Flash Gordon Left Me The Keys

The TEST OF ALL MOTHERS

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

 
How the CIA Opened the Door to Ex-Nazis:
A CIA Officer's Calamitous Choices
Obituaries can barely scrape the surface of anyone's 86-year life. That's especially true for a covert intelligence officer whose responsibility for top-secret decisions – and their consequences – is rarely acknowledged.

But long before he succumbed to cancer on April 22, at the age of 86, retired CIA official James Critchfield had owned up to two of his decisions that were so momentous that they still influence the course of international events. One opened the CIA's doors to ex-Nazis. The other cleared the way for Saddam Hussein's rise to power in Iraq.

Critchfield made the first of his fateful decisions soon after he joined the fledgling CIA in 1948. Three years earlier, Hitler's master spy for the Eastern Front, Gen. Reinhard Gehlen, had surrendered to U.S. forces. He then proposed a deal. In return for his freedom, he would turn over his voluminous files on the Soviet Union along with his former agents who had scattered across Europe.

Both the Army and the CIA considered Gehlen a hot potato. They decided to assign someone the task of weighing the pros and cons of his offer. That someone turned out to be James Critchfield, a highly decorated Army colonel who had led wartime units in Europe and North Africa and had greatly impressed senior CIA personnel.

Critchfield was transferred to the Gehlen compound in Pullach, Germany. After a month or so of deliberation, he concluded that Washington would gain substantial advantage over Moscow by annexing the "Gehlen Org" into the CIA. He recommended that the agency do so and it did.

For the next four years, Critchfield remained Gehlen's CIA handler in Germany. Then, in 1952, West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer chose Gehlen as the initial chief of the BND, West Germany's post-war intelligence agency. Critchfield said Gehlen – on his death bed 27 years later – thanked Critchfield for his vital assistance in the post-war period.

War Criminals
Secret documents declassified by the Clinton administration show that the CIA's collaboration with the ex-Nazis was not merely a marriage of convenience. It was more like a deal with the devil.

The documents reveal that Gehlen had hired and protected hundreds of Nazi war criminals. The more notorious of these Hitler henchmen included Alois Brunner, Adolf Eichmann's right-hand man in orchestrating the Final Solution, and Emil Augsburg, who directed the Wansee Institute where the Final Solution was formulated and who served in a unit that specialized in the extermination of Jews. Another was the former Gestapo chief Heinrich Muller, Adolf Eichmann's immediate superior whose signature appears on orders written in 1943 for the deportation of 45,000 Jews to Auschwitz for killing.

Furthermore, the Gehlen Org was so thoroughly penetrated by Soviet spies that CIA operations in Eastern Europe often ended in the murder of its agents. To top it off, the Org fed the CIA a steady diet of misinformation that fanned the flames of East-West hostility – and thus assured the Org the continued patronage of Washington.

Many historians of the CIA's early days have concluded that letting the ex-Nazis in was the CIA's original sin, a moral failure that also resulted in the distortion of the intelligence given U.S. policymakers during the crucial early years of the Cold War.

Critchfield of Arabia
Critchfield's second fateful decision was in the Middle East, another flashpoint of Cold War tensions.

In 1959, a young Saddam Hussein, allegedly in cahoots with the CIA, botched an assassination attempt on Iraq's leader, Gen. Abdel Karim Qassim. Hussein fled Iraq and reportedly hid out under the CIA's protection and sponsorship.

By early 1963, Qassim's policies were raising new alarms in Washington. He had withdrawn Iraq from the pro-Western Baghdad Pact, made friendly overtures to Moscow, and revoked oil exploration rights granted by a predecessor to a consortium of companies that included American oil interests.

It fell to Critchfield, who was then in an extended tenure in charge of the CIA's Near East and South Asia division, to remove Qassim. Critchfield supported a coup d'etat in February 1963 that was spearheaded by Iraq's Baathist party. The troublesome Qassim was killed, as were scores of suspected communists who had been identified by the CIA.

