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What Life Was Like Inside the Hexagon Project 104

Posted by timothy
from the in-the-spring-we'd-play-jai-alai dept.
As new submitter kulnor writes, "Hexagon, a cold war secret project around spy satellites to monitor USSR was declassified last September." kulnor excerpts from the AP story as carried by Yahoo, outlining how more than 1,000 people in and around Danbury, CT kept mum about the nature of their employment: "'For more than a decade they toiled in the strange, boxy-looking building on the hill above the municipal airport, the building with no windows (except in the cafeteria), the building filled with secrets. They wore protective white jumpsuits, and had to walk through air-shower chambers before entering the sanitized 'cleanroom' where the equipment was stored. They spoke in code.' As more and more WWII and cold war secrets are declassified, we learn about amazing technological feats involving hundreds of people working in secrecy. I wonder what will emerge in a few decades around modern IT, the Internet, hacks, and the like." Every time I visit Oak Ridge, TN, I am amazed by the same phenomenon of successful large-scale secrecy.
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What Life Was Like Inside the Hexagon Project

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  • by sjwt (161428) on Tuesday December 27, 2011 @10:41AM (#38502534)

    Its amazing what technology the spy game brings forth, one has to wonder how much this really cost, considering they haven't declassified that yet? The cost would of been huge, not just in the $ sense, but in the fact that all those specialist from different fields where taken to develop just this one project for so long.

    It dose seem odd, that if the amount is so high that it hasn't been declassified, why they went ahead with it when the SR71's [wikipedia.org] were in use, or was this a bit of a power-play between different branches of the government not sharing or not wanting to give up control over something.

  • by skydyr (1404883) on Tuesday December 27, 2011 @10:55AM (#38502664)

    The SR-71s were certainly noticed by the Soviet's as they were passing through their airspace, and while successful, certainly, they could also have been used to hide the existence of the various spy satellite programs by providing a plausible alternative means by which the US could have gained the information they used at various treaty negotiations. Eisenhower's Corona program began in 1960, years before the blackbird began overflights of the Soviet Union, and was clearly both a gigantic success and a gigantic secret. Setting up a secondary secret program which had telltale signs the Soviet's could pick up on to mask the existence of the primary one seems like a great way to keep the satellite programs a secret both externally and within the US government, where they could also be attributed to the other program when discussing the results with individuals who needed the information but did not need to know about the program itself.

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Tuesday December 27, 2011 @10:58AM (#38502706)

    Yes, current shit is heavily redacted. This has always been the case. For that matter it was even heavier in the past and prior to 1966 (when the FOIA was passed) there was basically no mechanism to even ask. During WWII you just didn't find out about government secrets, at all.

    Part of declassification is just age. Most things stay classified for 25-72 years (how long depends on what you are talking about). So until that time has passed, they aren't declassified. Parts might be made available under FOIA or other special circumstances, but they aren't full declassified.

    The reason is that information is only sensitive for so long. So by building in an automatic time, you reduce the risk anything still sensitive is revealed.

    After that time, the documents get reviewed to see if they should be released. The government has released a lot of shit too, some of it not at all flattering to them.

    So for stuff now, 25 years is the earliest you'll see it. Some things last longer (50 years is the House of Representatives standard). The longest I know of is census data, that is 72 years.

    Declassification isn't automatic after that time, of course, but they do seem to take it seriously. There are lots and lots and lots of declassified documents out there. So please don't bitch that they won't show you classified stuff now. That has never been the case. If you think that should be changed fair enough but don't try to act like it is a new thing.

  • by chill (34294) on Tuesday December 27, 2011 @11:06AM (#38502790) Journal

    From TFA:

    Early Hexagons averaged 124 days in space, but as the satellites became more sophisticated, later missions lasted twice as long.

    Sending up a satellite for just 4 months of pictures is a bit costly and cumbersome. It also precludes a quick response. A plane can be sent for a quick look to get a confirmation. A satellite has to depend on the target being in its orbital path, and passing over at just the right time, etc.

    On the other hand, the satellite can get you 4 months of regular photos to do a time lapse or comparison.

  • by mbone (558574) on Tuesday December 27, 2011 @12:39PM (#38503828)

    Many of these secrets were, and weren't. The Hubble Space Telescope was built in Danbury, Conn., for example, in that very same building. Anyone involved in the HST, or even following it closely before launch, knew about its close design and engineering connections to the then current spy satellites. That was never really directly discussed in the press, but it was certainly common knowledge in the astronomy community. (In the same way, the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft shared a lot of engineering heritage with the KH-9.)

    That is what generally strikes me about the "deep secrets" that get revealed after decades - it's rare to have anything be a total secret. The clues are generally there, if you have the wit to put them together.

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