tv 60 Minutes CBS August 2, 2015 7:00pm-8:01pm EDT
captioning funded by cbs and ford >> pelley: two and a half years after the tragedy at sandy hook, are some seriously mentally ill patients being denied long-term care by their insurance providers? our investigation found parents and doctors who say so, and we've documented cases where patient care was cut short by insurance company doctors who never actually see the patient. >> some nameless, faceless doctor is making this decision. and i'm furious because basically, to me, he was playing god with my daughter's life! >> martin: the research being done at the starfire optical range in albuquerque, new mexico, was kept secret for many years-- and for a good reason, which only becomes apparent at
night. first, the roof of one building is opened to the stars. then, the walls retract, and an object straight out of "star wars" appears, shooting a laser into the sky. if you thought space was a peaceful haven, think again. >> it's a competition that i wish wasn't occurring, but it is. and if we're threatened in space, we have the right of self-defense, and we'll make sure we can execute that right. >> martin: and use force if necessary. >> that's why we have a military. you know, i'm not nasa. >> kroft: i'm steve kroft. >> stahl: i'm lesley stahl. >> safer: i'm morley safer. >> whitaker: i'm bill whitaker. >> pelley: i'm scott pelley. those stories tonight on "60
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>> pelley: two and a half years ago, we were reeling from the shock of the murders of 20 first graders and six educators at sandy hook elementary school. since then, we've learned that the killer suffered profound mental illness. his parents sought treatment, but at least once, their health insurance provider denied payment.
because of recurring tragedies and an epidemic of suicides, we've been investigating the battles that parents fight for psychiatric care. as we first reported in december, we found the vast majority of claims are routine, but the insurance industry aggressively reviews the cost of chronic cases. long term care is often denied by insurance company doctors who never see the patient. as a result, some seriously ill patients are discharged from hospitals over the objections of psychiatrists who warn that someone may die. of the torment of katherine west. but by the age of 14, she was wasting away, purging her food. nancy west, katherine's mother, was told by her doctors that the bulimia was rooted in major depression. >> nancy west: in fact, prior to the eating disorder, she was cutting, so there were self-
harming behaviors from, i would probably say, at least 12 on. >> pelley: to stop purging, she had to be watched around the clock. her doctors prescribed treatment that could cost more than $50,000 at a hospital for 12 weeks. the insurance company stopped paying after six weeks? >> west: six weeks pretty much was it for them. they were done. and if you know about a mental illness, you don't cure a mental illness in six weeks. company was anthem, second largest in the nation. an anthem reviewer found katherine should leave the hospital because she had put on enough weight. her doctor warned that she was desperate to shed those pounds. >> west: they were telling the insurance company, "she needs to stay here. she needs more long-term treatment. she isn't ready for this." >> pelley: the insurance company overruled the doctor. katherine west came home as an >> west: i was texting her-- no response. i got home at 12:30 that day and i found my daughter in bed.
she'd been gone for hours. and i just remember running through the house screaming. i couldn't believe it. my beautiful girl was gone. she was gone. >> pelley: katherine was dead at the age of 15. as her doctors predicted, she'd been purging again, which led to heart failure. did it make sense to you that a doctor at the insurance company was making these decisions based on telephone conversations? >> west: no, no, they didn't observe my daughter. you're talking about a psychiatrist, a pediatrician, a therapist who observed my daughter on a daily basis. but some nameless, faceless doctor is making this decision. and i was furious, because, basically, to me, he was playing god with my daughter's life! >> pelley: the kind of review that resulted in the discharge of katherine west works like this: after a patient is admitted, an insurance company representative
starts calling the doctor every day, or every few days. if that representative decides that the patient is ready for a lower level of care, then the case is referred to an insurance company physician who reads the file, calls the doctor, and renders a judgment. we have found in these chronic, expensive cases that judgment is most often a denial. how often the results are tragic, no one can say. but we have found examples. in 2012, jacob moreno's further hospitalization was denied, even after a doctor warned, "the patient states that he wanted to kill other people, many people." the next day, moreno was naked in the street, swinging at strangers and attacking a police officer. they used a taser to take him down. the state ordered him back to the mental hospital. richard traiman's hospital stay was also cut short. as he was being discharged, he said he would throw himself off a bridge. he didn't.
