into a globe-circling network, but the elements of a listening web surrounding the Soviet Union were in place by mid-1945.

During both world wars, signals intelligence was merely an enabling activity for codebreaking, and the standard of excellence was set by the British cryptographers at Bletchley Park, who cracked the German Enigma machine. The main task for interception teams was to determine the relevant radio frequencies used by adversary military agencies, and to attempt to tap into land lines when possible, particularly at aggregation points, such as submarine cable landing points and telephone switching centers, where scores of individual circuit-switched calls were multiplexed.

Those engineers involved in basic research in antenna and sensor design were aware that signals intelligence could include the interception of any emanation across the electromagnetic spectrum. Traditionally, however, researchers in British air-defense fields working on radar technology were segregated from radio interception specialists. As the technology for manufacturing key electronic items such as klystron power tubes moved to the US, however, American defense contractors realized the common technology base spanning radar and electronic intelligence platforms. As allied intelligence groups scoured for hints of Soviet intentions at the end of World War II, the unified nature of electronic intelligence was recognized by many theorists and practical engineers.

Imaging intelligence, including both visible light and infrared imaging, almost always is managed separately from all other electromagnetic interception, since it evolved from overhead aerial reconnaissance, and only belatedly was dependent on advances in photo processing, electronic image capture, and 'hyper-spectral' analysis covering several frequency bands. Through the Cold War, imaging was handled by the CIA's National Photographic Interpretation Center, and later by the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), only coming together with signals information at the level of the space-based intelligence agency, the National Reconnaissance Office.

Signals intelligence, or SIGINT, includes both communications and electronic intelligence. Communications intelligence, or COMINT, traditionally refers to intercepted messages generated by any communications or computer platform generating a linear message intended to be interpreted by humans. Electronic intelligence, or ELINT, involves the study of emanations of radar, electronic systems in planes and ships, and the like. Later in the Cold War, telemetry intelligence (TELINT) and measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) were added to the roster, respectively referring to the interception of data automatically generated by missiles in flight, and data collected from nuclear bomb tests, chemical emissions, and similar non-electromagnetic sources. The latter intelligence was often gathered by specialty military organizations like the Air Force Technical Applications Center, and is currently the responsibility within the Pentagon of the Central MASINT Office, or CMO.

While comprehension of the unity of technical intelligence was still piecemeal in 1945, the drive for establishing global listening webs was apparent virtually from the day of German defeat. The tedious Marxist claims that the Cold War was born in a Western race for empire sounded hollow to those on the front lines of Eastern Europe at the end of World War II, observing the Soviet putsches that established vassal states in mixed-economy nations like Poland and Czechoslovakia. Yet the assumptions of how the world was to be parceled up by Western powers always bore a whiff of empire building, particularly in the establishment of 'white boys' clubs' meant to delineate global spoils for industrial nations.

The United States and Britain were the only two allied nations with significant signals intelligence and cryptography expertise at the end of the war – the US provided funding and technology for building global networks, while British crypto and radar expertise developed at wartime labs was widely appreciated in US scientific circles. When the United States and Britain established the BRUSA Pact for cryptography and radio-interception sharing in 1943, predecessor to the wider UKUSA Treaty of 1947, there never was a thought given to including the Soviet Union on signals intelligence discussions. The so-called even balance of the Cold War was predicated upon a version of containment: the Soviet Union was allowed free rein to implement policies in its own periphery and that of Eastern Europe (later extended to China), but open seas and air lanes belonged primarily to Western allies.

As 'mass retaliation' weapons evolved from B-29-based A-bombs to B-52 H-bombs, and finally to land- and sea-based missiles, the underlying assumption of Cold War boundaries rested upon a boxed-in Soviet alliance and a free-ranging democratic empire. The United States certainly pressured its more traditional European allies to abandon explicit colonialist relationships in developing nations, in favor of CIA-backed free-market influence, but few in the West ever pondered the issue of geographical balance on either side of the Iron Curtain.

