When terrorists commandeered four U.S. commercial jet planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, many concluded the attack was a clear illustration of a major breach in U.S. military planning.
That flaw, critics say, is the belief that a multi-billion-dollar, technologically challenging missile-defense system -- the so-called "Star Wars" program to be headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs -- could have protected the nation from hostile attacks.
The terrorists' crude tactics on Sept. 11, as well as the subsequent anthrax mailings, drive home the futility of spending hundreds of billions of dollars on a sophisticated defense against that Cold War--era threat of intercontinental ballistic missiles wreaking surprise attacks on the homeland, critics charge. The terrorists, they insist, demonstrated that America's post--Cold War vulnerability lay in the difficulty of defending against unpredictable "asymmetric warfare" and are more likely to smuggle a suitcase-sized nuclear bomb into the country for detonation than attempt a long-range or air attack.
But such arguments, so far, have fallen on deaf ears in Washington. Shortly after Sept. 11, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved $8.3 billion in funding for missile defense, its Democratic leaders backing off a previous pledge to cut the amount by $1.3 billion. And missile-defense advocates, including Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., are pushing the program as hard as ever.
The reason, critics say, is simple: Star Wars is not really about defending the nation in the first place. The reality, rarely discussed by the media or politicians, is that the so-called missile-defense program is simply the first phase in a long-term program to establish military superiority in space, a realm that has historically been largely reserved for peaceful purposes.
"Sept. 11 ultimately is irrelevant," said Bruce Gagnon, director of the Florida-based Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, a grass roots peace organization. Missile defense, Gagnon believes, is merely a Trojan horse for the military's real objectives. "It's never been about defense. It's always been about controlling space, dominating space, denying other countries access to space, and the U.S. being the master of space. And that isn't a defensive posture."
The Pentagon's future vision of space promises to be a boon to aerospace contractors, which have unprecedented influence within the Bush administration. It will also have a significant impact on Colorado Springs, which is, under a reorganization already ordered by the administration, "the center of gravity for military space," according to Howell Estes, a retired four-star general and former head of the U.S. and Air Force space commands. Already home to the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) command center inside Cheyenne Mountain, the Space Command program at Peterson Air Force Base just east of the city is expanding and will have "cradle-to-grave" responsibility for nearly all U.S. military activities in space.
"There's no question about it," said Estes, now a Springs-based aerospace consultant.
The Death Star of the U.S. empire
Air Force Space Command is already charged with operating America's land-based intercontinental nuclear missiles, warning against incoming missiles, launching and operating satellites, conducting surveillance and testing anti-ballistic missile technology. It will also be responsible for all future expansion of military force into space, including technology that the United States could conceivably use to attack its enemies.
The Air Force calls Colorado Springs the "capital of military space." Disarmament advocates, in turn, refer to the city as the Death Star from which a future U.S. space empire will project its global power.
"It is the U.S. mission to dominate space -- to basically annex it," said Bill Sulzman, who runs the organization Citizens for Peace in Space out of his small cottage in the Springs. "The real goal is permanent pre-eminence."
Sulzman and others are drawing from the military's own documents, whose language is remarkably blunt. Almanac 2000, a publication of Air Force Space Command, states overtly that the Air Force must be "globally dominant" in space.
"Using space gives the U.S. the upper hand in maintaining peace, or if necessary, in waging war," the publication declares.
Saber-rattling language is ubiquitous throughout Air Force Space Command, which also has a unit at Schriever Air Force Base, southeast of the city, called the Space Warfare Center, and boasts that its role is "defending America through the control and exploitation of space."
The documents revealing the military's plans aren't top secret. Most are publicly available on military Web sites.
The most recent major report -- and one that is already having an impact at Peterson -- was issued by the Commission to Assess U.S. National Security Space Management and Organization on Jan. 11. The Space Commission, as it is known, was appointed by the Republican congressional leadership and headed by Donald Rumsfeld, who subsequently became Secretary of Defense.
