Just two articles back, we wrote of the mysterious closure at the Sunspot Solar Observatory in Otero County, New Mexico. Without explanation, the FBI and various government agencies seized the facility and the local post office. Yesterday, both were reopened. The FBI has not issued a statement, but AURA, the organization managing the observatory said the following:
"On September 6th, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) made the decision to temporarily vacate the Sunspot Solar Observatory at Sacramento Peak, New Mexico as a precautionary measure while addressing a security issue. The facility closed down in an orderly fashion and is now re-opening. The residents that vacated their homes will be returning to the site, and all employees will return to work this week.
"AURA has been cooperating with an on-going law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak. During this time, we became concerned that a suspect in the investigation potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents. For this reason, AURA temporarily vacated the facility and ceased science activities at this location.
"The decision to vacate was based on the logistical challenges associated with protecting personnel at such a remote location, and the need for expeditious response to the potential threat. AURA determined that moving the small number of on-site staff and residents off the mountain was the most prudent and effective action to ensure their safety.
"In light of recent developments in the investigation, we have determined there is no risk to staff, and Sunspot Solar Observatory is transitioning back to regular operations as of September 17th. Given the significant amount of publicity the temporary closure has generated, and the consequent expectation of an unusual number of visitors to the site, we are temporarily engaging a security service while the facility returns to a normal working environment.
"We recognize that the lack of communications while the facility was vacated was concerning and frustrating for some. However, our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation. That was a risk we could not take."
While we haven't gone as far as many on the Web in declaring a cover-up; we can't agree with many of the scientific and 'debunking'-type sites who claim that the whole thing was blown out of proportion. That is because AURA's statement is a completely unsatisfactory explanation of what transpired; and it leaves many questions unanswered.
1. AURA claims that they notified the FBI of a security threat and criminal activity. Why didn't they notify the Otero County Sheriff first? Jeff Sessions has set up a new system whereby local authorities and federal co-ordinate activities. Yet, to this date, nobody has informed the local Sheriff of anything.
2. Relative to the last point: who sees suspicious activity and immediately thinks of calling the FBI? And when that does happen, how typically does the FBI respond by sending in a task force on somebody's say-so? It would be more reasonable to assume that if the FBI thought it credible, they'd ask the Sheriff to check it out and see if it was legitimate first.
3. Regardless of who called the FBI, AURA has no authority to close down a post office. Post Office closures didn't even happen during the Unabomber attacks or during the 2001 Anthrax attacks. And what relationship did the Post Office have to the Observatory anyway?
4. AURA makes the absurd claim that a public explanation would have alerted suspects and compromised the investigation---as if the presence of federal agents and attack helicopters would go unnoticed by the perpetrators.
5. If the crisis has now passed beyond the danger point, why not tell us what it involved?
And, as we asked in our last article: Is the timing of this incident and the 9/11 Anniversary in any way related? This lack of transparency and co-ordination with local officials is highly uncharacteristic of the Trump Administration and the Sessions DOJ. Sessions announces routinely the smashing of narcotics rings and other dangerous organizations in great detail. He often gives these press conferences with local police who participated present and describes how the suspects were caught. The Administration's behavior here is very anomalous for how they normally conduct things.
Given the Sessions DOJ's track-record, we're still inclined here to give the Administration the benefit of the doubt. But we are owed an explanation of some kind from the Government---which is a little more specific and credible than what we just heard from AURA. We sympathize too with Otero County Sheriff Benny House's resentment. He is the top jurisdictional authority here and should be advised. That's not simply out of courtesy, that's a legal obligation of Federal agencies operating within his county. One of the main criticisms of the previous three Administrations was their habit of interjecting Federal officials into a given area and brushing aside local law enforcement as though they were irrelevant.
This story is far from over with. At the very least, something more than an ordinary crime was suspected. Trump and Sessions owe it to Americans to give us an explanation.