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US: Politician says China blinded U.S. satellites with lasers

In a September 30 2011 radio interview, U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann claimed that “China has blinded United States satellites with their lasers.” She is a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence and thus has access to top secret documents, although she says the information came from an “open-source document.”
An analysis of the claim in the October 4 “The Fact Checker” column of the Washington Post indicates that in 2006, China may have “illuminated” one or more U.S. satellites. The director of the National Reconnaissance Office said the incident(s) “did not materially damage” the satellites’ mission. One expert noted that “the claim in that incident was that China illuminated a satellite, which does not necessarily mean that the sensor was blinded or dazzled. In fact, I thought it was notable that the U.S. did not make that claim.”

A 2008 report, “Effects of Chinese Laser Ranging on Imaging Satellites” concludes that “in most cases laser ranging would have a low probability of permanent damage to the satellite’s sensitive imaging sensor…. laser ranging is an ineffective anti-satellite weapon.”

In the U.S., observatories and other users of powerful outdoor lasers voluntarily cooperate with the U.S. Strategic Command’s Laser Clearinghouse, which issues “shutter times” when the lasers must be turned off in order to protect satellite sensors. An October 2009 article in the American Physical Society News stated that the times were increasing, which was interfering with astronomical observations.

The Post concluded that “Bachmann made a provocative charge based on flimsy and outdated evidence … a very misleading claim.”

From the Washington Post