Saturday, March 22, 2014

The New Mexico Mystery Plume - case solved?

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By Steve Douglass

Disclaimer: Much of what follows is conjecture based on good old-fashioned reporting and research.  

Early in the evening on March 18th - something strange happened in New Mexico.

A mysterious jet of disturbed air erupted up into the atmosphere near the remote town of Carrizozo, New Mexico.  In minutes this jet of air morphed into a plume, so large it was seen by weather radars across two states and was automatically classified by weather computers as a storm.

But it wasn't a storm and in fact the radar return baffled meteorologists in both New Mexico & Texas because no precipitation had been forecast in the foreseeable future and at the time  the atmosphere was drier than baby powder due to a prolonged period of severe drought that had plagued the region all winter.  Instead of broadcasting blizzard warnings, TV meteorologists found themselves tasked with issuing dust storm warnings.

However, because the region is subject to severe weather, undoubtedly this "storm" rang alarm bells alerting area meteorologists.  They watched, as the plume grew rapidly to 35 miles in diameter and then moved northeast. Because of the weather conditions, they were perplexed. There was just no way a small thunderstorm could have suddenly materialized in an atmosphere so lacking in moisture.

The plume moved slowly, and then drifted over Cannon AFB in eastern New Mexico at an altitude of 8,000 feet and then, pushed by prevailing winds  moved into the Texas Panhandle, up highway 60 toward Amarillo, where I live. 

Long after midnight the plume dissipated over western Oklahoma, whatever it was made of,it was torn apart by high level winds. Although on radar it showed up as a storm, nothing ever was seen and during the event the skies remained perfectly clear.

The next morning my e-mail blew up with inquiries, friends and acquaintances wondering what or if anything I knew about the mystery plume. They sent me links to the event, which had already gone viral and had begun showing up on many conspiracy theorists websites. 

Speculation was rampant with wild-ass guesses running from a volcanic venting to a huge flock of birds taking off and even maybe to a secret nuclear test because of it's proximity to the Trinity Site, the location of the first atomic bomb test in 1945.  

One blogger went so far as to broadcast an alarm that a radioactive plume had been released from the WIPP (Wastes Isolation Pilot Plant) nuclear storage facility near Carlsbad, NM. and suggested that parts of New Mexico and Texas should be evacuated immediately.

Recently WIPP had made headlines with a release of low-level radiation but according to the Department Energy there was never any danger to the public and besides, the WIPP Site is in southern New Mexico, hundreds of miles away from where the mystery plume originated.

Now before I continue, I need to let you know why whenever strange events likes this occur why people ask me what I know. It is because I have developed a reputation in certain circles as being "that guy in Texas" who is into investigating all this weird stuff." which is kind of true.

Since the early 80s I have been known as what now has now been labeled as an "interceptor." a strange mix of radio-wave monitoring hobbyist and investigative reporter, an expert at snatching communications out of the air.

My reputation as being the uber-monitor goes back to the mid 80s. Using a cheap shortwave radio I intercepted the frantic communications surrounding a Russian nuclear submarine floundering off the coast of Bermuda when one of its missiles caught fire in a launch tube.

Since then, I've spent an incalculable amount of time building a communications monitoring system that has enabled me to break ten of thousands of local news stories as well as stories of national and international importance.
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I've been a behind the scene news gatherer for NBC, ABC, CBS News, Fox and CNN for over 20 years.  I've written books and had countless articles published on the subject of radio monitoring and appeared and helped produce programs for The Learning Channel, The Discovery Channel, and many others. 

I also wrote a novel (an e-book) based loosely on my monitoring adventures, namely The Interceptors Club & The Secret of the Black Manta now available on Smashwords, Amazon and Itunes.   

From my listening post in south Amarillo, I monitor everything; from military satellites to federal, state, city public safety and emergency communications.

I've also developed contacts (whom I call The Brain Trust) whom I can call on for information and expertise.

This informal think-tank is made up of researchers, investigative journalists, engineers and scientists and former members of three letter agencies.

My intelligence blog: has had well over a million page views and my local news blog that I run for KVII TV "The Pro News 7 Situation Room" has now garnered over 200,000 page views in less than a year.

