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In a planet within our solar system, the US Government with the help of a private space industry discovers a really special cool McGuffin mineral. It is super shiny. However, the US Government doesn't want to let everyone know about it and so instills the ____ Agency to go keep it secret with guards, concealment, and checkpoints around the deposit.

The US was given permission by the UN to set up a colonization effort on the planet, as a reason for the US installations already being on the planet and to avoid a war.

What US Government Agency would handle something like this?

This is near-future, ~40 years ahead of current time.

The Outer Space Treaty (1967) is largely ignored at this point in time. The US, the US's private space industries, and the ESA are the only entities capable of going to the planet. The ESA is complicit in the actions of the US.

In my own research I found the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), which might work, however if nothing else fits, I may have to make an imaginary one.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jun 22 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ No Such Agency (NSA), of course. $\endgroup$ Jun 22 at 20:54
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    $\begingroup$ I'm dubious you can cover up something of that magnitude, with the ESA, the UN, and private industry being all involved, even if they don't all have the full picture. $\endgroup$ Jun 23 at 7:24
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    $\begingroup$ Who gave the UN the authority to make decisions about extraterrestrial colonization? And what are the reasons for anyone to care about their permissions or lack thereof? $\endgroup$
    – johnyu
    Jun 23 at 11:13
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    $\begingroup$ It's your world, yet I have a hard time imagining China, Japan, India, Russia, and others from agreeing in the UN to allow this, and a hard time imagining that one or more of these countries also don't have the capability. $\endgroup$
    – Allan
    Jun 24 at 16:50

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In the United States, mining materials programs are managed by the Department of Energy. The mining management portfolio is a legacy of both the Bureau of Mines (terminated in the 1990s) and of nuclear fuel production and stockpile management since the 1940s.

They have a great deal of experience with secrecy, as the same department continues to handle various national security-related nuclear programs.

While various government agencies from several departments would be involved with keeping MacGuffin mining and refining secret (and safe, and minimally environmentally disruptive, and free of spies, and out of the press, etc.), the person that the President and the Congress would hold responsible for the entire MacGuffin program would be the Secretary of Energy.

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The cover up is going to require secrecy across multiple jurisdictions

First and foremost, you need to control information at the space agency level. In all likelihood, this means that NASA and/or Space Force personnel will be needed and used for transportation of the material. The Department of Energy may or may not be included in operations. Since off-world resources require a clearly different set of skills, it is likely that a new department will be formed after a while for the mining and handling of the material, but at first, I would assume the mining will be done directly under the authority of the relevant US space agency(s).

Beyond this, a rare material is useless without research, development, and production lines to handle it. This would likely be headed by DARPA and/or the OSRD.

But the actual "Cover Up" will likely fall to the CIA

While each department requires secrecy, you need to do damage control to mitigate any information that does leak out, and that is there the CIA comes in. Since it is impossible to prevent any true information from reaching the US's political enemies, it is important to mix in enough false information so that you can't tell it apart. One of the key roles of the CIA has always been to provide false information to help blur the truth. So, other nations may occasionally receive a report about Plant X's McGuffin reserves, but they also get reports about alien fossils, crude oil, helium-3, platinum, bioweapons research, and all sorts of other fascinating and often ridiculous finds and uses on the planet.

Buried under a web of unbelievable conspiracy theories, most foreigners would simply toss out the existence of the McGuffin mineral along with most of the other lies since it would be among the more outrageous, and clearly made up claims.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 because most probably it would involve all of these agencies, and then some, and probably some private contractors such as SpaceX or ULA for making the rockets, maybe some private research labs as well. $\endgroup$ Jun 23 at 7:19
  • $\begingroup$ @AmiralPatate I did not include SpaceX because SpaceX personnel are not required to be in any way in direct contact with the material. While it will likely be SpaceX rockets making the trip, the people on board those ships will likely be military personal. Any civilian contractors sent on the actual missions are more likely to be miners and geologists, not rocket scientists. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jun 24 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ Fair. I was thinking they'd know the mission profile for the rocket, i.e. they'd know if the rocket was to bring back industrial quantities of the stuff. But I realise OP didn't mention how much of it would be transported back, if any. $\endgroup$ Jun 27 at 5:52
  • $\begingroup$ @AmiralPatate Going back to the CIA's mission of false information: SpaceX can know they are bringing back several tons of something. Tell them it's a rare earth metal like Iridium or Rhodium (which are worth thousands of dollars per ounce), and they won't question the cost of the mission. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jun 27 at 13:42
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Invent your own!

