The monitoring of civilian Americans is not just a modern concept. Snowden’s revelation of the NSA’s active monitoring of the Internet seems to have caught the general populous by surprise.
However, anyone interested in America’s long history of spying at home and abroad was not overly surprised about Snowden’s accusations.
It seems that the U.S. government has a long history of using the technology available at the time to spy (or at least try to spy) on its citizens. This recent accusation about the government’s misuse of the Internet is just the tip of the iceberg. Ever wonder about the government’s use of satellite reconnaissance systems over American soil?
Eyes in the Sky
The U.S. reconnaissance plan began during the mid-1950s when the government commissioned the construction of a space telescope that pointed down on earth instead up toward the stars.
As a result, the first spy satellite was launched into space in August of 1960. The satellite was in operation until about 1972. Since that first successful launch, our government has had eyes in the sky.
According to Mark Erickson, in his book Into the Unknown Together – The DOD, NASA, and Early Spaceflight, the initial uses of the reconnaissance satellite was “to determine the status of a potential enemy’s war-making capability” located in “preselected areas of the earth”. (1)
In short, they were meant to be used to provide details about hostile images abroad. However, as time went on people began to wonder and speculate on the types of data it could return on the citizenry of the country.
These satellites are so effective at collecting data and images that many people began wondering what the government could collect on its citizens.
It took a while, but in 2007, declassified documents published by the Wall Street Journal outlined the many congressional concerns about the eye in the sky. A memo to the Subcommittee on Homeland Security from Congress states:
“While we believe the NAO may hold significant promise in helping to secure the homeland from future terrorist attacks, we are gravely concerned by the Department’s lack of progress in creating the appropriate legal and operational safeguards necessary for ensuring that the military spy satellites do not become the ‘Big Brother in the Sky’.” (2)
Spy Satellites Collecting Images of Americans?
Unfortunately, that ship sailed a long time ago. The fact is that these satellites already take pictures over American soil and have done so for quite some time.
The NSA simply states that the images being taken over American soil are training exercises in order to teach interpreters how to analyze the images taken by the satellites.
Their claim is that the images are largely of military, industrial and nuclear facilities. The government claims that this is necessary to train analysts on what comparable installations could look like in images taken abroad. Unfortunately, training is not the only reason our government is snapping images of us.
According to The National Security Archive, spy satellites have been used domestically for civil purposes since 1968. They state:
“In an attempt to establish a forum to facilitate the use of satellite reconnaissance imagery for civil purposes, the ARGO program was established in 1968 – whose participants included, but were not limited to, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Office of Emergency Preparedness, the Agency for International Development, and the Department of Agriculture. Also participating were key Intelligence Community agencies – the National Reconnaissance Office, National Photographic Interpretation Center, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Committee on Imagery Requirements and Exploitation.” (3)
With that being said, it does not take much of a leap to believe that the number of satellite reconnaissance systems active today could easily move away from a training and civil focus and be used in the illegal monitoring of the American people.
References & Image Credits:
(1) World Library
(3) GWU: U.S. Reconnaissance Satellites: Domestic Targets