Classifying satellites - was Re: "U" vs "C" vs ... in elsets

Philip Chien (
Wed, 9 Jun 1999 10:27:12 -0400 said:

>     Some members of this group are either in the US government or work
>     directly with it.  The use of "C" in the "classification designator"
>     field presents us with a problem in that storing any elset with "C" or
>     "S" in this field on an unclassified computer whould give the
>     appearance of a security violation.  That's something we can't afford
>     and wastes a lot of time to resolve.

That's your problem - not ours.  Seesat is an *international* list, and few
of us have any classified clearances with regards to satellite orbits.  And
most importantly - a list for HOBBIESTS who enjoy satellite observing.
Granted there are those who use Seesat as part of their work - both
legitimately and unethically.

If you choose to use a computer at work for Seesat then that's your choice,
and I'd hope that your employer has no objections to you doing so.  What
you keep on that computer is up to you to decide.  Clearly you've got no
control over the email which you receive, but it was your choice to decide
to receive Seesat at work instead of getting an email account at home for
your hobby.

Whether or not any supervisor or security officials think about the
'appearance of a security violation' is a moot point.

e.g. why am I obligated to fulfill your requirements just because you wish
me to do so?  Asking me politely is a different matter of course, and see
my other posting on this topic for my suggestions.

Phil Rogers <> said:

>At best, it is childish
>for some individuals to flaunt having information which they should not

exqueeze meee????  Where has there been *any* indication that any
classified information has been leaked or distributed via Seesat or anybody
claiming that they've had such information.  As far as 'should not haves' -
I've still got a nice collection of negatives of folks in compromising
positions which - well never mind.

In *MANY* circumstances I have *PROUDLY* gloated that I've been able to
derive information about classified satellites - but only based on purely
UNCLASSIFIED information - and the assumption that the U.S. government has
not obtained any waivers from Sir Isaac Newton.  Blame those who gave me
UNCLASSIFIED information which could be used to derive additional
information - but don't ever say that I'm "flaunting" or "should not have"
information which anybody with a first grade physics education can
determine.  I am proud of my skills (some might even say arrogant, but who
would I be to disagree with my critics?)

>At worst it could be dangerous if information inadvertently tagged as
>classified were to reach the hands of an inspector somewhere.

The last time I checked only the government and its contractors could "tag"
something as classified.  If somebody else by accident happens to choose a
code word or other designation which happens to match - then that does
*NOT* make that information classified or indicate that it could/should be

>If it
>could not be proven to that inspector that such information was not in
>fact classified then it could conceivably result in seizure of computers
>of those who happened to receive it. This means all of us.

That's the responsibility of the person who owns the computer - not 'all of
us'.  Never ever try to pass away personal responsibility on somebody else.
YOU make the decision what you choose to save on your computer (work or
home) and what you don't.

> The best way
>to view security always has been and still is the manner in which it was
>presented to the public during WWII... "Loose Lips Sinks Ships".

a)  We (as in the United States) are not presently at war
b)  Last time I checked civil rights and the Bill of Rights was still in
effect in the country where I live.
c)  A better expression could be "Evil can only take over when good men
choose to refuse to act."

>It is [the government's] perogative to withold information which "they"
>feel to
>potentially be sensitive and "their" criteria by which such judgment is
>made regardless of what information is to be found elsewhere.

No disagreement here.  But what's your point?  Just because the U.S.
government has made the (IMHO foolish) decision not to release two line
elements for the GPS satellites doesn't mean that information isn't
available elsewhere.  Every $100 GPS receiver has built in to its memory a
*much* more accurate derivation of the orbits of each of the operational
Navstar satellites then you could *EVER* get from a two line elements set -
and that information is obtained from the satellites directly!

I can generate pseudo elements for all of the operational DSP satellites
(ironically based on publicly available data from other U.S. government
agencies).  The orbital locations of the Milstar satellites are filed with
the ITU! etc.  If USSPACECOM chooses not to release the elements of those
satellites then that's their choice.  But don't ever try to tell me that I
shouldn't try to derive that information from other sources.

>In a more
>ideal world where people do not inherently become adamant to see what is
>hidden from them, perhaps those who determine what is made public and
>what is not might tend to be more relaxed in their evaluations.

On the contrary!

The U.S., Russia, and France all now admit to having photo reconsatellites.
Surprisingly the U.S. was the last to admit it (1995) - well after the
French Helios launch.