I have also written many feature articles on covert military technology, aviation, astronomy and stealth technology for Aircraft Illustrated (UK) Popular Science Magazine, and has been a behind the scenes contributor to Aviation Week & Space Technology Magazine, the "must read" publication of the defense and aviation industry. I was also contributing writer for Monitoring Times and Popular Communications, magazines devoted to radio monitoring hobbyists.

In 1998 "Dreamland, author Philip Patton's exposé on Area 51 was released with an entire chapter devoted to what I do.  

Ever since I've been the go-to guy when something weird has flown over, crashed or zoomed by.

Enough backstory, now back to the matter at hand. 

The mystery surrounding the plume and all the unsupported wild conjecture (not to mention the fact that this mystery plume drifted over my home) set me on a quest to find out what it could have been.

I started by reading all the comments on the forums, then the news snippets and the weather radar information trying to pin down the exact time the event happened and the area it originated from.

Next thing I did was go into my radio recordings. Every receiver I have is attached to a digital recorder and the audio is saved on both a server and on a hard drive. 

The recordings from two of my radios were of particular interest, one records all Amarillo and vicinity civilian and military aviation traffic and another is a receiver dedicated solely to listening to military satellite communications in the 260 to 290 MHz UHF band.

On my back patio I have a custom built high-gain circular-polarized antenna dedicated just to listening to the SATCOMs.

Most of what  I intercept is digitally encrypted but occasionally clear-voice communications can be heard, especially when a UHF TACSAT DAMA operator hasn't bothered to secure the downlink.  There are other satellites and space-born platforms both domestic and foreign transmitting in this band and as a result I've captured some pretty wild stuff. 

I know it sounds like a strange and esoteric hobby, but you'd be surprised to find out how many "interceptors" like me there are out there.

So first I pull and listened to the aviation stream from before and after the plume event. The recording was unremarkable.  

All I find are civil air carriers and very little military aviation, just a few trainers in the local pattern shooting some practice approaches.  

I expected to hear an AWACS or an E-6, which would be part and parcel of some kind of sanctioned military test, but mostly all I hear are airline pilots griping about the ride.  I briefly ponder the idea that the rough air could be due to the mystery plume, but I have no way of proving it so I move on to the SATCOM receiver recording.

Again, I am disappointed. I discover what sounds like a dead carrier, maybe a military pilot with a hot VOX mike locking the scanning receiver up for more than ten minutes. It was just annoying static and I dismissed any thought of having possibly captured communications surrounding the mystery plume.  I'm bummed but I move on.

So it's time to dip into my reporter's bag of tricks and pull out another card. I reason that if it was an explosion or a geological event there would be traces - seismic traces.

I hop on the Internet and go to the usual source material, USGS earth monitoring sites and look for signs of tremors or tremblers or anything that might have shook that general area of New Mexico.

Again, no luck, nary a vibration, for the whole duration of the event.

This immediately rules out any chance a nuke was tested, which I had already dismissed out because of its absurdity and the undisputed fact that there hadn't been a nuclear test in New Mexico since 1968 or anywhere else in the United States since 1992.

So it wasn't a bomb or an earthquake. What's next?  

Someone on one of the chat forums suggested it was radar chaff.  This was a plausible idea. The area where the plume originated was on the north end of the White Sands Missile Range, which is used for many military purpose including as a combat training range for Holloman AFB pilots who fly the F-22 Raptor. German Air Force pilots are trained there as well.

There's a bombing and gunnery range not located far from Amarillo west of the town of Clovis, New Mexico near the small town of Melrose that I have visited may times. I've personally witnessed military aircraft dropping chaff and seen what it does to the local weather radars. I then searched the Internet for images of radar chaff and compared them to the mystery plume and it wasn't even a close match.

Chaff radar returns I've seen over the years emanating from Melrose are much smaller and nowhere close to being big enough to becoming automatically classified as a storm by weather radars. The mystery radar plume was over 35 miles across and circular not to mention the plume did not show up on ATC radars. I talked to several controllers at ZAB and they reported nothing unusual on their scopes that evening.

But still, to be sure it wasn't chaff it was time to do what any good reporter would do, address the obvious and make some phone calls.  Since the event occurred on the north end of the White Sands Missile Range my first thought was to call their public affairs office and see if they could shed some light on the matter.

