- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2007

Congress is calling for the creation of a new National Space Intelligence Center to better spy on space-based and other threats to U.S. military, intelligence and commercial satellites.

A provision of the Senate intelligence authorization bill for fiscal 2007 would require the Bush administration to set up the new center within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). The plan was disclosed in a little-noticed section of committee’s report on the bill made public Jan. 24.

The report stated that threats to U.S. satellites are increasing, a fact highlighted by China’s recent test of an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile interceptor that destroyed a Chinese weather satellite. U.S. reliance on satellites for both national security and commerce is increasing and “a loss of any or all of these assets could do tremendous harm to our economy and security,” the report said.

Intelligence spending on spying “concerning threats to our interests in space has declined markedly,” and only 10 percent of current intelligence resources are focused on threats to space systems, the report said.

“Recent international events have only served to highlight this problem,” the report said in a reference to China’s Jan. 11 anti-satellite weapon test, which has drawn international criticism, and an earlier incident involving a Chinese laser illumination of a U.S. satellite in what U.S. intelligence officials said was likely a ground-based laser ASAT test.

Further details about the new center are contained in the classified portions of the Senate bill.

A congressional aide close to the issue said the proposal has good support from Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and gained support after China’s recent anti-satellite weapon test.

“We haven’t been doing a very good job identifying what the threats are in space across the government,” the aide said. “The idea of the center is basically to try to network the existing analytical staff around one office.”

The White House said it supports improving space intelligence but has concerns about lines of authority in the current draft legislation.

Gordon Johndroe, a White House National Security Council spokesman, said the administration was “encouraged” by the committee plan to improve space-related intelligence, “but [we] are concerned that the National Space Intelligence Center will not solve the problems they are trying to address,” he said, noting the legislation as now drafted “blurs lines of accountability and responsibility for space systems” between the ODNI and the Pentagon’s intelligence policy office.

The Chinese ASAT test last month involved the launch of a missile into space with a nonexplosive warhead that destroyed the Chinese satellite. U.S. officials said it was a “wake-up call” on the danger of space weapons. According to U.S. intelligence officials, U.S. satellites have little or no ability to report whether they are under attack, or even threatened.

According to the Senate report, the space intelligence center would be devoted solely to gathering and analyzing intelligence on space threats, and would work closely with similar Air Force and Defense Intelligence Agency centers in Ohio and Alabama. The director would be the national Intelligence officer for science and technology.

Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander of the Air Force Space Command, the lead military unit for space defense and warfare, said recently there is an growing need for better intelligence on space threats because the danger of attacks on satellites is increasing.

“The knowledge base you need [for space intelligence] is different than the knowledge base you need for air-breathing intelligence, land intelligence or naval intelligence,” he told reporters in September.

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