"We know from history that every medium -- air, land and sea -- has seen conflict," the report states. "Reality indicates that space will be no different. Given this virtual certainty, the U.S. must develop the means both to deter and to defend against hostile acts in and from space. This will require superior space capabilities."
Those capabilities may not be used exclusively for defensive purposes such as shooting down incoming missiles, the report suggests. The document notes that "having this capability would give the U.S. a much stronger deterrent and, in a conflict, extraordinary military advantage."
Specifically, military plans call for developing weapons such as the space-based laser, a joint project of the Pentagon and aerospace contractors TRW, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Other projects also include space-based radar and various surveillance systems, as well as jamming devices to disable enemy satellites.
Dan Smith, chief of research for the Washington think tank Center for Defense Information, is alarmed by the idea of placing weapons in space. Smith, a retired army colonel at the center, which is led by former military personnel, points out that while the United States and several other countries already have military satellites, space has until now been free of weapons. Changing that will take the arms race to a new realm, he says.
"As soon as we put weapons in space, or any country does, you cross a psychological threshold," Smith said. "Putting weapons in space would be a gratuitous expansion of what in the military language we would call 'battlespace.' "
"It'll be destabilizing," Gagnon agreed. "It's going to create a new arms race. It's going to make life more insecure for America and everyone else. And certainly, it's morally and ethically wrong to move the arms race into the heavens."
Proponents of the military's plans, meanwhile, downplay the talk of weapons, warfare and dominance. Estes, who served on the Space Commission, insists the main objective is to protect U.S. space assets against enemy attack.
"This nation is extremely dependent on space," he said, pointing out the increasing importance of satellite technology for both military and civilian uses, such as telecommunications, navigation and weather forecasting.
"This dependence, in our minds, created a huge vulnerability," Estes said. "We really have not done very much to ensure the protection of our satellites."
Threats against satellites could include enemy attempts to jam or hack into them, or weapons designed to physically disable them or knock them out of orbit. To encourage the military to pay more attention to such threats, the Space Commission has recommended a series of organizational changes within the Air Force aimed at giving space programs a higher priority and stronger management structure.
Talking about defense
Colorado's Sen. Allard, who introduced legislation this year to implement the commission's recommendations, also emphasizes the importance of protecting telecommunications, weather and navigation satellites.
"For example, in the state of Colorado, it's our satellite systems that lets us know if there's a flood happening in one of our river basins," Allard said by way of example. "To me, that's important. I lived in the city of Loveland. We lost over 100 people [in the Big Thompson flood] a couple of decades back because there was inadequate warning."
Estes disputes the notion that the military is planning to place weapons in space, even though he headed the effort to develop the U.S. Space Command's Long Range Plan, which calls for developing such weapons and urges that the U.S. president "have the option to deploy weapons in space." The point, according to Estes, is to have the technology available but not necessarily to deploy it.
"We are very careful to say that it's not our business to decide when the nation puts weapons in space," he explained. "That is a decision which rests with the leadership of the country. The objective of the Long Range Plan is to ensure that should a president find it is in the U.S. national interest to do that, that we have options available."
Estes says current recommendations do not call for actual production of any weapons, except the space-based laser -- which could potentially be used to zap enemies on Earth from outer space.
The laser, he says, is for "demonstration" purposes only, because international treaties prevent the United States from developing an operational system.
Allard says the space-based laser would be purely a defensive weapon. "We're not talking about weapons, offensive weapons, in outer space," he said. "We're talking about defense."
Neither Estes nor Allard is willing to acquiesce to the position taken by critics like Smith, Gagnon and Sulzman, who favor a global treaty prohibiting all weapons in space. Currently, only "weapons of mass destruction" are illegal in space under the international Outer Space Treaty, which the United States has signed. However, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, has introduced legislation in Congress that would bar the United States from deploying any kind of space-based weapons.