This is something most conspiracy theorists wont' do because they don't want the truth (because their truth is more compelling) and (or) they don't trust information coming from official sources.

My first call was to the PAO at the White Sands Missile Range. I explained to her what I was working. She was very polite and interested in what I had to say.

She said that off hand she hadn't heard of any testing going on that night but would make inquiries and get back to me. She took my name and number. She also suggested I call Holloman AFB and their PAO. She said "Holloman does a lot of testing and training in the range so it's quite plausible they were using chaff."

So I called the PAO at Holloman AFB, and in particular the 49th Wing Public Affairs Office. Again I got a woman, but this one sounded much younger, possibly a junior officer.

I explained again what I was researching and she too was very friendly.  She was very amiable and said "We get blamed for every boom or weird sighting and have even had people asking if we are hiding aliens on the base!" 

She added that she hadn't heard of anything strange occurring and hadn't received any calls on it and admitted, "Sometimes we are treated like mushrooms - you know - kept in the dark so there's no telling what they are testing out there. Have you tried contacting White Sands?"

I replied I had and that they referred me to you.

She said the senior public affairs officer wasn't in and asked for my number and e-mail address and he would return my call if he had any information.

Again I had thought I reached another dead end but to my surprise a few hours later the PAO at White Sands called me back.

She said, "I did some research on my end and found out there was a test on the range that night. A test missile was fired from Dugway in Utah and it was intercepted by a Patriot Battery in the range around 9:00 PM our time, however that does not coincide with the radar plume you mentioned which I believe you said occurred around 7:00 PM our time right?"

I replied, "Yes that doesn't add up."  She asked if I had tried Holloman? I replied, "Yes and told her they said they would get back to me."

"Well maybe it was them - but that's all I have. Let me know if you find out what it was."

Although I still didn't have my answer the fact that they returned my call and volunteered information was very telling. 

It indicated they were as stumped as I was and weren't covering up anything. She didn't have to tell me about the missile test at all and could have just replied with "we have no knowledge."is which was had I expected.  

If there had been a cover-up they also could have adjusted the time of the missile test to coincide with the plume and I would have went away happy that I had solved the mystery. She ended with the comment "There's a lot of strange stuff that goes on out there that we aren't privy to. Good luck ion your quest."

The next day I decided to take a closer look at the radar data and contacted some friends who were experts in reading radar returns and get their opinions. A close friend of mine is a meteorology student at OU and he was able to pull some even more detailed radar data from some of the NexRad sites that had recorded the event including the radars at Holloman AFB, Cannon AFB, Amarillo and Albuquerque.  

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This data gave us a better timeline and a minute-by-minute high-resolution look at the plume event.  I passed the data around to other experts at reading radar data and the all agreed on several things on what it showed.

The event that produced the plume began as a surface event. It wasn't a storm that had begun at an altitude above the ground. 

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It had also been initially a quick event and didn't last long, although the effect it had on the atmosphere lasted many hours.  It was a burst, a quick pulse and then a mass ejection of gaseous material blasted into the atmosphere. Although the initial plume erupted to the northeast (up and way from the point of origin) at ground level it had also pushed out a wave in the opposite direction that had disrupted the soil of the desert to the southwest suggesting a sudden intense blast and an associated shockwave. 

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The data also revealed that some kind of gaseous substance, maybe smoke lingered in the area for an hour after the original event. 

The event also started out very hot but was quickly enveloped in very large super-cooled gaseous substance which rose to 8,000 feet, turning even the meager amount of water in the atmosphere to ice crystals - basically a snow storm at altitude and that's what the mystery plume was most likely made of and thus explaining it's persistence.  

As it was explained to me a quick hot burst(as in a fire or explosion) dissipates rapidly and a large smoke plume would have been seen but wouldn't have persisted as long on radar.

So it was some kind of burst. Could it have been nuclear? 

We can rule that out too because as you know a nuclear explosion creates a very bright flash. A quick call to the nearby town of Carrizozo's police department confirmed no one saw or heard anything unusual. 

In 1945 when the first A-bomb was detonated the flash was seen as far as Amarillo.

