U.S. State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks and revealed by Norwegian daily Aftenposten say Germany joined a partnership with the U.S. to create a satellite spying program that was presented as a commercial enterprise, but is actually run by the German intelligence service and the German Aerospace Center, DLR. According to the notes of an executive who discussed the HiROS plan “the BND is the official consumer for HiROS – this is politically uncontested.”
German Aerospace Center spokesman Andreas Schuetz said that such a project for a high-resolution optical satellite has been in discussion for the past two years under the name HIROS.
“HIROS is neither a spy satellite, nor a secret project,” Schuetz said. He insisted that the project was to be used only for government purposes, “for example crisis management during natural catastrophes and for scientific uses.”
He refused to give any further details, saying the plan was still in the project stage and could not be discussed.
According to the cables, sent in 2009 and last year, the satellites were to be in place by 2013, but it wasn’t clear if the funding for the project had been secured. A cable dated Feb. 15, 2009 describing the project said that Berlin believes such satelite technology would “provide an instrument of national power, and politically frees Germany from dependence on foreign sources of imagery.”
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.
The cables say the project had been causing friction with Germany’s European Union partners, especially France, which was to be strictly excluded from the project.
They cite French efforts to halt the proposal as “fierce and persistent due to its potential competition with French industry.”