he hung himself the next day. >> harold koplewicz: they're called managed care, but it's really "managed cost." >> pelley: dr. harold koplewicz knows insurance review calls well. he's a leading psychiatrist and founder of a research organization, the child mind institute. >> koplewicz: when i was running an inpatient unit, i would have to literally speak to a clerk on the phone to say, "i need approval for this patient to stay here another five days." and they would say to me, "well, is the patient acutely suicidal or acutely homicidal?" "well, not right now because he's in the hospital. we took the knife away. we took the gun away. we took the poison away." and they would say, "well, then why does he have to be in the hospital?" you think to yourself, "am i in... is this oz?" >> pelley: the insurance company wants to send them home. >> koplewicz: well, it's a lot cheaper, in the short run. and if you're managing costs on a quarterly basis, you can understand why, from a business point of view, for that quarter, it makes sense. for the sake of the child, for the sake of our society, for the sake of the child's future, it
doesn't make any sense. >> pelley: of all the cases we looked at, one of the most revealing was ashley's. she suffers from bipolar disorder. >> ashley: in 2012, i had had a suicide attempt. i couldn't find a way out. >> pelley: was this a cry for help, or did you want to die? >> ashley: this one was real. i was alone. i tried my best. >> pelley: ashley's mother, maria, asked us not to mention the family name. >> maria: one of the doctors told me on the phone, "i'm really sorry, but you will probably bury your daughter." >> pelley: in 2012, ashley was in the hospital for the fourth time that year. they thought they had taken away everything that could hurt her. but she smashed her cell phone and cut her wrists with the glass. what did that tell you, in terms of the treatment that she needed?
>> maria: it told me that she needed long-term treatment to survive. >> pelley: maria says that anthem recommended treatment at timberline knolls, a residential facility. a doctor said ashley needed 90 days. but after sending her to illinois from california, anthem denied payment after six days, saying that ashley could be "safely treated with outpatient services." did the people at timberline knolls believe that...? >> maria: no, they didn't. >> pelley: that she was well? >> maria: no. they absolutely didn't believe it. they gave us the option of paying $22,000 for... to complete the 30 days. and at that, we... there wasn't a chance that we could do that. >> pelley: now, look at how ashley's care was denied. this log shows dr. tim jack, a psychiatrist working on behalf of anthem, called ashley's doctor three times in 32 minutes. one call was disconnected. he left two messages.
dr. jack waited 22 minutes for a call back, and then denied coverage. from the first call to denial-- 54 minutes, speaking to no one. why so fast? well, it may be, in part, because many insurance doctors are paid by the case. dr. jack is a contractor who gets $45 per patient. in court records, dr. jack says he does 550 reviews a month. so, working from home, that comes to $25,000 a month. we spoke to 26 psychiatrists from across the country, and every one brought up dr. jack's name. some called him "dr. denial." this is a recording of dr. jack telling a physician that a patient's level of care should be lowered. >> tim jack: because given what his current progress is and his current symptoms are, he can be managed at a lower level of care as effectively as in an intensive outpatient program.
>> you know, doctor, i just want to say that i have spoken to you on so many different occasions, and with so many different clients, and i've never really had a positive outcome as far as authorization from you, so i just needed to bring that to your attention. >> jack: this is not a personal matter. >> i understand, sir, but the client appears to meet the criteria, so... >> pelley: we found dr. jack's denial rate averaged 92% in one six-month period in 2011. but that was typical among 11 reviewers contracted by anthem. some of them had denial rates of 95% and 100%. what's the impact on a family after a phone call like that? >> kathryn trepinski: devastating. >> pelley: kathryn trepinski is a lawyer who represents patients. she does not represent ashley's family, but she has filed suit against anthem and other insurers. >> trepinski: there's untold suffering, and the family is usually left in the very difficult position of either
paying for the care out of pocket, which is tens of thousands of dollars, or they say no to their loved one, to their child. >> pelley: anthem says that the reviews are checked by a supervising doctor, but when we obtained ashley's denial letter, we found her review by tim jack, m.d., was supervised by timothy jack, m.d. so, he signs the documents twice? >> trepinski: yes, except that he doesn't actually sign them himself. it's a robo-signature. >> pelley: dr. jack has acknowledged an anthem computer put his name to letters that he does not see, and on cases he didn't review. >> trepinski: it suggests a layer of review that's not there. because the signing doctor is described in the letter as having made that coverage determination, and he didn't. >> pelley: we tried to reach dr. jack in calls and a letter. we stopped by his home.