Critchfield hailed the coup that brought the Baathists to power as "a great victory." Yet the reality is that the coup further destabilized an Iraq that had survived on the edge of crisis since its creation as a British mandate, with arbitrarily selected borders, in the wake of World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

The 1963 coup also paved the way for another momentous political development. Five years later, Saddam Hussein emerged as a leader in another Baathist coup. Over the next decade, he bullied his way to power, eventually consolidating a ruthless dictatorship that would lead to three wars in less than a quarter century.

After invading Iraq and ousting Hussein from power in April 2003, U.S. occupiers of Iraq outlawed the Baath party that James Critchfield and the CIA had helped install in the 1960s. Critchfield died two weeks after Hussein's government was toppled.

In retrospect, the United States and the world paid – and continue to pay – a high price for the clandestine decisions made by Critchfield and his unaccountable CIA cohorts. As was true of many other "intelligence" decisions, actions perceived to be short-term political gains turned out to be long-term calamities, leading to corruption, disorder and human suffering.

Today, with the Washington information flow again tightly controlled and short on factual support, Critchfield's choices are a reminder that un-elected officials, operating in secret, still make policy decisions – and that their actions can affect the lives of millions in the U.S. and around the world.


 
James Critchfield, 86, warrior, spy master
NEW YORK -James H. Critchfield, a powerful CIA insider during the Cold War whose anti-Soviet missions included recruiting former Third Reich operatives and supporting the Iraqi political party that put Saddam Hussein in power, has died. He was 86.

Critchfield, a highly decorated U.S. Army colonel who led an assault battalion during World War II, died Tuesday from pancreatic cancer in Williamsburg, Va., his family said.

During a 26-year-old CIA career, Critchfield worked with the Dalai Lama of Tibet in a guerrilla war against Communist China and headed a CIA task force during the Cuban missile crisis. He also ran regional agency operations when the two superpowers raced to secure satellites first in Eastern Europe, then in the Middle East.

Timothy Naftali, an intelligence historian, said Critchfield's talents as a spy master, soldier and diplomat put him at the heart of a half century of historic moments. He described Critchfield's role in the CIA as analogous to that of a general commanding the most crucial missions.

''What happened in Jim's lifetime was staggering,'' Naftali said. ``Fighting the Nazis, then seeing a new global conflict emerge and fighting in that, then seeing that conflict move to the Third World and becoming a general in that.''

Critchfield was best known in intelligence circles as the CIA's liaison to the Gehlen Organization, a group of former Third Reich intelligence and military officials recruited by the Army because of their purported knowledge of the Soviet Union.

That group turned out to be tainted with fabricators, double agents and war criminals, though Critchfield said it was instrumental in building a defense and intelligence network for West Germany.

Critchfield himself drew parallels between the moral compromises made at the end of World War II with his recommendation in the early 1960s that the United States support the Baath Party, which staged a 1963 coup against the Iraqi government that the CIA believed was falling under Soviet influence.

''We knew perhaps six months beforehand that it was going to happen,'' he said during an interview with The Associated Press last month.

Critchfield described Saddam Hussein as a minor and peripheral figure in the Baath Party at the time. Saddam did not become a force in the party until the late 1960s and seized full power in 1979.

''You have to understand the context of the time and the scope of the threat we were facing,'' Critchfield said. 'That's what I say to people who say, `You guys in the CIA created Saddam Hussein.' ''

Born in North Dakota, Critchfield joined the Army and became one of the youngest colonels of World War II. He led the 2nd Battalion of the 141st Infantry of the 36th Division into France, Germany and finally Austria, and won the Silver Star, Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

He joined the CIA in 1948 and had long stints as chief of the Eastern European Division, and the Near East and South Asia Division.

With the growing political importance of Middle East oil, he became the CIA's national intelligence officer for energy in the late 1960s and early 1970s, then an energy policy planner at the White House.

He also fronted a dummy CIA corporation in the Middle East known as Basic Resources, which was used to gather OPEC-related intelligence for the Nixon administration.

The work of the Gehlen Organization resonates to this day. It has been the focus of a task force created to oversee the 1999 Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, which has resulted in the biggest declassification of U.S. intelligence records in history.

The task force is delving into the degree to which U.S. intelligence gave war crimes suspects jobs. Critchfield argued that the benefits outweighed the moral compromises.

