June 2006: Serving As the U.S. Military's Spy in the Sky

Canada taking a key role in the militarization of space
June 1, 2006

Few Canadians realize that their taxes have long been used to make this country a major force in the militarization of space. Although our government loudly proclaims its opposition to the weaponization of space, it has quietly mentored the research and development of space-based tracking and targeting systems that are at the cutting edge of land-, sea- and air-based weapons technologies. This Canadian complicity in using the heavens as a safe haven for war technology has been a boon for war-fighters.

The best example of Canada's role in the militarization of space is RADARSAT, the world's most advanced "synthetic aperture radar" (SAR) satellite system. In fact, this now-privatized commercial satellite system is probably Canada's single most important technological contribution to U.S. war efforts.

Since the 1995 launch of the first RADARSAT, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Canadian politicians, and the corporations behind it have extolled this satellite's wondrous benefits to humanity and the environment. They explain that, because RADARSAT-1's SAR sensors use microwaves to produce their incredibly detailed images of the Earth, this space-based radar has collected data 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Unlike other satellites, RADARSAT-1 functions even when the planet is obscured by the cover of darkness, clouds, dust storms, or the most adverse weather conditions.

When Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's Conservative government announced the project in 1987, then-Science Minister Frank Oberle said RADARSAT was "of no particular use to the military." Then, in 1995, when it was launched under the tutelage of Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, CSA officials repeated the same refrain. However, one CSA spokesperson, Mac Evans, tried to have it both ways, saying: "We are fostering the use of space for peaceful purposes... That does not exclude military use." (David Pugliese, "Secret Military Eye in the Sky," Ottawa Citizen, March 15, 2000.)

RADARSAT's cheerleaders have been careful to conceal that its data offer a tremendous boon to foreign military and intelligence organizations. Most significantly, the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army, and its various spy agencies have always been among the top users of this publicly-funded, but now privately-controlled, Canadian satellite.

For more than 10 years, in exchange for NASA's launch of RADARSAT-1, the U.S. government has been allowed to "direct approximately 15% of the satellite's observing time" (NASA media release, Oct. 27, 1995). The U.S. government also gets complete access to all six-month-old archived RADARSAT-1 data. In addition to this operational control of RADARSAT during some 90,000 hours of operations, plus the archived images, U.S. military and intelligence agencies have also purchased many millions of dollars worth of extra RADARSAT time.

The U.S. government controls RADARSAT functions using ground facilities in Alaska, but also has at least five portable receiving stations, called "Eagle Vision." This "family" of military ground stations was specifically tailored to allow control of RADARSAT-1 and -2 operations. Eagle Vision controls RADARSAT operations, and then downlinks its data directly to deployed soldiers while they are engaged in battle. This makes it "a cornerstone of the [U.S.] military's commercial imagery exploitation" (SIGNAL Magazine, March 2001).

Although Canadians are blissfully content to see themselves, their country and its government through the mythos of peacekeeping, there are those in the U.S. who know all too well that, when it comes to producing the technology of war, Canada is deeply integrated into America's war-fighting machinery. U.S. war-fighters and war-planners have been understandably grateful to Canada for ready access to RADARSAT-1 data, especially during Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) operations of the NATO-led war in Yugoslavia (1999) and the U.S. invasion/occupation of Afghanistan in 2001 (which Canada now proudly leads).

In 2001, a 3-D terrain map of Colombia--created using RADARSAT data--was sold to the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), a U.S. Department of Defence intelligence agency.

An Eagle Vision ground station was deployed to the Persian Gulf in early 2003 and has been used throughout the Iraq war. A Pentagon source told Space News: "It's doing great things... It's working like gangbusters" (March 31, 2003).

But RADARSAT's use to U.S. war-fighters is not limited to wartime alone; it is important for planning wars as well. In the spring of 2003, NIMA received delivery of RADARSAT data covering 50% of the entire Earth's surface. This was reputedly for "a variety of logistical and planning purposes." (MacDonald Dettwiler & Assoc. media release, April 23, 2003).

The heavily-indebted American government, which spends more than the rest of the world's countries combined on its military, appreciates whenever other governments use their citizen's taxes to subsidize the U.S. war machine. That's why Canada-U.S. trade agreements have special exemptions to allow government subsidies to the euphemistically-labelled "defence" industries. Many Canadians would no doubt be dismayed, if not outraged, to learn that their taxes have been used, for example, to subsidize the creation of the world's most advanced space technology that has figured so prominently in U.S. wars and war-planning.

The design and production of both RADARSAT-1 and -2 have cost Canadian taxpayers about one billion dollars. The CSA reveals that about 90% of RADARSAT-1's $620-million price-tag was publicly funded. Meanwhile, about 83% of RADARSAT-2's $525-million cost was covered by Canadian taxes.