Plus radioactivity does not show up on radar. I talked to an expert, a former military pilot who was tasked (during the Cold War) to fly sampling aircraft into suspected nuclear fallout areas and take samples.

He said "We had to basically find it by watching the geiger counter twitch, flying search arcs until we discovered the hot zone. There's no indication on radar that radiation is in the air."

Although I now knew more about the plume itself, the mystery only grew deeper. The new data was revealing and sobering at the same time.It revealed a much larger but very quick and powerful event capable of actually creating a crystallization of the atmosphere.  What could have caused this? More in-depth analysis was in order.

Then I had an idea. Since the new radar data was more detailed I could actually pinpoint the location of ground zero by overlying the radar data on map images I pulled off Google Earth. 

I then imported both images into Photoshop (the radar scan showing the first instant of the plume) and lined them up on top of each other - using the town and highways in the area as alignment points.

It only took me a few minutes and I was able to nail down (within a few hundred yards) where the event originated.

I zoomed in closer on the peak and saw roads leading up to it but when I tried to zoom in all the way the image was not sharp enough to show any details - which was very odd to me.

I then took a break and decided to call Holloman AFB back and see if the PAO had any information for me.

This time I got the public affairs officer himself. I identified myself - told him I was working on this story and I had talked to his assistant yesterday - and before I could get most of the words out he said (very perfunctory) "We have no knowledge of an explosion or radar plume originating from the north side of the White Sands Missile Range."

I pressed him further - giving him a few details on how Cannon Air Force Base's radar had picked it up - NWS Albuquerque had also picked it up as well as others.

His answer: "We have no knowledge of an explosion or radar plume originating from the north side of the White Sands Missile Range."

It was obvious to me that since I had last called them they had probably received dozens of calls from the press and and as a result had prepared an official release and was ordered to not deviate from it.  

Although the plume wasn't generating much column space in the states overseas the European press was putting their spin on it as a possible nuclear test.

It was clear to me; the wall of official silence had descended like an anvil.

I thanked him for his time and gave him my phone number and e-mail address and told him if any more information came his way; please feel free to contact me. I have a distinct feeling he won't.

As a result, I wasn't left with many options. I decided to research ground zero itself and since it was located in the range I began thinking about other possibilities.

Could a missile, possibly filled with cryogenic fuel have slammed into the mountain? Or maybe it was a  secret hypersonic aircraft, an exotic methane-or hydrogen-fueled beast like the Lockheed's Skunk Works had proposed in the 1950s?

But I reasoned that most modern missiles use solid-fueled rocket motors, which can be stored easily for long periods of time. 

Early missiles used liquid-fueled motors. Many liquid-fueled ICBMs could not be kept fueled all the time as the cryogenic liquid oxygen boiled off causing unwanted ice formation on the fuselage, plus missiles on alert had to be fueled before launch putting a huge dent in readiness times.

As for methane or hydrogen fueled super spy planes, Lockheed briefly considered building some (Project Suntan CL-400) but soon found out that the infrastructure required to store and handle exotic liquid fuels at airbases across the world was not only dangerous and impractical but was hideously expensive as well, not to mention if huge cryogenic tank farms started showing up everywhere it would make it very difficult to hide the existence of the program.

Although not impossible that technical progress may have progressed to the point to make either of these types of black projects practical, proving either existed would be problematic. 

What starts in the black world has the tendency to stay in the black world, unless accidentally revealed by an accident or intentionally to strike fear in the heart of an enemy. What was needed was a trip to ground zero.

That in mind, I decided to research the site of the event itself and low and behold I stumbled on something that made me actually shout "Eureka!"and just may be the explanation that fits the evidence.

The USAF has a Directed Energy Laboratory located on North Oscura Peak!  It is managed and headquartered at Kirtland Air Force Base, 140 miles to the north in Albuquerque.

1993 photo

Not much has been published on the site since the late 1990s but according to Global "North Oscura Peak is an Air Force Research Laboratory site in the northern portion of the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The facility is designed to assemble and evaluate advanced sensor, tracking and atmospheric compensation systems. The goal is to improve the U.S. Air Force's ability to track missiles and then efficiently transmit laser energy through the atmosphere to destroy those missiles."