Critchfield said the Gehlen group, along with former German military officers he handled, helped create a defense and intelligence network for West Germany that was folded into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1955.

Reinhard Gehlen, Nazi Germany's chief of anti-Soviet espionage, subsequently became West Germany's intelligence chief. After retiring from the CIA in 1974, Critchfield became a consultant, corporate president and advisor to the Sultan of Oman.

He is survived by his wife and four children.

 
Lets Study the Misimformation track¿

Obituaries can barely scrape the surface of anyone's 86-year life. That's especially true for a covert intelligence officer whose responsibility for top-secret decisions – and their consequences – is rarely acknowledged.

But long before he succumbed to cancer on April 22, at the age of 86, retired CIA official James Critchfield had owned up to two of his decisions that were so momentous that they still influence the course of international events. One opened the CIA's doors to ex-Nazis. The other cleared the way for Saddam Hussein's rise to power in Iraq.

Critchfield made the first of his fateful decisions soon after he joined the fledgling CIA in 1948. Three years earlier, Hitler's master spy for the Eastern Front, Gen. Reinhard Gehlen, had surrendered to U.S. forces. He then proposed a deal. In return for his freedom, he would turn over his voluminous files on the Soviet Union along with his former agents who had scattered across Europe.

Both the Army and the CIA considered Gehlen a hot potato. They decided to assign someone the task of weighing the pros and cons of his offer. That someone turned out to be James Critchfield, a highly decorated Army colonel who had led wartime units in Europe and North Africa and had greatly impressed senior CIA personnel.

Critchfield was transferred to the Gehlen compound in Pullach, Germany. After a month or so of deliberation, he concluded that Washington would gain substantial advantage over Moscow by annexing the "Gehlen Org" into the CIA. He recommended that the agency do so and it did.

For the next four years, Critchfield remained Gehlen's CIA handler in Germany. Then, in 1952, West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer chose Gehlen as the initial chief of the BND, West Germany's post-war intelligence agency. Critchfield said Gehlen – on his death bed 27 years later – thanked Critchfield for his vital assistance in the post-war period.

War Criminals

Secret documents declassified by the Clinton administration show that the CIA's collaboration with the ex-Nazis was not merely a marriage of convenience. It was more like a deal with the devil.

The documents reveal that Gehlen had hired and protected hundreds of Nazi war criminals. The more notorious of these Hitler henchmen included Alois Brunner, Adolf Eichmann's right-hand man in orchestrating the Final Solution, and Emil Augsburg, who directed the Wansee Institute where the Final Solution was formulated and who served in a unit that specialized in the extermination of Jews. Another was the former Gestapo chief Heinrich Muller, Adolf Eichmann's immediate superior whose signature appears on orders written in 1943 for the deportation of 45,000 Jews to Auschwitz for killing.

Furthermore, the Gehlen Org was so thoroughly penetrated by Soviet spies that CIA operations in Eastern Europe often ended in the murder of its agents. To top it off, the Org fed the CIA a steady diet of misinformation that fanned the flames of East-West hostility – and thus assured the Org the continued patronage of Washington.

Many historians of the CIA's early days have concluded that letting the ex-Nazis in was the CIA's original sin, a moral failure that also resulted in the distortion of the intelligence given U.S. policymakers during the crucial early years of the Cold War.

Critchfield of Arabia

Critchfield's second fateful decision was in the Middle East, another flashpoint of Cold War tensions.

In 1959, a young Saddam Hussein, allegedly in cahoots with the CIA, botched an assassination attempt on Iraq's leader, Gen. Abdel Karim Qassim. Hussein fled Iraq and reportedly hid out under the CIA's protection and sponsorship.

By early 1963, Qassim's policies were raising new alarms in Washington. He had withdrawn Iraq from the pro-Western Baghdad Pact, made friendly overtures to Moscow, and revoked oil exploration rights granted by a predecessor to a consortium of companies that included American oil interests.

It fell to Critchfield, who was then in an extended tenure in charge of the CIA's Near East and South Asia division, to remove Qassim. Critchfield supported a coup d'etat in February 1963 that was spearheaded by Iraq's Baathist party. The troublesome Qassim was killed, as were scores of suspected communists who had been identified by the CIA.

