No, not really. Those are not X wing fighters, although they have been mistaken for alien spaceships. These are A-12 (OXCART) aircraft, very possibly the most advanced aircraft ever built, doomed to be killed by a blackbird.
Now that much concerning the development of these craft has been declassified, we can talk about these exotic craft and the people who worked with them.
I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, since the flurry of activity last November and a number of friends sharing photographs that are no longer classified. What finally motivated me was a reference to Polaroid cameras the other day, and the recognition that strategic reconnaissance is a vastly unknown art.
Almost everyone has heard of Dr. Edwin Land, creator of the Polaroid camera. What many are unaware of is Dr. Land’s contribution to surveillance. In World War two he adapted his vectograph, a polarized 3D image, to defeat camouflage. Vectograph uses a system that polarizes the left/right images rather than using color filters. Dr. Land developed the cameras used in the U-2, OXCART (and later SR-71 BLACKBIRD), and several series of satellites.
These cameras took images from incredible distances. The closest perigee of a KH-11 was 157 miles, while the A-12 was flying at about 19 miles with an air speed over three times the speed of sound. The precise resolution remains classified, but paired with excellent photo interpretation, we managed follow a great deal of activity.
Strategic surveillance has always been around, we watch each other, and sometimes the curtain of secrecy which separates engineers of differing political persuasions can be pierced. The greatest airframes have been designed by Russians, but the imaginations required to exploit those airframes with superior avionics have been American. You knew the Mig-25 magically turned into the F-15, but now you know the stealth program began with a Russian design. When we first saw one on a runway we thought it was a Russian space shuttle prototype, the design became TACIT BLUE.
Today surveillance is more signal oriented. In the flood of communications made available to every drooling biped on the planet, computer algorithms “listen” to our conversations, looking for keywords. The same way advertisers zero in on you, hitting you with ads for whatever you just looked for, programs like NARUSINSIGHT look for key words or combinations. Even with the most sophisticated and immense computers in existence, only about thirty percent of traffic can be monitored. Observe a smaller pool of communication, and you can catch everything (reveal what you’ve found and people stop talking).
The “revelations” about surveillance are only surprises to those who haven’t been paying attention. The fears about surveillance are only as founded as our own self measurements of guilt. Was it a bad thing for Victoria Nuland to express her feelings in a private phone conversation? I don’t think so. I think it points out the importance of appropriate interpretation. Personal opinions are not state agendas.
The biggest secret is there really are no secrets.