but he declined to speak. katherine west's and ashley's parents gave us permission to ask anthem about their cases. anthem declined an interview, but its chief medical officer wrote that they "explored and provided the families numerous care options that went beyond their covered benefits." he goes on to say, "successful outcomes require a partnership between patients, families, medical professionals, and health plans." for the insurance industry's view, we found anthem's former california medical director, dr. paul keith. he retired in 2014 after years supervising anthem reviews, including those of dr. jack. he told us that, too often, insurance companies are abused by care providers. >> paul keith: doctors will spin the clinical information. they will make things appear more serious than, perhaps, they are, because they feel strongly the patient needs this level of care for a little longer. so you do have a somewhat
adversarial relationship between the reviewer and the attending physician. >> pelley: you're saying the... the doctor will overstate the case to get the insurance company to approve the client? >> keith: unquestionably, that happens-- not all the time. and i've been doing this for, you know, over 30 years. >> pelley: you describe these conversations as "adversarial." is that best for the patient? >> keith: well, it's like our legal system-- if you... each side does a good job in presenting their case and asking the right questions, you ultimately arrive at the truth. >> pelley: but these can be life and death decisions, and you don't know till it's too late. >> keith: i cannot, offhand, think of a situation where a decision was made to discharge a patient from a hospital and some terrible consequence occurred soon thereafter. i'm sure it happens, but... >> pelley: we found quite a few. >> keith: i'd have to look at them to see. there's one that occurs to me
that i was involved with where the child left the hospital with his parents, escaped from his parents, drove cross-country to another state, and days later, committed suicide. keeping that individual in the hospital longer is not likely to have made any difference. >> pelley: i would have to imagine that the parents would say, "if you'd kept him in the hospital, he wouldn't have been in another state killing himself." >> keith: parents become fearful that, if they leave too soon, the same thing's going to happen that may have happened in previous occasions, but you can't keep an individual in the hospital forever. >> pelley: so, to the parent who says the insurance company is just trying to get my child out of the hospital, you say what? >> keith: it's half true-- the insurance company may very well want that child to go to a lesser level of care, but money is not the basis for the
decision. >> pelley: a lot of people watching this interview are going to have trouble with the idea that insurance companies are not trying to save money. >> keith: of course, your insurance companies are trying to save money. there's a lot of treatment that is not medically necessary that is provided, and that is a waste of healthcare dollars, and the resources are scarce. >> pelley: ashley's family hired a lawyer and appealed to the california insurance board, which overturned anthem's denials. now, she is in treatment for bipolar disorder, treatment that may last a lifetime. after katherine west was buried, her mother filed suit against anthem. after the mass murder at newtown, the state of connecticut's sandy hook commission studied mental health. in its final report, it says the insurance review process is a "formidable barrier to care," and it recommends a state agency
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watching this program-- depend on satellites in space. and for the u.s. military, it's not just everyday activities-- the way it fights depends on space. satellites are used to communicate with troops, gather intelligence, fly drones, and target weapons. but as we reported earlier this year, top military and intelligence leaders are worried those satellites are vulnerable to attack. they say china, in particular, has been actively testing anti- effect, knock out america's eyes and ears. no one wants a war in space, but it's the job of a branch of the air force called space command to prepare for one. if you've never heard of space command, it's because most of what it does happens hundreds, even thousands, of miles above the earth, or deep inside highly secure command centers. you may be as surprised as we were to find out how the high stakes game for control of space is played. the research being done at the
starfire optical range in albuquerque, new mexico, was kept secret for many years-- and for a good reason, which only becomes apparent at night. first, the roof of one building is opened to the stars. then the walls retract, and an object straight out of "star wars" appears, shooting a laser into the sky. the laser's beam helps a high- powered telescope focus in on objects in space so the air force can get a better look at the satellites of potential adversaries like china whizzing by at 17,000 miles per hour. it's part of a complex, and mostly secret, battle for what the military considers the ultimate high ground. >> john hyten: there is no such thing as a day without space. general john hyten, the head of air force space command. >> hyten: think of what life used to be like and all the things that we have today in warfare that wouldn't exist without space.