Critchfield hailed the coup that brought the Baathists to power as "a great victory." Yet the reality is that the coup further destabilized an Iraq that had survived on the edge of crisis since its creation as a British mandate, with arbitrarily selected borders, in the wake of World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

The 1963 coup also paved the way for another momentous political development. Five years later, Saddam Hussein emerged as a leader in another Baathist coup. Over the next decade, he bullied his way to power, eventually consolidating a ruthless dictatorship that would lead to three wars in less than a quarter century.

After invading Iraq and ousting Hussein from power in April 2003, U.S. occupiers of Iraq outlawed the Baath party that James Critchfield and the CIA had helped install in the 1960s. Critchfield died two weeks after Hussein's government was toppled.

In retrospect, the United States and the world paid – and continue to pay – a high price for the clandestine decisions made by Critchfield and his unaccountable CIA cohorts. As was true of many other "intelligence" decisions, actions perceived to be short-term political gains turned out to be long-term calamities, leading to corruption, disorder and human suffering.

Today, with the Washington information flow again tightly controlled and short on factual support, Critchfield's choices are a reminder that un-elected officials, operating in secret, still make policy decisions – and that their actions can affect the lives of millions in the U.S. and around the world.


 
Posted by mmac30
Jun 10, 8:55 am
What does a goalie need to do? He recorded a record 7 shutouts in the playoffs, 3 in the finals. Had a better GAA the same save % and won the cup. Did anybody who voted watch the games? Giguere was outstanding but not MVP let's just sit back and watch Marty not win the league MVP or Vezina too. I guess when he shatters all Roy records he still will not get the respect he deserves.

Posted by thegeneral5
Jun 10, 9:16 am
How many shutouts does a guy have to post? I think they feel Marty is the better goaltender, but Giguere,without him the Ducks would have been out in the 1st round.As was the case NJ's D was much better than Anaheim's.I feel it should have been a tie.

Posted by curt7545
Jun 10, 9:20 am
YEah? but who touched the CUP?

Re: MVP a loser?
Posted by curt7545
Jun 10, 9:21 am
But who has the BIG CUP NOW?

Brodeur helps himself, too
Posted by marc119
Jun 10, 9:33 am
Does anyone who thinks Brodeur has it easy realize that his incredible stickhandling stops 5-10 shots against per game? The defense in front of him is awesome, no doubt, but when most goaltenders stay in the crease he plays the puck. Teams just can't set up against him to get many shots. Wake up people!

Re: MVP a loser?
Posted by zeportouga
Jun 10, 10:11 am
Your Grandmother must have been laughing when you posted that message.... Brodeur is THE BEST goalie in the NHL. The Devils won, and WE are going to remain in the history books. Sorry man.... life´s hard sometimes...

Re: MVP a loser?
Posted by zeportouga
Jun 10, 10:13 am
Well... if Brodeur didn´t have to work, i wonder how he managed to get 7 SHUTOUTS... quite something for a guy who didn´t have to work...
I would pay BIG money just to see your but in there

Re: MVP a loser?
Posted by redwingsstan
Jun 10, 10:16 am
Brodeur deserved the trophy more than Giguere, but the league chose to recognise the kid's outstanding performance. However, the real losers weren't on the ice, they were in the stands. And this comes from a guy in Detroit....

Re: MVP a loser?
Posted by the_mfer
Jun 10, 10:27 am
>>MARTY is the BEST goalie in the game right now....3 shut-outs in the playoffs...& no MVP????? Tell me....who was cryin' after the game. JS is a flash in the pan!
-----------------------------------

This is the age-old question that Leafs fans had problems with back in the early 90's when they wanted Dougie Gilmour to win the Hart Memorial Trophy because he was, as the award dictates, "most valuable to his team". The Conn Smythe goes to "the most valuable player for his team in the playoffs".
What happens if you take Brodeur out of Jersey? They probably still beat Boston and maybe beat Tampa.
What happens if you take Giguere out of Anaheim? They're gone in four to the Wings.
You'll be eating your words about Giguere, cause a flash in the pan he ain't. I can see how you might think that he would be what with all the Blaine Lachers and Jim Careys (and maybe Jose Thoedores)in the past decade, but Giguere has done what none of these guys could do; excel in both the regular season and the playoffs.
When everyone takes a look back at the career of Martin Brodeur when he finally calls it quits, they'll treat Giguere as they did Bordeur when it came Patrick Roy's time, and they'll say "it's time for J-S to claim his throne".

