The December 24 broadcast of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s national news included, expectably, some Christmas-related stories. One of these was an interview with two Canadian officers speaking from Peterson Air Force Base in Winnepeg. The soldiers were there to tell us that this was the 45th year that NORAD (the North American Air Defence Command) would be tracking Santa’s annual flight, and that this year Santa would be escorted by two jet fighter planes as he made his way across Canadian skies.
The screen opened up to a shot from the Santa Cam — a computer graphic simulation of Santa in red with his reindeer, soaring through the sky over Canada, sled full of gifts, flanked on either side by a jet fighter.
It was an odd sight, and I wondered why Santa would need a military escort. Was he in danger? Was Canada? Was Santa — with his outlandish clothing and long beard — a security threat in Canadian air space?
Curious, I went to the web site provided for the kids (http://www.noradsanta.org) to “track Santa’s progress” over Christmas Eve.
There I learned, as would curious children on Christmas Eve, that NORAD is a bi-national American and Canadian military organization which “provides warning of missile and air attack against both of its member nations, safeguards the air sovereignty of North America, and provides air defense forces for defense against an air attack.”
I also discovered that NORAD would monitor Santa using “four high-tech systems.”
The North Warning System, a network of 47 radar installations spread across Northern Canada and Alaska, would establish when Santa was off the ground.
Then a satellite system would go into effect. Using infrared technology, “the same satellites that we use in providing warning of possible missile launches aimed at North America” would track the jolly crew from 22300 miles above the earth. This would be easy, I was told, because “Rudolph’s nose gives off an infrared signature similar to a missile launch.”
The data gathered by the satellites would be used to coordinate fighter jets, which would scramble to join the chase as Santa entered Canadian air space.
And finally, viewers at home could track the action using the Santa Cam.
I opened up the Santa Cam and watched Santa fly past the Capitol in Washington, through the metropolis of Philedelphia, over Canadian waters, and curl around the Eiffel tower and Taj Mahal. I even saw him make a trip up to the International Space Station.
But in his gift-giving journey around the world in 2002, Santa did not visit Afghanistan or Iraq or even the Middle East (although, according to another Christmas-related news story, many stayed away from Bethlehem this year).
The closest he got was the Persian Gulf, where from a satellite’s-eye view the Santa Cam swooped down to follow Santa cruising past aircraft carriers and military helicopters.
I suppose the children in those parts of the world had learned to expect a different type of gift delivered from a different type of vehicle this year.
But I wondered about North American kids, and the information they were receiving from the Santa Cam. Judging by the abundant military hardware shown, Santa was surely flying through a dangerous world. And judging by the numerous US sites he visited — compared to the single stops or none which he made in other parts of the world — Santa was surely partial to Americans.
As I dug deeper into the web site, though, it all became clear.
This year’s Santa tracking was brought to us by the team of: NORAD (the “military organization responsible for the aerospace defense of the United States and Canada”); Analytical Graphics (“the producer of Satellite Tool Kit, the leading commercially available analysis and visualization software for the aerospace and defense communities”); Etheriel Web Marketing (an expert in “building complex Web applications, converting websites for wireless access, [and] full blown promotional and media campaigns”); Ampersand Creative (which deals with “brand development, printed collateral, catalog design, Web site design, HTML e-mail and direct mail”); Globelink (which “specializes in helping firms conduct business in the global arena”); America Online (“the world’s leader in interactive services, Web brands, Internet technologies, and e-commerce services”); and WorldCom (which “keeps the government running when unexpected events occur”).
Santa, and peace on earth, had been branded in the corporate War on Terror.
ASIF DEVJI lives in Montreal, Canada. Devji can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org