Secrecy News

Wanted: Astronomer with Top Secret Clearance

NASA’s orbiting James Webb Space Telescope will be “the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide, and studying every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System.”

So why does its Director need to have a Top Secret/SCI security clearance, as specified in the job description posted last month on USA Jobs?

Clearly, the secrets of the universe do not lend themselves to, or require, national security classification controls, let alone non-disclosure agreements or polygraph testing.

But in practice, the civilian space program intersects the national security space program at multiple points, and former CIA analyst Allen Thomson suggested that the future Webb Director might need a Top Secret intelligence clearance in order to engage with the National Reconnaissance Office on space technology and operations, for example.

The Webb Space Telescope “will complement and extend the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope, with longer wavelength coverage and greatly improved sensitivity,” according to NASA. “The longer wavelengths enable the Webb telescope to look much closer to the beginning of time and to hunt for the unobserved formation of the first galaxies, as well as to look inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today.”

The Webb Telescope has a projected launch date in 2018.

5 thoughts on “Wanted: Astronomer with Top Secret Clearance

    1. The JWST is not just a NASA telescope. It has major contributions from the European and Canadian Space Agencies. It is an international project using technology that is sensitive in the IR range. I imagine that the tight policing of US export controls apply and that the project Director will be consulting far and wide on the scope and sites of their application — there must be no admin limits to that, so top secret clearance is crucial..

  1. If we could only read the NSA’s “Yeates Affidavit” classified for the last 35 years regarding documents even older than that, we might understand why astronomers need security clearances. There are even special clearances so secret we’re not even allowed to know the name of the clearance.

    Be safe. Have fun.

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