As I read on, things began to click. The Directed Energy Laboratory located on North Oscura Peak grew out of President Regan's "Strategic Defense Initiative" or Star Wars as it was publicly nicknamed.

According to WikiPedia: The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was proposed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan on March 23, 1983,to use ground-based and space-based systems to protect the United States from attack by strategic nuclear ballistic missiles. The initiative focused on strategic defense rather than the prior strategic offense doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). The Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) was set up in 1984 within the United States Department of Defense to oversee the Strategic Defense Initiative.
Reagan was a vocal critic of Mutual Assured Destruction, and the Strategic Defense Initiative was an important part of his defense policy intended to end MAD as a nuclear deterrent strategy, as well as a strategic initiative to neutralize the military component of Soviet nuclear defenses.
The ambitious initiative was widely criticized as being unrealistic, even unscientific, as well as for threatening to destabilize MAD and re-ignite "an offensive arms race". SDI was derided, largely in the mainstream media, as "Star Wars," In 1987, the American Physical Society concluded that a global shield such as "Star Wars" was not only impossible with existing technology, but that ten more years of research was needed to learn whether it might ever be feasible.
However, the United States now holds a significant advantage in the field of comprehensive advanced missile defense systems through years of extensive research and testing, many of the obtained technological insights were transferred to subsequent programs and would find use in follow-up programs.

Finally, it felt as if a major part of the mystery plume puzzle had fallen in place. Was it possible the plume was caused by the test firing of a particle beam or plasma weapon? It sure sounded feasible and could very well be why the wall of silence had descended on the subject matter.  

I concluded I had once again stumbled into Deep Black Territory, where information goes in but not much comes out. 

I decided to call up certain members of my Brain Trust and discuss with them what I had think I had found.  They will remain nameless for obvious reasons.  

They agreed it was quite possible an exotic energy weapon had been fired from the site.

Although North Oscura Peak is known more for being a laser weapons laboratory it's quite possible much more exotic weapons are being tested there, running the gamut from microwave, particle beam and plasma weapons all capable of disrupting the atmosphere. They also agreed that SDI had not gone away but had gone black and billions had been pumped into developing exotic weaponry since the mid 1980s.

In May of 2003, an article in the New York Times reported that the facility is part of wide ranging efforts in developing weapons designed to destroy enemy satellites or incoming ICBMs. 

"The Air Force has pursued the secret research for several years but discussed it in new detail in its February budget request. The documents stated that for the 2007 fiscal year, starting in October, the research will seek to "demonstrate fully compensated laser propagation to low earth orbit satellites."

Seven years later, it's probably safe to say they’ve made some technical breakthroughs.

An article at WIRED.COM briefly mentioned a project called MARAUDER, an attempt to weaponize ball-lightning as a EMP weapon.

Quote: "A ball lightning weapon remains tantalizingly out of reach –- or does it? As I noted in a previous article on military ball lightning, the USAF’s Phillips Laboratory examined a very similar concept in 1993. Again, this involved accelerating a donut-shaped mass of plasma to high speed as an anti-missile weapon in a project called Magnetically Accelerated Ring to Achieve Ultra-high Directed Energy and Radiation, or  MARAUDER. Based on the Air Force’s awesome Shiva Star power system, experiments spat out plasmoids at ultra-high speed that were expected to reach 3,000 kilometers a second by 1995. But nothing was published after 1993, and MARAUDER was classified, disappearing into the black world of secret programs."

"Just imagine what the wizards of particle physics have been up to inside their secret volcano lair with unlimited funding and cool toys to play with?" one member of The Brain Trust quipped.

Another postulated that the huge discharge of super-cooled gas could have been indicative of an accident and maybe a tank farm of cryogenic fuel had ruptured which would have accounted for the large plume and the crystallization of the local atmosphere. 

Another speculated that the plume could have been a byproduct of the weapon system.

"High powered exotic weapons or chemical lasers would require immense cooling or one could melt down the weapon itself."   

With the assistance of a $2.7 Million U.S. contract, Stellar Photonics is developing a Plasma Acoustic Shield System, or PASS. The PASS uses a high-energy laser to create an airborne ball of plasma, then uses another laser to create a shock wave inside the plasma ball, creating a flash of light and explosion. PASS could have been scaled up and used as an anti-missile weapons system. 

