02 February 2006

Today in the Science News: Part 5: Amateur Spy

Wired magazine has a story on Ted Molczan, a Canadian man who spends his time tracking American spy satellites and publishing data on their orbits.

Molczan got interested in satellites as a child when he spotted one and correctly calculated the time at which it would traverse the sky on the following night. Somewhere along the line, he decided that since the American intelligence agencies don't publish their satellite orbits, he would start calculating and publishing the orbits on their behalf. He claims to be driven by the technical challenge.

I can understand that, but I don't see why Molczan needs to publish the information. He's even gotten a mysterious call from someone who offered to trade information on one group of satellites in exchange for information on a group of CIA satellites. Obviously, the individual represented a country that wanted to hide activity from the United States. Molczan didn't make the trade, and claims to have become concerned with what would happen if this information fell into the wrong hands.

And then he started a website and organized a group of observers across the world to publish data on the orbits of spy satellites, particularly those belonging to the United States.

This article left me with mingled anger and contempt. The source of the anger is obvious - how dare he undermine our intelligence? - and the contempt would be pity if not for the anger. I get the distinct feeling that Molczan is a very lonely, pathetic, sad little man.

Granted, his website does tell the United States which satellites are successfully hiding, so I suppose that's beneficial to us. The article also claims that Molczan's findings can be easily reproduced by anyone with basic mathematical skills and a good pair of binoculars. If that's true, he isn't really helping our enemies.

Even so, I can't say I appreciate his actions very much.


Anonymous someone said...

Perhaps the mysterious call was offering disinformation. I sure hope we've found a way to plant a good amount of that into this channel, though the CIA seems only good at *giving away* American secrets at this point.

12:46 AM  
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