During a storied 29-year Air Force career, Dr. S. Pete Worden commanded the 50th Space Wing, which operates dozens of military satellites, and later headed the controversial Office of Strategic Influence during that body’s foray into information-war theory. OSI was shuttered in 2002 when its mission to influence foreign populations through a novel blend of truth and disinformation was made public. Dr. Worden (seated in photo) retired from the Air Force as a brigadier general in 2004 with a well-earned reputation as an iconoclast, and spent the next two years at the University of Arizona returning to his scientific roots before becoming director of NASA’s Ames Research Center in April 2006. A couple months back I sat down with Dr. Worden to talk about military space, information warfare and “Third-World Special” satellites.
David Axe: Can you tell us more about the rather dramatic end to your Air Force career?
Dr. Worden: I ran afoul of the public affairs bureaucracy. When you wake up in the morning and your wife says, “How come your picture is in The New York Times?” – that’s never a good thing for a government employee. People didn’t understand what we were doing [at the Office of Strategic Influence].
Axe: How so?
Dr. Worden: I still maintain that the solution to the Middle East crisis is the information war, where we should have the advantage of high technology and communications. [Then Secretary of Defense] Mr. [Donald] Rumsfeld repeatedly said that and said it to me when he gave me the job [at the Office of Strategic Influence] and the money to do it … [shakes head].
I’m not an information warrior in the classic propaganda sense. I think we put together a pretty good program [at OSI]. I was brought in as an iconoclast. They wanted to have a different approach. Meanwhile, I had always been an internal critic of our space effort. I felt that space was a medium that ought to be at the heart of security, not a supporting element. Furthermore, one of the phrases I find most unpleasant is “support the warfighter,” which I think is a stupid strategy. Our job is to prevent war. To go back to Sun Tzu, it’s to win without fighting. Space is never going to be more than a supporting element of warfighting. On the other hand, it’s a primary element of war prevention. The Europeans call it “soft power.”
My view was that space should be a central element of collaborate security arrangements, but that also meant space needed to be affordable. I’ve been a real zealot for affordability. They also need to be do-able inside your opponent’s decision cycle. That clearly was not well received by my space colleagues. The way an officer got to be a senior space officer was to get along, go along. Fighter pilots run the Air Force, so space is to be supportive of fighter pilots. They want supportive personalities. But space ought not to be a supportive element. Once you’ve had to drop bombs, you’ve lost. That was a philosophy that wasn’t well received.
--David Axe, cross-posted at War Is Boring