"I don't think that's a bad idea," Allard said of Kucinich's bill. "But I think that if they're carrying that to the point where they want to disarm our ability to defend ourselves and our assets in outer space, then I think it goes too far."
Estes, likewise, believes writing off any kind of weapons in space -- even defensive ones -- would be a mistake. "This notion that space is going to remain a peaceful area in the future, for as long as we can see, is absolutely putting our heads in the sand," he said. "I mean, give me a break."
The need to protect commerce against disruption by enemies, Estes says, resulted in the militarization of land, air and sea. "Space is going to be no different."
Sulzman calls that rationale a "self-fulfilling prophecy," but Estes disagrees.
"It is just a fact of life," the former general said. "The fact of the matter is, man is a warlike being. We are just not very peaceful the way we do our work around the world, regardless of what it is -- whether it's political, economic or military. And unfortunately, that's the nature of the beast, and we just can't be nave about it."
Global enforcement arm
Global enforcement arm
As Estes acknowledges, a key historical role of the military has been to protect commerce. And opponents divine more sinister motives behind pushing the militarization of space, namely protecting the interests of multinational corporations around the globe.
Indeed, the U.S. Space Command itself makes the connection between globalization and the importance of U.S. military superiority. "The global economy will continue to become more interdependent," observes the Long Range Plan. "Economic alliances, as well as the growth and influence of multinational corporations, will blur security agreements ... The gap between 'have' and 'have-not' nations will widen -- creating regional unrest."
To Sulzman, the message is obvious.
"That's not talking about protecting your borders," he said. "That's being the enforcement arm of the global economy."
And when the United States talks about achieving "global dominance" through space, it begs the question of whether fewer than 5 percent of the world's population has the right to dominate the other 95 percent, Sulzman says. "People in the rest of the world aren't necessarily going to go along with this," he noted.
Estes, meanwhile, calls the military's use of the term dominance misguided. "I don't agree with domination either," he said. "That's a bad choice of words."
What the word was meant to convey, he says, is that the United States should enjoy military superiority in a specific conflict situation.
"What we're trying to do is say that we need to ensure our access to space," he said. "We need to ensure access for both commercial, civil and military space, and we need to be able to deny those same things to an adversary in a time and place of our choosing, if it's in our national security interest."
Unfortunately, Estes points out, most people seem to take the word dominance to mean exclusive control of space at all times. "I would tell you, there isn't anybody who thinks we ought to dominate space. I don't know one single person."
Elliot Pulham, president of the Colorado Springs--based Space Foundation, agrees. The philosophy of the foundation, a national nonprofit whose membership and revenue base include the major aerospace corporations, is that "space activity in all of its forms benefits all of us."
Pulham, a former Boeing executive, says U.S. space superiority will be for the good of people around the globe. It will enable the U.S. military to be a "force for freedom" that continues to promote liberty and human rights everywhere, he says.
"If you look at Bosnia, you look at the Gulf War and so forth, we used all the capabilities that we had in what we felt was a good, just cause, in helping other people," he said. "I would say the same very much applies in space."
Lots at stake
Among those who will benefit most directly, however, are the handful of giant aerospace corporations that vie for the multibillion-dollar government contracts to develop and build space systems -- including Boeing, TRW, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.
The major aerospace companies were directly involved in developing the U.S. Space Command's Long Range Plan and participated in meetings of the Space Commission. And while they have been influential political players ever since President Eisenhower warned of the "military-industrial complex" in his now-legendary 1961 speech, they appear to have unprecedented influence under the Bush administration, as pointed out by author Karl Grossman in an article in April's CovertAction Quarterly.
Vice President Dick Cheney, Grossman noted, is a former board member of Cleveland-based TRW, and his wife, Lynne Cheney, served on the board of Lockheed Martin. Bruce Jackson, Lockheed Martin's vice president of corporate strategy, served as chairman of the Foreign Policy Platform Committee at the 2000 Republican National Convention. And recently, Bush nominated Peter Teets, a former Lockheed Martin top executive, to serve as undersecretary of the Air Force, with direct responsibility for all space-related matters.