I was rather amused when at a technical show in 1991 I asked the Russian
representative what the maximum resolution was of the "Earth Resources"
satellite imagery which he was selling - and he told me(!)  (one meter if
anybody cares).

Two line elements are available for the Russian and French satellites from
USSPACECOM - but not the U.S. photorecons.

Guess which ones are the most popular with Seesat viewers?

There's no challenge in going outside and viewing Helios or Cosmos whatever
because they're too easy to find!  The U.S. recons (Keyhole, Keenan,
Crystal, or whatever you want to call them) are more interesting because
there's more of a challenge!

Until 1983 tracking data for all of the satellites was unclassified -
including U.S. military classified satellites.  What's amusing is you can
still request the archival data.

In effect the U.S. government issued a 'challenge' to the satellite
observing community to keep tracking them without publicly available

>We have come a long
>way since the Nixon days of paranoia when information was frequently
>classified for indefinite time periods by default and even that was a
>huge step beyond the days of McCarthyism.

The irony is during the height of the Cold War - and even VietNam satellite
elements were freely available.

> Check back in another
>50 years and perhaps you might find kids in high school using the very
>elsets which are so intensely desired here in their daily orbital
>mechanics lessons.

In 50 years - at the rate education has been going - I strongly doubt too
many high school students will be studying orbital mechanics.  But I hope
I'm wrong. said:

>     It is this type of openness in our democracy that I and many others
>     are trying to defend, not restrict.  In the process of doing that some
>     of us have agreed to not disclose classified information.

As stated many many times before - information derived by amateurs based on
unclassified datas is NOT classified, and CANNOT ever be considered
classified.  Whether or not you wrap yourself in the flag, defend or
complain about what should and shouldn't be classified, or anything else is
a moot point.

>     I certainly don't want to give the
>     impression that I have violated classification guidelines and thus
>     broken my word.

Again - that's your concern, not mine.

>     All I'm asking is that consideration be given to the selection of
>     certain letters that may give the appearance that those of us who have
>     security clearances have broken the rules.  As others have suggested,
>     there are good alternatives to using "C" and "S" in an elset.


>     Having an elset generated by a group such as SEESAT that has
>     information that is classified by official sources is not, in itself a
>     security violation.

Has anybody *EVER* claimed that Seesat has ever distributed any classified
information?  If so I'm unsubscribing right now because I have no interest
in getting arrested for the possession or reception of classified

Jeff - I think you're missing an *EXTREMELY* important point here.  If
Seesat members derive any orbit which happens to match the orbit of any
classified or unclassified satellite which may or may not exist does not
make that information classified in *ANY* form.

The Lacrosse 3 elements, to use an example, posted to Seesat have *soley*
(to the best of my knowledge) been based on unclassifed observations.

>     On
>     the one hand we criticize the government when classified information
>     is not safeguarded and on the other demand that it be released because
>     secrets don't set well with our democratic society. It's hard to have
>     it both ways.


I see no contradiction in complaining about the fact that as a U.S.
taxpayer I do not have access to the same data which was provided by the
U.S. government to the government of India, and enabled India to hide the
fact that they were planning nuclear tests.  Especially in this case the
classification of the data prevents the U.S. taxpayer from having access to
information which an adversary was freely given and able to use against the

Jim Varney <> said:

>A democracy
>works best when informed citizens make the government accountable for
>itself by exposing the government's mistakes. That's not childishness.
>It's civic participation.
>I believe that satellites in the visual realm are astronomical objects. I
>also believe that the catalogs and positions of all astronomical objects
>should have free and open distribution. Therefore I applaud the efforts of
>the observers and elset maintainers on this list who publish the elsets of
>objects that would otherwise be unavailable.
>Elset suppression has nothing to with national security. Not when every
>nation on earth has at least a pair of binoculars and a PC and could do
>the same tracking as we do if they wanted to. Elset suppression is strictly a
>bureaucratic self-serving exercise. This is evident by SPACECOM calling
>the elsets "official use only" -- even they can't bring themselves to calling
>them "classified."

Agreed to all.  Couldn't have put it better myself Jim.

>The real issue isn't the U or C -- it's the elset itself. I would think an
>auditor would want to know why you have Lacrosse elsets on your PC,
>regardless of whether they say U or C.


Philip Chien, KC4YER
Earth News
world (in)famous writer, science fiction fan, ham radio operator,
all-around nice guy, etc.