This was the hidden dichotomy behind the BRUSA and UKUSA pacts. In later years, conservatives would express outright shock whenever the Soviets tried to establish listening posts in locations such as Cuba or Vietnam. Yet it was deemed perfectly acceptable to surround the Russian empire with antenna bases in nations such as Turkey, Pakistan, and Germany. Since radio interception and direction-finding were deemed to be passive activities, most developers within the secret agencies designing such systems felt that signals intelligence by its nature could not be considered provocative. Yet, because intelligence-platform siting policy was founded on the US concept of nuclear forward-basing, specific instances of building interception capability could only be seen as provocative by a paranoid Soviet leadership.

The notorious UKUSA Treaty, which has remained classified in the 56 years since its signing, assigned electronic snooping duties to five Caucasian, English-speaking nations. The United States was to monitor most of Europe, South America, the Atlantic, and the Soviet southern periphery. Britain was to take responsibility for Africa and the eastern Soviet Union. Canada was to establish over-the-horizon facilities to monitor polar regions of the north. Australia and New Zealand were to split monitoring missions in the Pacific. While the true signals-intelligence 'race for bases' by the US did not begin until well after the establishment of the National Security Agency in 1952, the US treated UKUSA as a starting pistol, and began signing secret base treaties with partners in Greece, Turkey, the Azores (Portugal), and the Philippines. In April 1949, the US agreed to pay for new signals bases established by other UKUSA members, such as Cheltenham in England and Gander in Canada.

The signals community in the United States had been reorganized twice in the aftermath of World War II in order to improve professionalism and efficiency. The Army Security Agency took charge of the Signal Security Agency at war's end, and the Armed Forces Security Agency was created in 1949 to provide equal weight to Navy and Air Force tasks. But the initial expertise of the AFSA during the first North Korean foray of the Korean War proved so dismal, a special commission under George Brownell was established to reorganize US interception and decryption talents. The NSA became the official successor to AFSA in November 1952.

In the wake of the first nuclear-armed bomber deployments from the US to Britain in 1948, plans were launched for establishing tiers of radar fences around the periphery of the Soviet Union, particularly in northern approaches to the United States from Canada. Again, because networks of radar were developed to monitor possible Soviet bomber intrusions, development of these networks was considered defensive at the time. Of course, the Soviets mimicked the US's activity in order to establish radar defensive lines against the American 'Silverplate' nuclear bombers. What few Americans knew until decades later was that American electronic intelligence planes specializing in games of 'chicken,' began regular probing missions as early as the winter of 1949–50, in which planes would deliberately enter Soviet air space in order to 'tickle' radar and receive information on Soviet radar signatures. Several recent works, such as James Bamford's Body of Secrets, have documented the scores of pilots and technical specialists who were captured or killed during three decades of such missions. US Defense Department policy, initiated by Harry Truman's Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, was that under no circumstances would Soviet planes be allowed to make similar probes into US air defenses.

The point in examining such dangerous games is not to establish who was right or wrong, but to point out that signals intelligence can be probing and provocative, not merely a 'sit and listen' technology conducted in secret. Only in the past few years has the full extent of US expenditures and risk-taking in this realm been elucidated. In Body of Secrets, Bamford provided details on the multimillion-dollar signals stations established by both superpowers on ice floes in the Arctic Ocean. Because of the uncertain status of iceberg formation, such listening posts could not be expected to last more than a few years at best, yet they were regularly upgraded and replaced, particularly in the years when bombers were a bigger threat than missiles. Worse still, as the Air Force began expanding under President Eisenhower's administration, Ike opted for air tests far riskier than a single electronic intelligence plane flying into Soviet or Chinese airspace. Bamford describes a mission in early 1956 called Operation Homerun, in which scores of B-47s flew over the North Pole and penetrated several miles into Soviet airspace to simulate a nuclear attack. The purpose was to turn on enough Soviet radar and ELINT devices to create a military 'map' of the Soviet interior, yet there was little to distinguish Eisenhower's milk run from a legitimate nuclear attack.

Until internal Pentagon histories of computers and intelligence were released in the 1980s, few analysts understood how critical the NSA was to the early history of the commercial computer industry. And many analysts remain unaware, even today, how directly linked the NSA, air-defense radar developers, and computer developers were in the early 1950s. If one takes to heart the NSA mission of radio research, it should surprise few that a system for 'Radio Detecting And Ranging' should be at least a tangential NSA responsibility, yet the utility of radar in serving ground-based defenses for airborne intrusion led many to accept the cover story that radar networks were an air defense concern.

