Military Mission Draws Extra Guard With PM-Space Shuttle, Bjt
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ Security at the Kennedy Space Center was increased to protect the shuttle Atlantis and its military secrets from terrorists, spies and even American journalists.
″Security is additive to Department of Defense flights,″ Gary Wistrand, deputy director for security services, said Wednesday. ″We always have security for any shuttle flight as a national resource. For a DOD launch, people can’t access areas where they would see classified data.″
Information about the launch - the third entirely military shuttle mission - was sharply restricted, with none of the usual pre-flight briefings and news conferences. The precise liftoff time was to be kept secret until nine minutes before launch.
German shepherds trained to sniff out bombs checked the bags of some journalists and other workers arriving before the launch.
News media organizations setting up remote unmanned cameras to photograph the Atlantis liftoff had to sign Defense Department releases Wednesday giving up their film in case of an accident that could allow photographs of the payload - believed to be a $500 million spy satellite. The Associated Press and The New York Times refused to sign the release and weren’t allow to place their cameras.
″We are trying to make it as hard as possible for potential adversaries to find out,″ said Air Force Lt. Ron Rand. ″We do what we do because it serves the best interests of the U.S.″
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration security force boosts the number of personnel on duty for a military launch by about 25 percent, Wistrand said, with the Department of Defense paying for the extra guard. He said more than 100 security personnel, from gate guards to plainsclothes investigators, were assigned to the Atlantis launch.
The gate guards carry revolvers and Special Weapons and Tactics teams have automatic weapons. Wistrand said he doesn’t recall any major security problems during a shuttle mission, although guards arrested 186 protesters two years ago for trespassing on government property in a protest against the Trident 2 missile launch at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Guarding against terrorism is always a consideration, Wistrand said, although the shuttle isn’t considered a vulnerable target.
″I think that anytime you have a piece of hardware that is valued the amount of the shuttle is, that is a potential target, but we don’t have any intelligence to that effect,″ Wistrand said.
″I do think it presents a rather difficult target,″ he said.
In addition to the manned patrols, the mostly wild and swampy 140,000-acre space center terrain has its own natural guard force.
″We have about 7,000 alligators, some rattlesnakes, and some wild hogs,″ Wistrand said.