Estes himself does consulting work for the aerospace industry and serves on the board of SpaceDev Inc., which contracts with the military. He maintains, however, that he has no personal interest at stake because he charges clients a flat fee and doesn't get paid based on what contracts they land. He lobbies politicians to support military activity in space, but not as a corporate pitchman, he says.
"My integrity just won't let me do that," he said. "I'm doing this because I'm worried about the country."
At Peterson in Colorado Springs, the presence of the corporations is evident. Los Angeles--based Northrop Grumman Corp. has erected a billboard near the entrance to the base, and TRW and Boeing, which recently relocated its headquarters to Chicago, carry large advertisements in the Space Observer, a base newspaper.
The industry has also poured money into congressional campaign coffers. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that Allard, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, received $24,500 from defense contractors in his 1996 bid for the Senate, with contributors including Northrop Grumman, as well as the Bethesda, Md.--based Lockheed Martin, Hartford, Conn.--based United Technologies Corp., Cleveland-based TRW and Lexington, Mass.--based Raytheon.
In addition, Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, received $17,500 from defense contractors during his 2000 re-election bid, with donors including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, TRW, Raytheon and Boeing.
Hefley did not respond to requests for an interview for this story. Allard, meanwhile, maintains the corporations have not influenced his positions with their contributions. "In fact, I'm not sure they gave me much," he said in a recent interview.
Gagnon scoffs at the suggestion that campaign contributions don't make a difference.
"The evidence, we all know, is everywhere," he said. "I always think about Eisenhower's warning to us, that he was telling us to watch out for this -- 'these guys are gaining unwarranted influence in the halls of Congress.' And now it's come to be true. It's sort of a bloodless coup d'tat."
Pyramids to the heavens
Gagnon claims that the long-range goal of the military-industrial complex is to keep funneling tax money for defense purposes. Space warfare, he maintains, will be the industry's new cash cow and will replace nuclear weapons, which have become obsolete since the end of the Cold War.
And, the cost to taxpayers will be staggering. Gagnon estimates the government has already spent $100 billion on the as-yet technologically unproven missile defense system. Developing the space-based laser program is estimated to cost another $30 billion.
Politicians are unlikely to raise taxes to pay for the programs, so they'll go after the only other money available -- funding for programs such Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and education, Gagnon predicts.
"The aerospace corporations are the new pharaohs of our age, building these pyramids to the heavens," he said. "And we, the taxpayers, will be the slaves."
Critics say that the waste is even greater considering that missile defense, the key military space program being pitched to the public, is unlikely to actually work. Most tests on the system have failed, and in those tests where the Pentagon claimed success, the parameters were so narrow they didn't take into account the unpredictable factors in a real-life attack, critics contend.
However, Star Wars boosters claim critics are missing the point -- and that each test brings the military one step closer to developing a functional program.
"Granted, the test parameters were very fine," Estes conceded. "But the fact is, we've proven we can hit a bullet with a bullet."
Estes also rejects the notion that Sept. 11 proves the military is "looking in the wrong places to plug holes," as Sulzman asserts. With new anti-terrorism efforts under way, "it's going to be much more difficult for terrorists to get in and tap us," he said. "So they're going to do it from without."
Classified reports on nuclear proliferation show that the need for missile defense remains great, Estes says. If the public knew the real threat, "they would want that system up and running tomorrow."
Allard, likewise, says his belief in missile defense is strengthened.
"Sept. 11 ought to make us understand that they [terrorists] are looking for where our vulnerabilities are," Allard said. "And one of our vulnerabilities is that we are not able to defend ourselves against an intercontinental ballistic missile."
Estes concedes that the missile-defense program has cost "an astronomical amount." But the reason has been a past lack of commitment from Washington. "Had we had bipartisan support to go build a basic system, we could have had one 10 years ago," he maintained.