remotely piloted aircraft-- all- weather precision guided munitions didn't exist before space. now, we can attack any target on the planet, anytime, anywhere in any weather. >> martin: what would the u.s. military do without space? >> hyten: what happens is you go back to world war ii. you go back to industrial age warfare. >> martin: and your job is to make sure there is no day without space. >> hyten: absolutely. and you should be thinking right from the beginning that this is a contested environment and... >> martin: hyten drills into his troops that u.s. satellites are no longer safe from attack. 11 countries, including iran and north korea, now have the ability to launch objects into orbit. and russia and china have been testing new anti-satellite technologies. >> hyten: it's a competition that i wish wasn't occurring, but it is. and if we're threatened in space, we have the right of self-defense, and we'll make sure we can execute that right. >> martin: and use force if necessary. >> hyten: that's why we have a military. you know, i'm not nasa. >> martin: space command has
38,000 airmen at 134 locations around the world. one of their most visible missions is to make sure u.s. satellites can always get into space from launch pads like this one at vandenberg air force base in california. >> hyten: this is where space begins. if you can't get the satellite into space, it's worthless. i'm a satellite guy, so i get very nervous around rockets. because the most valuable thing on the rocket is the top, is the satellite, because when you have 500,000 pounds of thrust, if anything goes wrong, it's an explosion. it's dangerous, and you lose the capabilities that's on the top. >> "t" minus 15 seconds... >> martin: the u.s. has more satellites in space than any other nation-- over 500 and counting. more than 30 military and civilian launches will take place this year at space command bases in florida and california. the pentagon told us it spends
$10 billion a year on space. but we found a white house report that estimates the real cost is much higher-- $25 satellites and other classified spending. that's more than nasa or any other space agency in the world. some of those satellites have provided the gps signals used to direct smart bombs at isis targets in iraq and syria. but a lot of people don't realize those same gps satellites provide the signals your smart phone uses to navigate. it's a service the air force provides free, not just here in the united states but to the entire world. >> william cooley: this is a global utility, and there's a lot of people depending on this, and we understand that. >> martin: at a boeing plant in los angeles, colonel bill cooley showed us a gps satellite that was being tested in a special chamber to make sure it was ready for launch. >> cooley: when these things get on orbit, there's no depot. you can't drive it back into the maintenance shop. it's somewhat like trying to design an automobile that is
going to run for, you know, 12 to 15 years, and you can't take it in the shop, you can't take it in for refueling, but it's got to run 24/7. >> martin: in orbit, the satellite will spread out its solar panels, point it's odd- looking antennas towards the earth, and broadcast its location, along with a time signal accurate to nanoseconds. a gps receiver needs signals from four of these satellites to figure out its location. colonel cooley told us it costs a quarter of a billion dollars to design and build each one. and to put it into space, how much does it cost? >> cooley: that's about the same. >> martin: so you're pushing half a billion dollars to get that thing into space? >> cooley: that's right. >> martin: the u.s. has 31 active gps satellites in space right now, and a lot more than smart bombs and smart phones depend on them. bank atms, cell-phone towers, and power grids use their signals. farmers use gps to work their fields. >> so at your active time, you are just going to go active... >> martin: the gps satellite system the whole world relies on
is operated out of this room at schriever air force base in colorado by lieutenant colonel todd benson and his team. >> prepass svn 34. >> martin: we were a little surprised by how many people it takes. >> todd benson: eight personnel. >> martin: eight people? >> benson: yes, sir. >> martin: for the entire world? >> benson: yes, sir. >> martin: so, are these technological experts? but they're as young as 19 years old. >> martin: isn't there a minimum >> benson: ( laughs ) not here. >> martin: another thing that surprised us is that there's no way to effectively armor an important satellite like this or to conceal its location from attack. so it can't hide in space? >> cooley: that's true. and we... in fact, it's... it tells you where it is. >> martin: this is a system the whole world depends on, costs a small fortune to put it up there, and it's a sitting duck. >> cooley: well, this is one of the challenges that... in space command that we're... we are very aware of. >> martin: today, can a u.s. military satellite maneuver
itself out of the way of an upcoming anti-satellite weapon? >> hyten: it depends on a huge number of variables. >> martin: so the answer is, maybe. >> hyten: the answer is maybe. >> martin: so, you've got these satellites worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and they maybe could get out of harm's way? >> hyten: it depends on the satellite. it depends on the mission. it depends on when it was built, depends on how old it is. it depends on when we know the threat is coming. >> martin: knowing a threat is coming is no small task when the territory you're responsible for is 73 trillion cubic miles. space command maintains a global network of radars, telescopes, and satellite communications antennas like this one. >> you can see the magnetic lines, just they are looping all over... >> martin: all the information feeds in to the joint space operations center, j-spoc for short, at vandenberg air force base. this is the command center for space? >> jay raymond: yes, sir. 24/7, 365 days a year
maintaining... >> martin: if a u.s. satellite were attacked, lieutenant general jay raymond would use this phone to alert a chain of command leading to the white house. is an attack on an american satellite an act of war? >> hyten: that's been a line of debate for as long as i've been in this business. >> martin: if there is an attempt to attack or interfere with a u.s. satellite, who makes the decision about what we do about it? >> hyten: that would be the president of the united states. >> martin: and it's not just an anti-satellite weapon they're worried about. there are other dangers, too. >> raymond: today, we track about 23,000 objects. >> martin: how many of them are actually functioning satellites? >> raymond: roughly 1,300 of those are active satellites. the rest are debris. >> martin: junk. >> raymond: yes, sir, junk. >> explorer, this is kowalski reporting visual contact with debris. debris is from a bse sat... >> martin: the movie "gravity" dramatized the devastating effect manmade debris travelling at 17,000 miles per hour could have on the international space station.