From the start, the government's brilliant plan was to pilfer the public purse to design and build RADARSAT, and then hand it over to their friends in the private sector. The Liberal government quickly began this process of giving corporations all the burdensome problems associated with distributing RADARSAT's data and raking in its profits. The marketing and sales of RADARSAT data ended up in the hands of MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) of Vancouver.

MDA was a loyal Liberal Party supporter, making contributions of at least $139,000 to that party and to no other between 1993 and 2004. (This amount may not be complete because Elections Canada statistics do not include donations to political riding associations, to MPs between election campaigns, or to candidates during bids for party leadership.)

Over the years, the government has generously donated at least $43 million to MDA through Industry Canada's Defence (sic) Industry Productivity Program and the Technology Partnerships Canada grants program. And then there's the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), which has hundreds of millions of dollars invested in many of the world's most profitable war-related industries. Among CPP holdings are about $7.5 million in MDA shares.

When RADARSAT was privatized to MDA, this nominally "Canadian" company was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Orbital Sciences, a U.S. firm that is a top global producer of military rockets, including "missile-defence" weapons systems. In 1995, the year of RADARSAT-1's launch, Orbital purchased MDA outright for US$67 million. By 2001, the "missile defence" giant had sold its shares in MDA for US$259 million. One of the major investors in MDA is now the Ontario Teachers' Pension Fund. The privatization of RADARSAT-2 was much more complete, with MDA taking over the ownership and control of this second, more-advanced Canadian satellite.

Between 1995 and 1999, the marketing and sale of RADARSAT-1 data to U.S. customers was licensed to Lockheed Martin, the world's prime contractor for military weapons systems. However, since 1999, a U.S. company named Orbimage has controlled the sale of all RADARSAT-1 images to U.S. markets. During the privatization process, Orbimage and MDA were both owned by "missile defence" rocket-maker Orbital Sciences. Between 1998 and 2001, the sale of all RADARSAT-2 data outside Canada was licensed to Orbimage by MDA. That U.S. company, which still manages all sales of RADARSAT-1 data to U.S. clients, finally returned its control over RADARSAT-2 data to MDA in 2003.

In 1998, when Orbimage began selling RADARSAT data to the U.S. government, it started hiring a coterie of retired U.S. military and intelligence officers. Its executive officers included several who came through the revolving door between U.S. war industries and the government's war-fighting institutions. For example, several of Orbimage's top personnel were former high-ranking Air Force officers whose long careers were spent championing the "missile defence" weapons development program:

  • Lt. General James Abrahamson, the first director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organisation (now the Missile Defence Agency), joined Orbimage's board in 1998 and became its chairman in 2001.
  • Air Force Colonel Gilbert Rye, former director of the National Security Council's Space and Intelligence program, who drafted President Reagan's infamous "Star Wars" speech launching "missile defence" in 1983, came on board Orbimage in 2000 and became its vice-chairman in 2001.
  • Air Force Colonel Gary Payton, who had been the Deputy for Technology at the Ballistic Missile Defence Organization, became an Orbimage vice-president in 2000.

In 2000, David Emerson was on the board of directors of MDA. That was the year that MDA got $167 million in additional funding for RADARSAT-2 from Canada's federal government. MDA was then still controlled by Orbital Sciences, and this U.S. "missile defence" rocket maker had three of its executives on MDA's Board with Emerson. He had been a top-flight Social Credit bureaucrat under B.C. Premier Bill Vanderzalm. After Emerson's stint with MDA, he became the Liberals’ pro-"missile defence" Minister of Industry, and is now the Conservatives’ Minister of International Trade.

Despite concerted efforts by the NDP and BQ, the voluminous contracts between the Canadian government and MDA--which formalized the privatization process that gave RADARSAT-1 and -2 to MDA--have not been made available for viewing by MPs. In fact, Liberal and Conservative MPs worked together in the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade (SCFAIT) to oppose a resolution asking if MPs could examine these contracts. A senior counsel for the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Department explained to SCFAIT members that “it would not be in the public interest” to allow MPs to see these contracts because doing so might lead to "material or financial loss" for MDA, or negatively "affect their competitive position." (Mac Mann, SCFAIT, March 24, 2005.)

Secrecy also shrouds a Canada-U.S. treaty signed in 2000 by then-Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Michael Byers, a UBC professor teaching global politics and international law, testified to SCFAIT that the treaty's secret annex "could enable the U.S. to demand RADARSAT-2 be used to take images in preparation for a military intervention to which Canada was opposed.... [and] for a war that was illegal under international law" (February 22, 2005).

Even so, the government refused to let MPs read the Canada-U.S. treaty's annex. Although Canadian law-makers were not permitted to see what this secret annex obliges Canada to do with RADARSAT-2 data, a combined Liberal-Conservative effort ensured that "the RADARSAT Bill" (C-25) was passed into law in November 2005, just before the last election.