But Smith, of the Center for Defense Information, doubts that any degree of commitment or amount of money can buy the kind of security that missile-defense proponents are promising the American people.
"If we put enough money in and enough time, we will get a system which works most of the time," he said. "That begs the question of, How good is good enough? If you're talking about trying and intercepting a nuclear warhead on a missile, or stopping a missile with a nuclear warhead, you've got to be aiming for more than 80 percent or 90 percent, or even 95 percent. Because one nuclear warhead would just be devastation."
Expansion at Peterson
For now, the proponents of military activity in space are in the driver's seat. After George W. Bush took office, he installed Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense, and chose Estes' successor at Space Command, Gen. Richard Myers, as his chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"It really indicates the ascendancy of space as the preeminent military strategy," Gagnon said.
This fall, Rumsfeld ordered that his commission's recommendations, which includes consolidation of responsibilities at Air Force Space Command, to be implemented. In October, the Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, which had been in charge of procurement for military space programs, came under the authority of Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs.
Other organizational changes will also give Space Command greater decision-making powers. Until now, a single four-star general -- currently Ralph Eberhart -- has served as commander-in-chief of NORAD, the Air Force Space Command and the U.S. Space Command.
The U.S. Space Command coordinates the use of Air Force, Army and Naval space forces, but under the new structure, Air Force Space Command will have its own four-star general who will report directly to the undersecretary of the Air Force.
Expansion efforts are already under way, with new buildings already going up at Peterson. Next to the Air Force Space Command headquarters, a separate building for the commander of NORAD and U.S. Space Command is rising.
Another separate military entity, the Army Space Command, is also constructing its own facility on the site, and a plot of land has been set aside for a future Navy Space Command building.
Estes credits Rep. Hefley as a "key player" in supporting the consolidation at Peterson. Other local boosters have also supported the Space Commission's recommendations and their implications for the Springs, including the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation and the Space Foundation.
"One of the things that's interesting about the renewed emphasis given to space by Rumsfeld and his folks is that both the technology and military pieces of that equation will benefit the Springs," Pulham said. Now, 55 aerospace corporations -- most of which do work for the military -- are either headquartered or have branches here, employing more than 7,000 people locally.
A new arms race
Just as the space program was revving up, however, the events of Sept. 11 hit. While the Pentagon hasn't lost its enthusiasm for space, terrorism and the war in Afghanistan have naturally shifted priorities for the U.S. military.
Opinions vary as to the long-term effect on public attitudes. Sulzman sees Sept. 11 as a temporary setback for his efforts to educate people about the militarization of space.
Prior to the attacks, some momentum was building against the program, he says. Various peace organizations were joining the fight, and growing anti-globalization protests were raising the question of whether the United States should dominate the world.
And while the mainstream media has largely avoided discussing the military's space plans beyond missile defense, the New York Times Magazine ended the blackout with an article in August, titled "The Coming Space War." The article led Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., to deliver a speech before Congress on Sept. 26 calling for greater openness about the military's intentions.
The military's plans, Byrd said, threaten to trigger a new arms race. "It should concern us, and it should be debated by the people and the people's representatives," he declared.
"As it stands now, the U.S. military is moving ahead on a trajectory that is both costly and one that carries with it a kind of philosophical imperialism with dangerous ramifications."
In October, Gagnon's Global Network sponsored an international day of protest against militarization of space, with demonstrations in Colorado Springs and 114 other locations in 19 countries. Rallies in London and Berlin drew tens of thousands of people.
"I think, for what I call the 'muddled middle' across America, they do now have something in their mind, a picture of how Star Wars won't work," Gagnon said.
Rather than trying to compete with the deep-pocketed aerospace industry in winning the hearts and minds of politicians, the Global Network is focusing on educating and mobilizing the masses. "People are listening harder than I've ever seen them, everywhere," Gagnon said. "The word is getting out."