The Real Loser(s)
Posted by redwingsstan
Jun 10, 10:33 am
Brodeur deserved the trophy but the writer's decided to recognise the kid's great performance. But the real losers weren't on the ice, they were in the stands. Way to go New Jersey, showed your cl-ass to the nation!






 
Devils feel right at home again, hoist Stanley Cup
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Never has the Stanley Cup felt more at home than in the New Jersey swamp.
The Devils, riding the greatest home-ice advantage in NHL playoffs history and a goal from one of the unlikeliest Game 7 stars ever, ended the Anaheim Mighty Ducks' remarkable postseason run and won the Cup with a 3-0 victory Monday night.


Martin Brodeur doesn't get the Conn Smythe, but he gets the trophy he really wanted.(AP)
Mike Rupp, who hadn't appeared in a playoff game until being called on in Game 4, scored the first goal and set up Jeff Friesen for the other two. Friesen scored five goals in the series, all at home.

The Devils swept all four games at home -- all with the second period proving decisive -- in the first finals since 1965 and only the third in which the home team won every game. The Ducks rallied from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to force a Game 7 by winning all three games in Anaheim.

"It's been a bumpy ride, with a great deal of adversity," goalie Martin Brodeur said.

Never has the home-ice edge been more important to a Stanley Cup winner. The Devils were a record 12-1 at home, allowing only 13 goals. They outscored the Ducks 15-3 in four games in New Jersey, all decided by three goals.

"We feel really at ease playing in our own building. The only reason we won the Stanley Cup is because we were so dominant in our own building," said Brodeur, who turned aside 24 shots in his third shutout of the series, all at home.

The Devils' John Madden credited coach Pat Burns with establishing the need to win at home.

"It starts with Pat," Madden said. "Previously our record at home was terrible. But he said were going to compete hard and play hard ... in our building."

And who says there wasn't a triple crown winner this year?

The Devils, despite lacking the huge payroll and plethora of stars that Detroit does, won their third Stanley Cup in nine seasons -- matching the Red Wings for the most since the Edmonton Oilers won their fifth Cup in 1990.

"This makes up for that bad time against the Colorado Avalanche," said Devils captain Scott Stevens. The Devils would have had a fourth Cup if they hadn't lost a 3-2 series lead and the Cup to Colorado in 2001.

Brodeur outdueled Jean-Sebastien Giguere, whose remarkable goaltending earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs. He was only the fifth player to win the Conn Smythe on the losing team and first since Philadelphia's Ron Hextall in 1987.

Giguere never smiled as he accepted the MVP trophy to the boos of the New Jersey fans and the applause of the Devils players, immediately leaving the ice in tears. He was almost in tears even before the game ended.

"It's tough to lose like that," Giguere said. "It was really tough to see them (the Devils) cheer. ... Like I said, this is not the one you want. You want the big silver one."

Brodeur said Giguere deserved the award and "I got the one I wanted."

The Ducks had won only one previous playoff series in their 10-year history, upsetting the defending champion Red Wings and top-seeded Dallas Stars in consecutive rounds.

In the end, though, the jig was up for Jiggy and a straight-out-of-Hollywood season for the Ducks, who were trying to match the World Series champion Anaheim Angels by winning a totally unexpected championship seven months apart.

By preventing seventh-seeded Anaheim from becoming the lowest-seeded Stanley Cup winner ever, Rupp -- an unknown name even to most Devils fans until a few games ago -- wrote his name alongside Finals Game 7 stars such as Henri Richard, Ray Bourque and Mark Messier.

"I never would have thought this was possible," Rupp said. "I had a funny feeling. By no means did I think I would get a goal, but I had a good feeling. I was probably as calm as I've been in any NHL game."

Rupp hadn't played since early May and was skating only with the non-active players after practice before being unexpectedly pressed into the lineup by Burns in Game 5 with center Joe Nieuwendyk out with an injury. He played well enough to start getting regular shifts, but neither Rupp nor Burns could have expected this.