After many delays, RADARSAT-2 is scheduled for launch next December. U.S. and NATO war-fighters are anxiously awaiting that event because it will usher in a new era in war-making. The most coveted war-fighting application of Canada's new space-based radar system is its Ground Moving Target Indication (GMTI) capability. According to the Department of National Defence (DND) agency called Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), RADARSAT-2 will be "the world's first space-based radar with GMTI capabilities" (DRDC Annual Report, 1998-1999). This cutting-edge capacity to track and target moving ground vehicles is of such critical importance to American war-fighting ambitions that U.S. Air Force General Thomas Moorman Jr. referred to space-based radar and GMTI as the "holy grail." (Aerospace Power Journal, Spring 1999.)

According to DRDC's annual report (1988-1999), it developed the "data exploitation" of RADARSAT-2 "under cooperation with BMDO's Joint National Test Facility." (America's BMDO--Ballistic Missile Defence Organization--coordinated this weapons program between 1994 and 2002. It is now called the Missile Defence Agency.)

RADARSAT-2's GMTI is being groomed to gather target data for first-strike U.S. and NATO attacks during "Theatre Missile Defence" (TMD) engagements. TMD is the most important aspect of "missile defence." Its stated purpose is to protect troops, warships, and their weapons systems during deployments in foreign wars of the near future. So the defence of missiles in war-zones is, appropriately, the main function of "missile defence."

Meanwhile, the fanciful belief that this weapons technology is being developed to protect domestic populations from terrorist or rogue-state missile attacks has been used as a clever pretext stratagem. Creation of the defensive "missile shield" terminology is a "psychological operation" of the military, aimed at deceiving the public and protecting the outrageously high expenditures needed for geopolitical and resource wars that will make the world a safer place for corporations to make a killing.

Over the past eight years, NATO war-fighters have been using military exercises, war games, and computer simulations to practise using RADARSAT-2's GMTI capabilities. Beginning in 1999, Canada joined a NATO-led effort called the Coalition Aerial Surveillance and Reconnaissance (CAESAR) project. CAESAR's focus was to ensure the deep integration of air-based SAR/GMTI assets of three leading military states (the U.S., UK, and France) with Canada's RADARSAT-2. Canada was the only country that rendered a space-based SAR/GMTI sensor unto CAESAR, because no other country has such revolutionary military technology.

Although CAESAR expired in 2005, its successor is an expanded and even more ambitious NATO-led pact called the Multi-sensor Aerospace-Ground Joint ISR Interoperability Coalition (MAJIIC). It integrates several new Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) sensor systems, besides SAR and GMTI, into the war-fighters' toolkit. Canada's contribution has grown beyond being the only nation to provide a space-based radar platform (RADARSAT) and now includes providing a Tactical Uninhabitated Aerial Vehicle (TUAV). In addition, a NATO technical report says Canada will likely play host to a MAJIIC "live-fly" exercise in Alberta in June 2006. This likely refers to the annual "Maple Flag" war game that Canada has hosted at the Cold Lake Air Force Base for 40 years. This year it begins on May 14 (Mother’s Day) and continues until June 23.

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RADARSAT-1 and -2 have ensured Canada's leading role in the race to further militarize space. To ensure that Canada maintains this position, RADARSAT-3 is now in the works. Both MDA and the CSA have touted this follow-on project as "the most advanced space-borne land information and mapping mission ever conceived." As such, RADARSAT-3 will be even more useful than its predecessors in the ISR operations of upcoming U.S.-led wars.

Various Canadian government departments, agencies, and Crown corporations have worked hand-in-glove with military corporations to create, develop, and deploy a wide variety of "missile defence" weapons systems. This long-standing complicity did not end with the government's supposed "no" to joining "missile defence."

This hypocritical "no-means-yes" duplicity on "missile defence" followed in the footsteps of the Canadian government's phony policy of non-involvement in the Iraq war. Canada has, in fact, been deeply engaged in that war from the beginning. As then-U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci said in early 2003: "Ironically, the Canadians indirectly provide more support for us in Iraq than most of those 46 countries that are fully supporting us."

Considering the secrecy and lies of Orwellian government "newspeak," as well as rapid advances in ISR sensors and weapons technologies, it is crucial for those concerned about war, militarism, state terrorism, and increasing human rights abuses--such as the U.S. government's unwarranted surveillance of citizens--to ask that age-old question: "Who will watch the watchers?"

Exposing the truth about RADARSAT's role in making Canada a leading collaborator in space militarization is one part of the process of "watching the watchers." This monitoring of the military-industrial complex--and its continually re-elected political allies in the Liberal and Conservative parties--is but one aspect of a perennial struggle facing the anti-war movement in Canada. It is the need to debunk a widely-held cultural mythology through which the Canadians see themselves, their government, and their country: the myth that Canada is a strong force for peace on the global stage.

(Richard Sanders is coordinator of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade [COAT], and editor of its quarterly journal Press for Conversion! This article summarizes original research presented in the most recent issue of Press for Conversion! For more information, or to purchase a copy, e-mail <[email protected]> or visit <http://coat.ncf.ca>)