86. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Porter) to the Acting Secretary of State (Rush)1 2

Foreign policy, national security, and economic interests are all about to collide over NASA’s earth resources survey satellite program. Our problem is to ensure that the machinery set up to reconcile them gives adequate weight to all U.S. interests, not economic interests alone.

The present program includes two experimental satellites: ERTS-1 (Earth Resources Technology Satellite 1) now in orbit; and ERTS-B, which could be launched as early as next year. As yet, there is no commitment to an operational system.

In his 1969 address to the UN, the President dedicated the program “to produce information not only for the United States but also for the world community”. Consistent with this, all data acquired by ERTS-1 are available without restriction to any country requesting them.

A number of countries have reacted favorably. Others have questioned in the UN our right to acquire and disseminate data about their territory without their permission. We have received no protests, but the Soviet Union and others have proposed limits on dissemination.

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A policy review under NSSM 72 (Outer Space) has run aground on the question of how the U.S. can best use earth resources satellites for its own economic and commercial advantage.

Dr. Fletcher of NASA proposed (copy attached) to Secretary Shultz (in his capacity as Assistant to the President) that the ERTS-B satellite should be launched in 1974 to provide global data for grain forecasts for 1975. In addition, he has proposed a broad policy based on the premise that earth resources satellite data must be treated “as national assets with appropriate domestic and international controls over their use”. He suggests “negotiations based on the rights of the U.S. to use global data in its own interest”.

We understand that an ad hoc group under Secretary Shultz’s Council on Economic Policy will be set up to consider what data on world agriculture we need, and what capabilities (including classified) can provide them. The merits of NASA’s proposed global grain survey would be judged in the light of this review.

Meanwhile, we assume NASA will start lining up Congressional support for its idea.

There are some very big questions. For example:

  • —Can we run an unclassified “world community” program like ERTS without accepting dissemination restrictions from objecting countries?
  • —Should we redirect the program to our own economic advantage? If so, should we assert the right to acquire and disseminate (or withhold) data which we are, after all, paying for?
  • —From the standpoint of economic value, how do data from classified and unclassified sources relate to each other? Can we develop an overall approach consistent with foreign policy and security as well as economic interests?

An ad hoc group under the CEP may not prove sufficiently concerned about foreign policy and security aspects. I therefore recommend we try to get the matter into the Under Secretaries Committee, though it will not be easy to do.

I would be glad to go over this with you.

William J. Porter
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, SCI 20. Secret. Attached but not published is a September 5 letter from Fletcher to Shultz.
  2. Porter recommended that, in order to take sufficient account of foreign policy and security interests, the Under Secretaries Committee should consider Earth Resources Satellite issues.