"I was training hard, but I never thought I would get thrown into the Stanley Cup Finals," said Rupp, who has only five goals in 26 career NHL regular season games.

After both goalies enjoyed strong first periods, Rupp scored the pivotal first goal that has proven so important, with the Devils going 11-0 when they score first.

Only 2:22 into the second period, Scott Niedermayer's shot from the blue line was deflected by Rupp between Giguere's pads as the goalie moved to his left. Sensing how important the goal was, Giguere angrily pushed the puck out of his net.

"The second period has been our downfall here," said a dejected Adam Oates of Anaheim.

Niedermayer assisted on both goals to win his third Cup with the Devils and deny his brother, Anaheim forward Rob Niedermayer, his first. Their mother, Carol, had hoped the Ducks would win so both sons could own the Cup.

"It was tough," Scott Niedermayer said. "I told him I wished he could be with us. He played as well as anybody on the ice."

Slightly less than 10 minutes after Rupp scored his first playoff goal in only his fourth playoff game, he gathered Niedermayer's rebound and tipped it to Friesen, who scored his fourth goal of the series but first since Game 2.

Friesen had three goals as the Devils won each of the first two games 3-0 against the Ducks, who were coming off a record 10-day layoff following their conference finals sweep of Minnesota.

Stevens, who as the captain was the first to skate with the Cup, handed it to Niedermayer, no doubt aware how difficult it was for the brothers to compete against each other for the same cherished prize.

One goal might have been enough for Brodeur on this night, two probably seemed like 20 goals to Brodeur, who has now won an Olympic gold medal and a Stanley Cup in consecutive years. Brodeur's big-game experience meant all the difference as he became one of five Devils to win three Cups with the team.

"It's not over for us," Brodeur said. "We're going to try to build on this. ... But right now, it's not time to call us a dynasty."

Notes
D Ken Daneyko, who had played in every playoff game in team history until last month, was scratched for the Finals until Game 7. Burns made sure he was on the ice at the end of the game.
The Devils won their three Cups with different coaches: Jacques Lemaire (1995), Larry Robinson (2000) and Burns, but only one general manager, Lou Lamoriello.
The Devils are the first team to win the Cup with a losing road record (4-7) since the 1974 Flyers.
Home teams are 10-2 and have won the last four Finals Game 7s. It was the Devils' second Game 7 in three years; they lost at Colorado 3-1 in 2001.
Of the 11 teams to lose in their first appearance in the Finals, Anaheim was the first to take it to seven games.
The last team to win a Finals Game 7 on the road was Montreal in Chicago in 1971, also the last time a team lost the first two games on the road and won the Stanley Cup.
Among the first to skate with the Cup was the injured Nieuwendyk, who sat out the series with a torn abdominal muscle.

 
'Gold-medal strategy' in space
Prestige: China wants to show the world that it's a 'space power' by launching astronauts into orbit, experts say.
BEIJING - The leaders of China's secretive space program have it all figured out: Put humans in orbit by the end of this year. Send people to the moon by maybe 2020. Send people to Mars by, say, 2030. Then, of course, mine for extraterrestrial resources and settle colonies in space. Just what are the Chinese up to?

Decades after the U.S.-Soviet race to the moon captivated the world during the Cold War, China is quietly conducting a space race of its own, albeit at a more leisurely pace. Manned lunar and Mars missions seem nothing more than fanciful propagandist dreams, experts say, but China is on track to put people in orbit this year.

"The Chinese want to show that they're in the big time," said Phillip Clark, a space expert in Britain who has closely followed the China program. "They want to be taken seriously as a space power."

Should China launch its Shenzhou V spacecraft with astronauts aboard as expected this fall, it will mark the culmination of a nearly 12-year effort to put humans in space - and bring to an end an era in which only two nations could send astronauts to space on their own. If the U.S. space shuttle is still grounded, China might briefly outshine its rival.

The ruling Communist Party is betting billions of dollars that it will be a proud moment for the world's most populous country, which since 1961 has watched as Yuri Gagarin, Neil Armstrong, the space shuttle and a space station flew by.

