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[infowar.de] Satelliten bei der Bin-Laden-Jagd
Search for bin Laden extends to Earth orbit
BY Tim Friend, USA Today
Oct. 5, 2001
U.S military and spy satellites are searching aggressively for signs of
Osama bin Laden and are providing military planners with near-real-time
high-resolution photographs and data about specific regions of
Afghanistan, officials say.
Although many Americans anticipated swift military retaliation, little
is likely to happen until satellites scan hundreds of thousands of
square miles of
Afghanistan's rugged terrain.
"We have to have a feel for the terrain and for the weather, which we
provide with our satellites, and we have to have a feeling for the
potentially could be employed," says Rear Adm. James McArthur, director
of operations for U.S. Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in
McArthur says the space technology in use today over Afghanistan is a
dramatic improvement from that used in the Persian Gulf War. New
can process information at much faster speeds and allow ground forces
to have up-to-the-moment information.
Missiles now are guided by satellite rather than lasers, which makes
them much more accurate than the laser-guided strikes in Kosovo just 2
Although the war on terrorism is expected to be fought primarily with
special-operations forces, McArthur says the USA's satellites are
providing information for their strikes.
"We play a big role and anticipate playing a big role on this war on
terrorists," McArthur says. Since the Gulf War, when America showcased
technological war capabilities, satellite spying has improved to match
the U.S. government's increasing dependence on space-based assets. At
six new spy satellites have been placed in orbit since 1996, according
to the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates the U.S. spy
One of the newest gadgets available for the search for bin Laden is
satellite-dependent. It allows soldiers for the first time to view spy
photos in near-real time. In the past, satellite images typically were
hours, if not days, old by the time they could be put to use. Some
targets had been
moved by the time of attack. The operational prototype, called the
Broadcast Request Imagery Technology Experiment, or BRITE, system, was
developed because of difficulties in getting up-to-date information
during the Gulf War.
The compact system can be carried into the field and operated with a
laptop computer. Military units equipped with the system can radio
coordinates to controllers of satellites. The controllers aim the
satellites at the requested target and transmit high-resolution
satellite pictures to the
ground troops. This allows a unit to view a region, such as a suspected
terrorist training camp on the other side of a mountain, in near-real
make more precise tactical decisions. Officials say the system is
ideally suited for a clandestine war on terrorism.
Spy satellite coverage can be conducted 24 hours. Standard visual
imagery is used during daylight and clear skies; radar imagery is used
and cloudy weather.
The resolution of the imaging satellites varies from the ability to
view trucks and buildings to seeing objects as small as 4 inches across.
provides the capability to distinguish a face or to tell the difference
between bin Laden's group and a group of refugees. However, the
supported by U-2 spy planes, which can use radar to detect ground
movements, and unmanned drones that take high-resolution television
that reveal differences in groups of people.
Critics say bin Laden can avoid detection by hiding in the rugged
mountains of Afghanistan and by avoiding use of electronic
learning that U.S. spy satellites monitored his cell phone, bin Laden
reportedly reverted to low-tech personal couriers. But experts say that
Laden's group moves or uses a simple handheld radio, the network of
satellites and spy planes eventually will track it down.
Consequently, protecting the satellites' ground stations against
terrorist attack has assumed new importance.
While the United States has unsurpassed superiority in space, its
satellites have an Achilles' heel. The sophisticated system, said to be
seeing a man tying his shoelaces, is vulnerable to a simple terrorist
attack, experts say.
Terrorist groups are probably incapable of knocking out satellites in
orbit, but several of the ground stations, which control the satellites,
targets. "The ground stations are too big to hide, and they are
relatively well-known," says John Pike, a national security expert and
GlobalSecurity.org in Alexandria, Va.
Art Haubold, spokesman for the National Reconnaissance Office, declines
to comment on whether the stations are vulnerable. He says only, "We
take the necessary steps to protect our assets, but we never discuss
the details of our security arrangement."
Of the known spy satellite ground stations, four are located in or near
public areas in the USA. Although the locations of most of the stations
public, USA TODAY has decided not to print them.
Pike says spy agencies have been aware of the vulnerability of the
ground stations for 2 decades but have only recently begun to take
"There has been a real disinclination on the part of the intelligence
community to take the issue seriously," Pike says. "They think as long
they don't put
a sign on a building that it will be safe."
Pike says the only solution is to relocate the ground stations to
remote military installations. The Air Force has relocated some of the
operations at one vulnerable ground station to Schriever Air Force
Base, Colo., says John Logsdon, a space policy analyst at George
University. Schriever is the military's satellite control center,
operated by the Air Force Space Command.
Security at another site was improved by moving a public road away from
"I do think they are less vulnerable than they used to be," Logsdon
Copyright © 2001, USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
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