"There's no telling what freaky stuff they are playing with out there. It's quite possible it could have been either a successful test or a huge accident but chances are the truth will never come out since the whole arena is deeply classified within the black world.

So maybe I had my sorta-answer one much more plausible than a nuclear detonation or birds but one question still gnawed at my brain. If it was a test firing of a weapon, the only way to gauge the success or failure of the weapon is to fire it at a target. So what was the target?

I reasoned it was probably a satellite, but you just can't go shooting atany passing bird willy-nilly just to see if your gun not only works but you can hit the target.

That kind of kid with his father's gun mentality has the tendency to piss countries off - so you shoot at your own satellite - one you can afford to lose. 

And that brought me back to my recording of the ten-minute static transmission. I decided to listen to analyze the entire recording and sift through it for clues. If it was a hot mike, maybe someone said something revealing which could tie it to the event.

I replayed the recording several times and also viewed it as waveform. It was subtle but there was something buried in the carrier - a tone that started out at a very low in frequency but steadily rose to a high pitch and then slowly dropped down again with an abruptly ending. It dawned on me this was a Doppler Shift a change in wavelength changed by the motion of the source in relation to the receiver.

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In layman's terms it like the pitch change you hear when a car drives by honking it's horn. If you were traveling inside the car the tone sounds steady but to an listener on the curb it rises fast peaks when the vehicle is right on you and then lowers in tone as it drives away. 

This Doppler Shift indicated to me that what I had intercepted was a LEO (Low Earth Orbiting) satellite transmitting a steady tone, and quite possibly could have been the target.

The fact that it was also broadcasting this tone on 321.000 MHZ was revealing, a frequency used by STRATCOM (US Strategic Command) to communicate with strategic bombers, nuclear navy and missile silos in the event of a nuclear war.

I sent my findings to The Brain Trust and they came up with this plausible scenario 

One revelation coming out of the group was the little known fact that during the Cold War one of the Space Shuttle's classified missions was to deploy dozens of simple micro-satellites capable of receiving, recording and repeating the "go code." or Emergency Action Messages on STRATCOM (formerly known as Strategic Air Command) frequencies. 


These micro-sats were to be used in case other communication channels were destroyed during a first strike, for example if a Soviet ICBM was exploded in space sending out an EMP pulse knocking out communications satellites in geo synchronous orbit. These sleeping micro-satellites could then be switched on and used to transmit (on STRACOM frequencies) the orders to go to nuclear war or to cease hostilities. The fact that you are reading this is evidence they were never needed.

But that doesn't mean they were useless. One could have been used as a target for a weapons test with the idea being not to destroy the satellite (causing space debris) but to render it useless, or for lack of a better phrase, blind deaf and dumb. 

It could have been remotely switched on, placed into the proper orbit and set up to transmit a constant tone. If the tone stopped, and the micro-sat went dumb it would be a clear indication the weapon worked.

However, weather intentional or unintentionally the Mystery Plume gave away the existence of the (until now) secret weapon's capabilities.

Undoubtedly Russian intelligence services know more about what's going on inside North Oscura Peak then the US taxpayer does - and obviously they also observed the Mystery Plume - but then again why tip our hand by testing the weapon now?

A week ago a leading anchor on Russian state television on described Russia as the only country capable of turning the United States into "radioactive ash".
Kiselyov made the comment to support his argument that the United States and President Barack Obama were living in fear of Russia led by President Vladimir Putin amid the Ukraine crisis.

Not to mention, on March 4th Russia launched a test of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), primarily designed for nuclear weapons delivery at Russia's Kapustin Yar test range east of the Ukrainian border, ratcheting up tensions between Russia and the West even further.

Just maybe this possible test in New Mexico was an example of diplomacy by other means.  

Just maybe the test was a warning. 

Although Russia's Cold War arsenal may still be capable of "turning the United States into "radioactive ash." maybe it was time to send a message to Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin that U.S. military technology has progressed way beyond that.

-Steve Douglass

UPDATE: New information has come to light that the experimental Boeing mini-shuttle (X-37) may have placed into orbit micro-satellite targets in support of this very weapons program. 

Although the X-37 has come out of the black, what it accomplishes during its very long missions are classified Top Secret. 


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