spy agency now trying child's play
The Lompoc Record
Corey Corona and Dana Drop, agents for the nation's spy satellite
agency, have a mission that once would have been impossible.
That's because the two characters promote an agency whose programs
and very existence were secret just a decade ago.
Welcome to the new world order, where the National Reconnaissance
Office not only admits it exists but also owns up to satellite launches,
honors its pioneers publicly and even has a Web site geared toward
children. NROjr.gov targets kids between the ages of 3 and 10 with
songs, stories, games and art.
The Web site for NRO, which is jointly operated by the CIA and
Defense Department, was born out of a family day for the Virginia-based
agency, according to NRO spokesman Art Haubold. The agency announced
the Web site's presence late last year.
"We thought it was something that could be fun, and there's
some educational elements to it," said Haubold.
"The realities of today are different than when NRO was shrouded
in a complete cloak of secrecy," said Haubold. "One of
the reasons we are doing this is we want today's youth to become
interested in science and technology. This is one way we do some
outreach to them.
"Whether or not they end up working for NRO, its importance
to get today's youth interested in the science and technology we
need to continue United States pre-eminence in space," he added.
So Corey Corona -- named for NRO's first space-based spying effort
four decades ago -- offers games.
Dana Drop pushes coloring projects.
Whirly Lizard carries stories.
And Earth Watch touts tunes.
Haubold couldn't give a cost estimate for the kids' page, noting
that the site was designed by a contractor who handles the agency's
main Web site at www.nro.gov.
Scott Hollister, operations manager for Space Endeavour Camp at
Vandenberg Air Force Base, said he supports anything that educates
"My hat's off to them," said Hollister. "I applaud
them ... Anywhere you educate people is great."
NROjr.gov creates mixed feelings among the many who lobbied for
an end to the spy satellite agency's secrecy.
"I think they sort of have a split personality," said
Steven Aftergood from the Federation of American Scientists in Washington
D.C. "On the one hand they're not releasing what you would
expect. On the other hand, they're publishing all kinds of things
you'd never look for, like this kid site."
NASA has long had Web sites geared toward children. The Clinton
administration pushed for kid-friendly Web sites, Aftergood said.
The CIA has a site offering youth a chance to don disguises or decode
messages in cyberspace.
NRO admitted to existence in 1992, and began pre-announcing its
launches a few years later.
"It still comes as a surprise and a bit of a shock,"
said Aftergood. "I think NRO may have some uncertainty about
its own identity as an intelligence organization. It looks like
NRO can't decide whether they are a clandestine intelligence organization
or just another government bureaucracy."
He's not intending to be critical of the site, Aftergood said,
but it seems a little bit odd to have a Web site for kids.
"I don't think it does any harm," said Aftergood, who
has waged a long war to get information about the government's "black
program" budgets, but "I don't think it's a substitute
for public accountability. That is something that is still deficient
at NRO, beginning with the amount of money they spend."
He continues to fight for a statement of what NRO costs.
"The kid site is fun and games, but the public information
is not a joke," he said. "It's a responsibility they have
that they are not discharging. I'm getting more worked up as we
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