More than a quarter-century after the devastating setbacks of the Cultural Revolution and, before that, the Great Leap Forward, China is literally playing catch-up.

"Piloted space flight has always been about prestige, and I think that it will demonstrate that 'China has stood up,' " said John Pike, an American space flight expert, borrowing a phrase used by Mao after the Communist revolution in 1949. "It only serves to impress."

Pride-building project
The big difference between today's march to space and the drama of the 1960s, however, is that this time, the world isn't watching with bated breath. After all, the Chinese human space flight program isn't exactly breaking new ground. It's just shy of where the United States was when it launched Gemini V - some 38 years ago.

While foreign space watchers might shrug, it may be the audience at home that counts most. Such pride-building projects, some argue, can help maintain the stability of a regime that is facing wrenching internal problems.

"It's called the gold-medal strategy," said Zhou Xiaozheng, a professor of sociology at People's University in Beijing. "Years ago, the Chinese government had spent some efforts on getting Olympic games medals, and people bought into this as well. They think that the country is getting more and more powerful because they're getting more and more gold medals."

Military and political interests fueled the nation's space program under Mao, and the human spaceflight project has been conducted in relative secrecy under the aegis of the People's Liberation Army.

Code-named Project 921, the project has inched along since 1992 (the first two digits of the mysterious-sounding code name represent the year the project began). The government appeared unconcerned with moving quickly, which would have required more money up front and might have resulted in embarrassing accidents and could have cost lives.

As it is, Chinese space officials were still stung by embarrassment and deadly accidents in their satellite launch program, which uses booster rockets similar to the ones in Project 921. Two satellite launches in 1995 and 1996 failed, resulting in explosions and possibly dozens of deaths on the ground.

The course charted by Project 921, though, is believed to have been much less bumpy - with the exception of a rumored crash landing of one test vehicle that was carrying animals back from orbit. But details about 921 are murky because the government tightly controls information. All requests for interviews with Chinese space officials were denied for this article. State media reports and interviews with foreign experts, however, provide some key facts:

Twelve elite fighter pilots are training to become astronauts - or taikonauts (based on the Chinese word taikong, which means space) - at a clandestine facility in northwest Beijing. The pilots' names are kept secret, but they average 30 years old and are small in size: 5 feet 7 inches tall and 141 pounds. One or two astronauts will likely be chosen for the first manned orbital flight, which could launch in October or November and last up to a week.

The astronauts will fly in a craft called the Shenzhou (meaning "divine vessel"). Resembling a Russian Soyuz on steroids, the bowl-shaped Shenzhou can carry up to three astronauts and, unlike the Soyuz, has a detachable section that can remain in space for months unoccupied. Future Shenzhou missions could link sections, forming a crude miniature space station. The Chinese bought an assortment of Russian space gear in the first few years of Project 921, according to experts and published reports - including a system for docking in space, life support technology, booster engines and astronaut suits.

A Changzheng (or Long March) rocket named Shenjian (meaning "magic arrow") will send the Shenzhou into space from a military-run pad in northwest China's Gobi desert. The Long March series of rockets included boosters that were involved in the deadly satellite launch failures. Since 1999, however, Long March rockets have successfully launched four unmanned Shenzhou craft.

Big plans
The $3 billion a year being spent on the space program may only be the beginning. China could one day participate in the International Space Station project or set up a smaller station. Unmanned lunar orbiting missions could begin in a few years, under a yet-to-be-approved project nicknamed Chang'e - after a beautiful fairy in a Chinese legend who goes to the moon and lives there.

James Oberg, a former space engineer from Houston, said Chinese authorities have discussed sending a small remote-controlled buggy to the moon within five to eight years.

Chinese scientists hope that manned lunar and Mars missions will follow, but experts say the cost of a manned lunar mission - perhaps $100 billion - rules it out for a long time.

While the military's role continues with the human space-flight program, Chinese scientists say they have idealistic goals for their missions.

"China's space activities aim at peacefully developing and utilizing outer space to bring benefits to mankind," said Sun Laiyan, vice administrator of the China National Space Administration, in an interview posted on the Chinese Academy of Space Technology's Web site.


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