- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, which announced late last month that it had obtained full access to the WikiLeaks CableGate archive, has already caused a stir with this cable from Feb. 15, 2009, which discusses a planned German satellite reconnaissance system (my emphasis):
Germany is taking concrete steps to achieve a full-spectrum, overhead reconnaissance capability by adding a space-based HIgh Resolution Optical System (HiROS) to their already impressive suite of space-based radar and multi-spectral systems. The German Government believes that full spectrum overhead reconnaissance is an effective force multiplier, provides an instrument of national power, and politically frees Germany from dependence on foreign sources of imagery. Germany anticipates that their emergence as a world leader in overhead reconnaissance will generate interest from the USG and envisions an expansion of the intelligence relationship.
On 8 April 2009, US National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) officers met with German Intelligence Service (BND) officials to discuss Germanys plans for expanded nationally operated overhead reconnaissance resources.[…]
Germany intends to develop HiROS through a DLR (German Space Agency) /EADS Astrium public private partnership (PPP). The division of EADS Astrium that would build HiROS is the German-only InfoTerra GmbH, which has also built German space-based radar satellite systems, TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X satellites (Ref B). To minimize possible political backlash from developing HiROS as an intelligence satellite, the program will be managed by a civil agency, possibly the Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi). For political optics, the satellites themselves would be operated by a "commercial entity" created specifically for this purpose, but with tasking managed/controlled/coordinated by BND. Commercial imagery sales are envisioned to help offset program development costs. BND managers are adamant that the imagery must be unclassified to enable maximum utility.
The network is meant to be in place by 2013, but according to a later cable, funding for the project is still uncertain. Since the cable’s release, the German Aerospace Center has denied that HiROS is a "spy satellite, nor a secret project" and suggested that it would instead be used for "crisis management during natural catastrophes and for scientific uses." But that wasn’t the impression U.S. officials got after the 2009 meeting:
The BND stressed that having their own national space-based reconnaissance assets will enable them to be a better partner with the USG by bringing more unique value to the table. The BND indicated that they are anxious to precede with additional high value substantive joint projects with the USG and hope that through a closer imagery exchange relationship, Germany could fill some of their collection gaps by gaining access to US imagery covering Iran, North Korea, China, and the Haqqani Network in the AFPAK region. Also of note, the BND also wants to work with the USG on GEOINT issues of mutual interest in Africa. (COMMENT: This sentiment was reiterated by von Loringhoven during the working lunch. END COMMENT) NGA officers responded that USG cooperation on additional joint projects would hinge upon the German sides ability to bring unique data sources and information to the table.