the j-spoc tracks dead satellites, old rocket boosters, even stray space gloves, and alerts satellite operators and astronauts if a collision is likely. >> raymond: last year, in 2014, the international space station was maneuvered three times to avoid colliding with a piece of debris. a lot of the debris that's threatening the space station was created in 2007 when the chinese tested a ground-based anti-satellite weapon. it crashed into one of their old weather satellites 530 miles above the earth, shattering it into pieces. >> raymond: this is the debris that resulted from the 2007 chinese a-sat. so this is about 3,000 pieces of debris just from that one event. >> martin: that came just from that one collision? >> raymond: just from that one collision. >> martin: debris apart, how important was that test in terms of revealing chinese space capabilities? >> hyten: it was a significant wakeup call to our entire military. until that singular event, i don't think the broader military
realized that that is something we're going to have to worry about. >> martin: have they conducted any similar tests since? >> hyten: they continue to conduct tests. the testing they're doing is to make sure that the... if they ever got into a conflict with us or any other space-faring nation, they would have the ability to destroy satellites, and that is a bad thing for the united states, a bad thing for the planet. >> martin: a bad thing, no doubt, but is the u.s. doing it, too? and did china recently raise the stakes, test-firing a weapon deeper into space than ever before and threatening some of this country's most valuable satellites? that part of our story, when we come back. >> now a cbs sports update brought to you by prevnar. troy merit claimed his first pga tour victory. he finished at 18 under after setting a course record with 61 on sawrd. in baseball, daniel norris got
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>> martin: tonight, we've been giving you a rare look at how a called space command is preparing for a battle most of us have never thought about-- one high above the earth, defending the satellites upon which our daily life and national security have come to depend. few of those satellites are more important to the u.s. military than the ones that provide early warning of a long-range nuclear missile attack. even at the height of the cold war, those satellites-- stationed deep in space, some 20,000 miles above the earth-- were considered safe from attack.
but as we reported earlier this year, deep space is no longer the sanctuary it once was. a former space command officer told us that, two years ago, the chinese tested an anti-satellite weapon that went higher than any previously reported, and came too close for comfort to the area where those missile warning satellites are located. >> brian weeden: if those satellites are now at risk, that is something that, from the u.s. military's point of view, is new. because it's always believed those satellites, there wasn't really a significant threat to those capabilities. >> martin: brian weeden served as an officer in air force space command until 2007. he's now technical adviser to the secure world foundation, which promotes the peaceful use of space. >> weeden: the topic for today's discussion is... >> martin: weeden says the chinese have test-fired as many as six ground-based anti- satellite weapons. only one, in 2007, actually hit a satellite and created debris. but one of the others soared to
new heights. >> weeden: there was one test in may of 2013 that may have gone as high as 30,000 kilometers. and that's one that i think really is kind of causing quite a bit of concern on the u.s. side. >> martin: to understand just how far that is, the international space station orbits at about 200 miles above the earth, and those gps satellites we showed you orbit at 12,000 miles. the 2013 test-launch weeden's talking about is believed to have gone up to 18,600 miles, just shy of what's known as geo-synchronous or geo- stationary orbit. and that's where the u.s. military has stationed some of its most valuable missile warning sensors and top-secret communications devices that serve as its eyes and ears in time of war. >> weeden: i think what keeps a lot of american military planners up at night is if china
has anti-satellite capabilities, when do they use those in a conflict? do they use them at the start to try and blind the u.s.? >> martin: those sound like the... the crown jewels of american satellites up there in geo-synchronous orbit. >> weeden: absolutely. those satellites were developed in an environment where the u.s. assumed there would not be reason to attack them. so you end up with a small number of very expensive satellites that have a lot of capability packed onto each one. end result is juicy targets. >> martin: a spokesman for china's foreign ministry admitted testing an anti- satellite weapon in 2007, but china has denied conducting subsequent tests, and told us it is committed to the peaceful use of outer space. it said the 2013 launch into deep space was simply a science experiment. but using skills he honed as an officer in space command, brian weeden analyzed commercial satellite photos and other publicly available data about