Prior to the dominance of missile-based nuclear warfare, defense against bombers represented the most important deterrent to nuclear war. The United States spent billions of dollars developing the Pine Tree radar line in the center of Canada, and the Distant Early Warning (DEW) radar system in northern Canada and Alaska. Tying it all together was SAGE, the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment. Without NSA basic research at locations such as MIT's Lincoln Labs, and without NSA financing of MIT programs like Whirlwind and Project Charles, there would have been no SAGE.

At first, NSA provision of funds to such companies as Raytheon, Technitrol, and Engineering Research Associates was used to develop special-purpose computers for applications in interception and decryption, delivered directly to NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. In the late 1940s, these 'Rapid Analytical Machines' were based on analog relays and vacuum tubes. These machines were single-purpose hard-wired platforms for code-breaking, not programmable computers. Later proposals put the NSA in the position of financing basic research in computer architectures. IBM received NSA money for the Harvest and Lightning projects, while Control Data Corp. virtually was created through venture funding from the NSA.

The NSA simultaneously was financing basic research in antenna design and in long-range radar platforms. In the early 1950s, the agency came up with advances in the German Wullenweber antenna array (upright antennas shaped in concentric circles over a vast area, known colloquially as 'elephant cages'). The target-shaped antenna clusters could be used both in direction-finding, to pinpoint the location of a radio source, and in general interception of radio messages. There are four rings of antennas in a circular array 900 feet in diameter. The outermost ring intercepts high-frequency signals, while the second ring filters stray signals from the outer layer. The third ring of folded monopole antennas intercept low-frequency signals, while an inner fourth ring serves as a low-band reflector screen. The modernized version of Wullenweber, the Circularly Disposed Antenna Array, or FLR-9, was installed in several nations worldwide by NSA engineers during the late 1950s and 1960s.

The NSA work on long-range radar led to the construction of the AN/FPS-17 radar in Samsun, Turkey in 1955, with which the NSA could spy on Russian missile work in Kasputin Yar. Details on the Samsun radar were so sensitive, President Eisenhower denounced Aviation Week & Space Technology as 'treasonous' for revealing facts about it. The inability to analyze the take led to the NSA's first deep respect for telemetry as a separate technical discipline. A Telemetry and Beacon Analysis Committee (TeBAC) was formed to analyze signals received through Samsun, and members included future CIA satellite developer Albert 'Bud' Wheelon and future Secretary of Defense William Perry. More relevant to the intelligence and warfare topic, though, was the visit to Turkey by Joint Chiefs of Staff Deputy Director of Intelligence Edwin Layton in the spring of 1956. Layton denounced the artificial divisions created at the Turkey radar sites by Air Force, NSA, and other agencies, and suggested that treating communications intelligence, electronic intelligence, and radar management as separate tasks was 'counterproductive.'

Given this general interest in radar technology, it should be no surprise that NSA was critical in driving the design of the Air Force's SAGE, and encouraged NATO to develop a similar system called NADGE (NATO Air Defense Ground Environment). SAGE used clusters of IBM AN/FSQ-7 computers, linked in to eight combat centers and 32 direction centers. Though ostensibly an Air Force system to defend against bomber attack, the first direction-center installation was at NSA headquarters. The theory behind SAGE, though it rarely worked well in practice, was to partition the United States into sectors, in which bomber activity would be monitored through civilian and military radar. Defenses against any real bomber penetration were rudimentary and often frightening – surface-to-air missiles with nuclear warheads were deployed in the suburbs of many American cities, often under the control of National Guard troops.


Excerpted from "Star Wars"
by .
Copyright © 2004 Loring Wirbel.
Excerpted by permission of Pluto Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents



1. The Birth of Intelligence Policy and Space Use

2. Civilian & Military Space Policies, Post-Sputnik

3. Star Wars, Part 1: Safeguard, ABM, And Intelligence Struggles in Space

4. Star Wars, Part 2: The Reagan Arms Buildup

5. Intelligence Goes Real-Time

6. Military Space Policy, Post-Challenger

7. BMDO, 3+3, & The New Missile Threat

8. 'In Your Face from Outer Space'

9. Permanent War

10. Reclaiming Multilateralism and Peace in Space



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