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Monday, January 3, 2011

Deep rift in European Union cited
Cable: U.S., Germany in deal to loft
spy orbiters cloaked as do-gooders
An advanced surveillance satellite system was to provide the United States and its partner Germany with a revolutionary level of information about happenings all over the planet, even underground, Norway's Aftenposten reports. The Hiro project was to have been implemented under cover of environmental protection, the paper says, citing information obtained from the Wikileaks cache of State Dept. cables.

Just before Christmas the United States and Germany announced a plan to strengthen satellite program cooperation, but made no mention of the intelligence aspect of the cooperation, the newspaper said. On the contrary, the satellite system was presented as a tool to improve the environment and combat climate change. Meanwhile German Prime Minister Angela Merkel has decided to increase the German space budget of 9.6 billion euros, and announced closer "civilian" cooperation between Berlin and Washington.

The project was to be portrayed as a peaceful and semi-private German-American commercial project that would begin operations next year.

However, the German space agency, responding to the Aftenposten story, denied the Hiros project was secretive but refused to give specific details, according to the Associated Press.

"To minimize potential political backlash by developing Hiro as an intelligence satellite, the program is managed by a civilian agency, possibly the Ministry of Economy and Technology," according to the cable quoted by the newspaper. However, in fact the satellite surveillance will be overseen by the German intelligence service, the paper reports.

The joint venture may undermine a major European Union security initiative, a union-wide project for military satellite cooperation, the paper said, noting that France had been worried enough by the project to have undertaken a vigorous effort to block it.

Such a system gives policymakers a powerful tool in global decisionmaking, whether concerning nuclear facilities in Iran, a possible war between South and North Korea or traditional intelligence concerning Russian bombers, the paper notes.

The newspaper's Per Anders Johansen gives further detail:

The system will make it possible to monitor any spot on earth, down to 50 cm (about 16 inches), with fresh images 3-5 times a day.

Images will be available in 2 to 5 minutes, as opposed to the hours necessary to recover the images currently. Moreover, the color-imagery makes it easier to produce three-dimensional images. The new satellites will also take infrared pictures at night and capture underground activities.

Germany hopes to challenge the French dominance of the lucrative and growing world market for satellite data, Aftenposten writes, adding that the project shows a "deep and intense conflict" in the matter of European Union intelligence.   A number of countries - primarily France - have vigorously tried to thwart the project.

The cable says the Germans are tired of being "outmaneuvered by France," and what were described as dubious French business methods and hidden subsidies.

"Certainly no cooperation is planned with France or any other EU country for the Hiro project," according to Andreas Eckardt, a German space agency official.

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