the launch. he concluded that science experiment was probably fired into space by a military missile launcher like this. >> hyten: this building was built... >> martin: general john hyten, the head of air force space command, has seen the classified intelligence about that launch. these follow-on chinese tests, how high up do they go? >> hyten: pretty high. >> martin: well, how high's that? >> hyten: i won't characterize what... what the chinese capabilities are. i just will tell you that we know what they are. >> martin: well, i've read reports by a congressional commission, which said that, in the next five to ten years, china likely will be able to hold at risk u.s. national security satellites in every orbital regime. do you agree with this statement by the commission? >> hyten: i think they'll be able to threaten every orbital regime that we operate in. now, we have to figure out how to defend those satellites, and we're going to. >> martin: space command is making its new satellites more
maneuverable to evade attack, and also more resistant to jamming. it's building a new radar system that will enable the space operations center to track objects in space as small as a softball. and it's deployed two highly maneuverable surveillance satellites to keep watch on what other countries are doing high up in geo-stationary orbit. satellites watching other satellites. >> hyten: satellites watching other satellites. >> martin: and how do they improve your knowledge? >> hyten: because they're up close. >> martin: normally, the capabilities of spy satellites are kept top secret. but space command put out this fact sheet about its new assets in geo-synchronous orbit. >> hyten: we want people to understand that we're watching. there will be no surprises in geo. and we want everybody in the world to know that there will be no surprises in that orbit. it's way too valuable for us to just be surprised. >> martin: deterrence in the nuclear world was built on weapons. >> hyten: right. and deterrence in the... in the space world has got to be built on a little bit different
construct. it's the ability to convince an adversary that, if they attack us, they will fail. >> martin: air force secretary deborah lee james told us the pentagon plans to spend an extra $5 billion over the next five years to protect its satellites. what do you consider to be the greatest single threat to u.s. satellites? >> deborah lee james: an anti- satellite weapon would certainly be a great threat. a laser would be a threat. jamming capabilities are also a threat. >> martin: do china and russia have lasers that could blind american satellites? >> james: they are testing and investing, and that is worrisome to the united states. >> all right, good morning, bravo crew. we are going to start it off with intel... >> martin: testing and investing in sometimes mysterious ways. >> russia is going to be launching a soyuz 2... >> martin: last year, airmen at the joint space operations center monitored the seemingly routine launch of three russian communications satellites.
lieutenant jay raymond and his team spotted what they assumed was just an ordinary piece of debris from the launch. >> raymond: about a week later, a young air force captain detected that that debris started to move. >> martin: move, as in maneuver, right up close to the body of the rocket that had launched it into space. so what is that object that keeps maneuvering in space? >> raymond: david, i'm not going to speculate, but i can tell you what it isn't. it's not a piece of debris. >> weeden: that type of maneuver is what's called a rendezvous and proximity operation. and it's actually something that the u.s. had been working on for the last several years, if not longer. >> martin: satellites that can rendezvous with other satellites may someday be used to refuel or make repairs. but they're potential weapons, as well. if you can get close enough to inspect or service another satellite, is that close enough to disable it? >> weeden: absolutely. and there's... there's a wide range of ways you can do that. >> martin: such as? >> weeden: breaking off a solar
panel or even some have theorized, you know, spray- painting over optics so that the satellite can't see anything. >> martin: so if you thought space was a peaceful haven, think again. this is a new kind of space race, a cosmic game of hide-and- seek. and the same technology that enables this telescope to see more clearly into space could potentially be used to help a laser weapon focus more powerfully on a target. the bush administration wanted to develop such a weapon here in 2006, but ran into resistance from congress. is any work being done on lasers that could be used to blind satellites? >> james: there's no such work at this time. >> martin: does the u.s. have any weapons in space? >> james: no, we do not. >> martin: i'm thinking of satellites that maneuver next to another satellite, and then take some action to disable it without blowing it up. >> james: we do have satellites that maneuver, that look at
things in space. but not what you just described. >> martin: you think the chinese believe that? >> james: i... i don't know what they believe. >> martin: when the chinese look at america's space operations, they see a program that, by most estimates, spends ten times more than they do and has tested anti-satellite weapons of its own. space command told us an american f-15 fired a missile into space five times in the 1980s, and one of those times destroyed a u.s. satellite, creating debris that remained in space for decades. one of the officers involved in that test was general hyten. >> hyten: i think it was a surprise to most people on that program how much debris we created. >> martin: so where do we get off lecturing the chinese about testing anti-satellite weapons if we were the first and if we created debris? >> hyten: well, it... because we learned our lesson and told the world and the congress said, "you will not test that weapon anymore."
