The recent destruction of a dead spy-satellite by a U.S. missile caused talking heads and leaders of other countries to speculate about the reasons. The U.S. maintains that the falling satellite might have caused harm to people and property. Some foreign leaders assert that the U.S. merely used the destruction of the satellite to practice its missile-defense capability.
Or perhaps the U.S. wanted to ensure that the high-technology equipment aboard the satellite would not fall into the hands of others.
No matter the reason, one cannot help but be mighty impressed by the technology—an infrared-detector-guided missile shooting down a fast-moving, cold satellite.
Besides the military uses of infrared technology, many peaceful uses exist. Infrared sensors pick up heat differences and can create images from them. For example, the U.S. Landsat satellites and others can create spectacular photos of earth and also help with weather forecasting and ocean-temperature monitoring. Infrared sensors can be used to locate hot spots which still exist in buildings and forests after major fires are controlled. All over the world, infrared telescopes scan the heavens at night.
Photos of rivers and bays can show the source of water pollution because clean and polluted water looks different in an infrared image. Infrared images from satellites or airplanes can check for disease or insect infestation in crop lands and forests. Infrared sensors can be used to detect autos which are emitting high levels of pollutants.
Many may remember the advertisements about a "Heads-Up" display option on some General Motors vehicles which allows the driver to spot obstacles in the road ahead such as deer.
The Border Patrol uses night vision equipment to spot people crossing the border. Humans and their surroundings are different temperatures, so people show up clearly on the infrared scopes. This technology was developed during the Vietnam War for military purposes but has been available for many years for peaceful and beneficial uses.
Spy satellites contain sophisticated cameras such as those used to create the photographs used by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his Iraq presentation to the United Nations. The photos showed the movement of trucks and people outside a facility in Iraq.
But would it be possible to use satellites to monitor our borders? Certainly.
The Turks crossed their southeastern border with Iraq recently to attack the Kurdistan Workers' Party rebels, the PKK. An Associated Press article reported: "A military officer of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq said on condition of anonymity that several hundred Turkish soldiers crossed the border. The coalition has satellites as well as drones and other surveillance aircraft at its disposal." [Turkish troops enter Iraq seeking rebels, By Selcan Hacaoglu And Christopher Torchia, Associated Press, February 22, 2008]
What can the satellites see? The resolution may not be clear enough to see people smoking Cuban cigars or pot in their backyards, but they do show people on the ground. In the case of the information obtained by the Turks, their military knows the exact location of rebel Kurdish bases by using information obtained from the United States. The satellites were not sent up merely to help the Turks. They were in the sky already.
Think about the possibilities. The U.S. military already has satellites in space, lots of them, probably. Existing satellites could be used to patrol our borders.
The Department of Homeland Security and Congress recently abandoned a virtual fence project, which used towers and high-tech equipment. But there can be no doubt that a virtual fence is possible. It could be a combination of towers and satellites. It is merely a question of money, not technology limitations.
Spy satellites are in space already. That does not necessarily mean that they are readily usable. They may be in different orbits or at different altitudes than are necessary to monitor the border. That does not mean that satellites cannot be used. They can. And Homeland Security could have a special satellite for its mission which could be sent up to monitor the border.
Moreover, the U.S. might launch satellites with multiple peaceful uses such as weather and ocean monitoring and other "global warming" and border monitoring.
Naysayers might fret that the cost would be enormous. But what are the costs of unchecked illegal immigration?
Several weeks ago, the Sheriff of Santa Barbara County, California, [PDF] released a study about jail overcrowding. The county needs a new jail because there are too many inmates. Twelve percent of the inmates are illegal aliens. Santa Barbara County is one of over fifty counties in the state and accounts for one percent of the overall population of the state.
The folks in jail have committed serious crimes. These are not family-values, happy immigrants who just want to work and provide for their families. They are criminals. Many of them are repeat offenders and many have been deported previously.
Recently, an illegal alien sped through a stop sign in Cottonwood, Minnesota, and caused an accident with a school bus. Four children died and eight were injured. She was unlicensed. Some might argue that if the state gave illegal aliens licenses, this would not have happened. Irrelevant! You don't need a license to know what stop signs and speed limits are. Authorities do not know the driver's identity as the name she gave is an alias. What they do know is that she is not a family-values, happy immigrant simply coming here to work. She is a criminal.
How much does it cost to incarcerate, defend and try criminal, illegal aliens? Billions. But more important, illegal immigration is not a victimless crime. Ask the families of the dead children in Minnesota.
(Hmmm. Maybe that's why evidence that terrorists are crossing always seems to get deep-sixed).
Linda Thom [email her] is a retiree and refugee from California. She formerly worked as an officer for a major bank and as a budget analyst for the County Administrator of Santa Barbara.