ROCKY SPYSAT MYSTERY SOLVED

Big ups to the Washington Post's Dana Priest, for cracking the mystery of the classified spy program that had worked Sen. Jay Rockefeller -- and a nice-sized chunk of Washington -- into a jittering froth. The project is called MISTY. And here's what Priest had to say about it:

rocky_yay.JPGThe United States is building a new generation of spy satellites designed to orbit undetected, in a highly classified program that has provoked opposition in closed congressional sessions where lawmakers have questioned its necessity and rapidly escalating price, according to U.S. officials.The previously undisclosed effort has almost doubled in projected cost -- from $5 billion to nearly $9.5 billion, officials said. The National Reconnaissance Office, which manages spy satellite programs, has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the program, officials said.The stealth satellite, which would probably become the largest single-item expenditure in the $40 billion intelligence budget, is to be launched in the next five years and is meant to replace an existing stealth satellite, according to officials. Non-stealth satellites can be tracked and their orbits can be predicted, allowing countries to attempt to hide weapons or troop movements on the ground when they are overhead.
But MISTY isn't exactly "previously undisclosed," like Priest says. The ever-intrepid Arms Control Wonk Jeffrey Lewis, in fact, blogged about MISTY back in March:
Some individuals holding clearances refer to a classified piece of the puzzle that might have dramatic effect on such proposals [to provide satellite tracking data]. I am pretty sure the classified piece is the existence of low observable stealth satellites, which is secret only in the administrative sense of the term.The MISTY program is extensively covered in Jeffrey Richelson (2001), The Wizards of Langley, Westview, 248-250. Richelson mentions that a quartet of amateur astronomers were able to track the satellite. One of those astronomers, Ted Molczan, recently suggested a candidate for MISTY-2.The ability of amateurs (albeit highly skilled ones) to track such satellites suggests that opponents of providing more data and analytic support are attempting hold back the tides of transparency-and, in doing so, we are passing up a chance to shape the legal and operational environment for the provision of satellite tracking data in ways that might legitimately preserve US national interests.
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