>> martin: but when a u.s. intelligence satellite containing hazardous fuel malfunctioned in 2008... the navy's aegis defense system, designed to knock out incoming missiles, was used to shoot it down. chinese must think we've got an anti-sat... satellite capability as well. >> weeden: i think they certainly have come to that conclusion, or not... if the u.s. doesn't have a capability, they certainly could field one very quickly. >> martin: what you just described is the formula for an arms race. they see a capability, we have a capability. they react to that capability. they react, we react, and there you go. >> weeden: i think it certainly could turn out that way. >> martin: one of the big dangers is that a problem in space could inflame a conflict here on earth. for instance, if a nation suddenly lost its early-warning satellites in the middle of a crisis, it might assume it was the beginning of an attack. >> weeden: now, in reality, it might've been a simple manufacturing failure. it might've been a piece of space debris.
but in the moment of crisis, i think that's the sort of situation that could escalate something that might otherwise have... have stayed partly contained. >> martin: general hyten told us space command is currently only developing weapons that do not create debris, like this mobile jammer which can be used to incapacitate satellites. >> hyten: we have a capability called a counter communications system that is built to deny an adversary the use of space communications. all i can say is it's a capability that exists on the ground, and it does not create debris in any way. >> martin: the only two things you told me about the u.s. ability to "fight in space" are the ability to maneuver your satellites and to jam other satellites. is that it? >> hyten: that's not it, but that's all i can tell you. >> martin: one secret project is hiding in plain sight.
it's the x-37b space plane, a small, remotely-piloted vehicle that can fly in space for 20 months at a time. a model of it hangs in hyten's headquarters in colorado. so here is your chance to end all the speculation about what the space plane is really for. >> hyten: it's really for cool things. >> martin: for instance? >> hyten: for instance, it goes up to space, but unlike other satellites, it actually comes back. anything that we put in the payload bay that we take up to space we can now bring back. and we can learn from that. >> martin: can you tell me whether or not, someday, the space plane is going to become a weapons system? >> hyten: the intent is... i cannot answer that question. >> martin: but if... if you're determined not to create any more debris in space, why can't you say that this might not become a weapon system? >> hyten: i'm not going to say what it's going to become because we're experimenting. >> martin: hyten told us there are bound to be conflicts in space. the important thing is to avoid
a shooting war that could create so much debris, it might become impossible to put satellites or astronauts into orbit. the chinese, of course, look at everything you're doing, and they... >> hyten: i'm sure they're looking at this. >> martin: ...and they say you're developing the capability to threaten them, and that all those satellites are a direct threat to their national security. so why wouldn't they create a capability to take out those satellites? >> hyten: you know, the... the chinese are also building a very robust exploration program to go to the moon, to explore the stars. they could destroy their entire program by going down the way they are. >> martin: there's not a shooting war going on out there. but it sure does seem like there is a very high-stakes contest going on in space. >> james: it is high stakes. >> martin: high stakes with very few rules. a 1967 u.n. treaty calls for the peaceful use of space.
that sounds nice, but leaves a lot of room for countries to do what they want. right now, is there any code of conduct for space operations? >> james: there is not an agreed-upon code of conduct. >> martin: so it's every country for himself? >> james: pretty much. >> for a look at how "60 minutes" reports its stories, as well as interviews with correspondents and producers, go to 60minutesovertime.com. but not every insurance company understands the life behind it. those who have served our nation. have earned the very best service in return. usaa. we know what it means to serve. get an auto insurance quote and see why 92% of our members plan to stay for life.
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