Feds search for 'top-secret' shuttle debris

Jacob Levich jlevich at earthlink.net
Thu Feb 6 18:54:04 MST 2003

Feb. 6, 2003, 8:02AM
Top secret part somewhere among shuttle debris
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

A piece of debris classified "top secret" is somewhere among the thousands
of shards of the space shuttle Columbia spread across Texas.
The communications device handles encrypted messages between the shuttle
and the ground. According to its serial number, it is in a class of
equipment labeled "TSEC" -- telecommunications security -- that must be
handled with strict chain-of-command documentation.
Experts differed on the importance to national security of recovering the
device, which was "keyed," or prepared for use with mathematical algorithms.
"Better safe than sorry," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org
and an expert on intelligence policy.
One encryption expert said if the box were keyed it could be valuable to a
foreign intelligence agency, if it survived the accident.
The U.S. government uses such equipment for defense and other classified
For spaceflights such as rocket trips that are not expected to be
retrieved, NASA rules call for TSEC equipment to have its nameplate
stripped off. But shuttle flights are normally expected to be recovered.
A NASA spokesman said Wednesday evening that he had no information about
the device.
David Hess, a Department of Defense shuttle payloads specialist, said it
was not used on the lone Defense experiment on the shuttle -- an Air Force
"miniature satellite threat reporting system."

More at http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/space/1767228

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