Space: September 21, 2002


The US had planned to launch two super-secret Mercury electronic intelligence (eavesdropping) satellites, which might have detected the al Qaeda plans for the September 11 bombings, but one was lost in an August 1998 launch failure and the other remains on the ground undergoing revisions to correct problems and increase capability. That satellite is now expected to be launched in March of next year. Existing satellites can listen in on a lot of communications (just how much is highly classified), but the two Mercury birds could have detected much more. Critics of the National Reconnaissance Office complain that its bureaucracy is unable to think in terms of new cutting edge technology, and keeps redesigning old technology. Critics charge that the NRO is not doing anything to target intelligence improvements on the war against terror. --Stephen V Cole


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