Final winter program for Vail Symposium tonight
VAIL CO, Colorado
There was a time when the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) – the organization responsible for building and operating the United States’ reconnaissance satellites – was a secret. In fact the organization has spent more than half of its life as a classified operation.
According to Peter Teets, former Under Secretary of the Air Force and Director of the NRO, the organization was formed by President Eisenhower as a covert joint venture between the Central Intelligence Agency and the United States Air Force, and operated for many years as an organization unacknowledged by the government. In 1992 the government decided to recognize the organization and the NRO was officially declassified.
Teets will be in Vail today, along with former U.S. Ambassador to Jordan and current Director of the Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies, Roger Harrison, to discuss the NRO, along with other issues pertaining to space and U.S. National Security. This is the last program in the Vail Symposium’s winter 2011 lineup.
Teets was nominated by President George W. Bush to become Under Secretary of the Air Force in October 2001. Following Senate confirmation, he was sworn in in 2001, and then also appointed director of the NRO, a role that placed him in charge of all our National Security Space activity. While Teets surely has some stories to tell from his time with the NRO and likely knows more about that organization than Wikipedia can ever hope for, he and Harrison will discuss space and security on a declassified basis in this program.
There are the things he will discuss, however, like, for starters, why the work he does is so important and so pertinent to our nation’s security.
“Our National Security Space assets are vital to our national security in today’s world,” said Teets in an email. “Systems that have been developed and operated by the National Reconnaissance Office provide our ‘eyes and ears’ in space. That is, high resolution imagery of the entire globe and an extremely sensitive collection of electronic signals from any point on the globe.
“In addition, our United States Air Force has extensive satellite constellations that provide secure communications to military forces worldwide, strategic missile launch warning from any point on the surface of the earth and a constellation of Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites that provide precision navigation and timing information worldwide,” Teets continued.
Harrison will also discuss the importance of the link between space and security.
“The importance of space to national security has increased in ways that would have been difficult to imagine 40 years ago,” said Harrison in an email. “Space is the key enabler for much of the increase in our military capability; from command and control to intelligence and targeting, space is a key link in the chain.”
Harrison was the ambassador to Jordan during the first Gulf War, and, while he describes the work he did then as “more earthbound,” he grasped the importance of that key link.
“Even at the time – now 20 years ago – I could see how space surveillance was making a difference,” Harrison wrote. “Particularly in making the case about Saddam’s aggression to skeptical leaders in the Middle East.”
Harrison is now the director of the Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies of the Air Force Academy. The center, jointly endowed by Congress and the aerospace industry, was founded in 2005 to provide cadets with opportunities in space policy studies and with direct experience in both the military and industrial space sectors. It has also become an intellectual resource for Space Command, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Space Office, and the State Department.
A conversation about spy satellites and reconnaissance from space also invites a discussion about the National Space Policy and the National Security Space Strategy, both of which Harrison and Teets will talk about.
The Obama Administration released its National Security Space Strategy earlier this year in a document in which the administration acknowledges that space is becoming increasingly crowded, challenging and competitive. The 10-year strategy marks a departure from past practice by both focusing on ways to maintain our current advantages in space and confronting the challenges we face.
The strategy also presents a strong focus on cooperation with allies and others in space, something Harrison notes is extremely important.
“There are many new players in the space domain, and we can anticipate greater problems with things like space debris and orbital crowding,” Harrison wrote. “Those problems need to be addressed internationally, a point the new space policy – which uses the word ‘cooperation’ 14 times – emphasizes.”
Tracey Flower works as a communications associate with the Vail Symposium. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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