GPS committee to form

"Fact Sheet on U.S. Space-based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Policy"

Officials dismissed today a wire service report of supposed plans to shut down the Global Positioning System during crises.

Although the Associated Press reported today that President Bush had ordered plans for temporarily disabling the U.S. GPS network during a national crisis to prevent terrorists from using the navigational technology, military officials denied the report this afternoon. "We've got no plans to shut down the GPS system," said Lt. Col. Chris Conway, a Defense Department spokesperson.

John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, said it is difficult for him to imagine an emergency that would benefit from such a shutdown.

"In the event of [the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks], the evildoers did not need GPS to find the World Trade Center," Pike said. "It was right out the window. The evildoers did not need help to find the Pentagon. It's very hard to miss. ... I'm unaware of any terrorist attack that required GPS."

Military officials own and operate GPS. GPS receivers work by getting signals from nearly 30 satellites in orbit. With signals from at least three of the satellites, users can triangulate a position. The government can disable the system by reducing the accuracy of the signals that are available to nonmilitary users, trucks, cars and airlines. DOD officials could block the civil signal while maintaining the military signal, which is encrypted and more accurate.

DOD officials released a fact sheet this week on new policies authorized by the President Dec. 8 for space-based global positioning, timing and navigation systems. Among other things, the President called for the formation of an executive committee on the issue, to be co-chaired by deputy secretaries from DOD and the Transportation Department, or representatives of their choosing. Committee members will include officials from the departments of State, Commerce, and Homeland Security, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, NASA and other agencies as needed. Committee members would make recommendations to agency officials and the President and provide advice and coordination for policies, architectures, needs and resource allocation.

Theresa Hitchens, a vice president at the Center for Defense Information, said a new policy on GPS has been in the works. Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser and Bush's nominee to be the next Secretary of State, started a review of the space policy a couple of years ago, Hitchens said. "I'm not sure that there was any political timing to this being done now. I was surprised it wasn't out earlier."

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