The SETI League, Inc., a membership-supported, non-profit {501(c)(3)}, educational and scientific organization Searching for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence

Ask Dr. SETI ®

Chapter 5: Sociology

Is The Military Taking Over SETI?

Dear Dr. SETI:
I've been hearing rumors that SETI has been overrun by the United States Navy. Is the military taking over SETI, perhaps trying to cover up some secret detection?

Maurice, University of California (Berkeley)

The Doctor Responds:
First off, Maurice, you need to be aware that SETI is a science, not a single research project (or even a single organization). Various different nonprofit organizations around the world are involved in SETI research, from a variety of facilities and locations, applying numerous different research strategies. As such, it is impossible for any government organization to "overrun" SETI, as it is not at all centralized.

That said, one of the most visible organizations involved in SETI research is the SETI Institute in Mountain View CA. In collaboration with the UC Berkeley radio astronomy lab and several prominent private investors, they have been developing an advanced radio telescope array at Hat Creek in Northern CA. The Allen Telescope Array is being used mostly for SETI research. In addition, to raise funding to support the instrument, SETI Institute and UC Berkeley have received grants to provide telescope observing time to a number of different organizations.

One of these grants is to the US Navy, which pays for the occasional use of the instrument for their own purposes. So yes, to at least that extent, some SETI facilities are being used by the Government for non-SETI purposes (for a price). Whether this constitutes being "overrun" I leave to your own interpretation, but my opinion is that the Navy has no interest whatever in SETI science, and certainly knows no "secrets" in which I would be interested.

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