Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig is in charge -- Here! Now! -- of a company that wants to float huge dirigibles in the stratosphere to serve as cellular repeater stations. Oh, and by the way, the airships would make great spy platforms....
The 74-year old retired NATO general is president of Worldwide Associates, a nebulously-named investment firm that wholly owns a company called Sky Station International. Sky Station (run by Haig's son Alex) is partnering with several European firms to develop the airships and communications package.
The plan is for the dirigibles, each bigger than a football field, to float motionless in the stratosphere, 13 miles above the major cities of the world. Each unmanned airship will be powered by solar cells, which will provide enough power to handle 400,000 simultaneous 64 KB/s and 1,000 multi-megabit transmissions. Sky Station intends the airships to be the backbone of a global wireless data system that can provide data at 1.5 MB/s to portable terminals and up to 155 MB/s to fixed terminals.
Radioastronomers are distressed at this plan, because the Sky Station system will encroach on the frequency they use to find specific molecules in space. Meteorologists worry that interference from the Sky Station uplinks will dazzle weather satellites used to measure variations in the Earth's temperature.
But no one seems to worry about Sky Station's most rewarding use: as a spy platform. The Sky Station airships can serve as huge eyes-in-the-sky, looking down on the Earth from 13 miles up. A 15-inch telescope, mounted on the airship and provided with a video downlink, becomes a Big Blimp Brother, able to focus on a single face in a crowded street anywhere in the city. Mount a millimeter wave radar device on the airship, and you've got a surveillance system that can track any moving vehicle anywhere in the airship's 20,000-square mile footprint.
Such surveillance airships already exist -- the U.S. Air Force's Air Combat Command has 12 radar blimps, called Aerostats, floating over the U.S./Mexican border. The radar data is sent to both NORAD and the U.S. Customs Service, and is used to detect low-flying drug-smuggling planes. Surveillance blimps are also used by the Tokyo police, ostensibly to monitor traffic flow. And during last year's World Cup match, the French police had observation blimps watching the stadiums.
Sky Station's advantage is that it will be a permanent fixture. Its scanning systems will never sleep. It will be a discernible presence over our lives -- visible to the naked eye, appearing almost as wide as the full moon, serving as a constant reminder that we might be under observation at all times.
Remember, Daddy Haig was Chief Assistant to Henry Kissinger when Kissy was ordering wiretaps on the home phones of his subordinates. Haig was also cleanup man in the post-Watergate Nixon White House, and a recent Prodigy poll named Haig as the person most likely to have been the Washington Post's infamous source "Deep Throat." The man is no stranger to clandestine activities. Meanwhile, other notable characters currently or previously involved in the project -- such as Richard Butler (former head of UNSCOM) and Martine Rothblatt (a renowned transgendered attorney) -- thicken the weirdness surrounding the proposed floating platforms.
Sky Station intends to launch its first airship in Australia in 2002.
Patrick Di Justo longs to have an asteroid named after him.