You've very specifically created a situation where every existing organisation who could have some say in the matter has been excluded. You've also created a masquerade where the existence of this super shiny mineral and the true reason for colonisation have to be concealed from the general public, so no existing agency could possibly be trusted to not leak the existence of this masquerade. More than that, even the existence of this agency would have to be secret in order to preserve the masquerade. You have no option but to invent your own agency here.

But why would you?

Why would the US care whether anyone else knew about it?

The existence of the mineral can't be a secret, because the only reason a mineral is valuable is if you can do something with it, and manufacturing can't be kept a secret. And space travel is far too publicly visible to hide heavily-loaded transports coming back to Earth. It's trivially obvious that they'll be bringing something back, and if this coincides with the sudden appearance of a particular ore with non-terrestrial properties, any idiot could put two and two together.

So suppose everyone knows about it. That'd only be an issue if other nations could send up an expeditionary force capable of clearing out the colonists and installing their own people. But the US (by the terms of your question) is the only nation capable of getting there, so it really doesn't matter. And if they're not totally complacent, they'll have observation systems in place to check for anyone trying to get there (remember that everyone's spacecraft are visible to everyone) and some kind of defensive systems to make life really uncomfortable for them (remember that spacecraft can't have any significant thickness of walls if you want them to get out of the gravity well).

And you mention avoiding war. If we suppose the US is the only country capable of this kind of tech, then de facto they're also the military leader. War with them isn't going to happen then, for the same reason it's not happening now.

It looks rather like you're basing your worldbuilding on a fair bit of logical inconsistency, and that's not a great place to be.

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  • $\begingroup$ Logically inconsistent world building? That would never happen!!! $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Jul 6 at 16:49
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There's no rational basis on which you can make such a prediction

Government agencies overlap all the time. Who actually does what in an edge case like this isn't decided by any honest evaluation of agencies' intended function. It's decided by competition among the career bureaucrats, and politics by the political appointees and senior administration figures. You could hope that legislation might clarify it, but then you have to know what legislation has been passed.

My personal bet is on the Department of Public Safety, or Department of Antiracism, both of which, while currently not existing, have significant backers who would create and empower them to do anything, which puts them in pole position to take valuable minerals.

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The Navy

Specifically, the Navy Civil Engineer Corps, which I assume is the Navy's analog of the Army Corps of Engineers.

It seems to me like ACE is the American government's in-house construction company, who they turn to when the stakes are really high and they don't have the "luxury" of mucking around with the private sector.

But the Army generally stays in non-hostile atmosphere. There's plenty of sci-fi where the American government's space activities fall under the umbrella of the Navy.

So, in this scenario, I imagine the NCEC would be responsible for doing all the construction at the extraction sites, as well as support buildings and staging areas. There would be a mix of scientific and material experts who are not affiliated with the government, but they'd all be "in the Navy's house," and so the person in charge at every site would be a Naval officer, and they all report up to Navy brass and then the Joint Chiefs.

I think the Navy would have zero problem with secrecy. They babysit our nukes and do all kinds of secret crap in submarines on the regular.

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    $\begingroup$ The US now has 6th branch of the military called Space Force. By the time we have boots on other worlds, it seems likely that this branch will mature enough to have its own Space Force Civil Engineer Corps. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jun 23 at 13:39
  • $\begingroup$ “Navy Civil Engineers” makes no sense. Besides, they already have Construction Battalions. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Jul 6 at 18:41
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The Department of Interior is responsible for the administration of the mineral resources of the United States. Note that they have their own Internal Security Division (doi.gov), which manages the MIB Intrusion Detection System. (No joke, but sadly, in this case MIB = Main Interior Building.)

I would suggest that the Department of Exterior would be responsible for the administration of the mineral resources found offworld.

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I have a few different notes:

  • By now many people are well aware of the mathematical study done for the number of people who can know a secret/conspiracy before it comes into the open (see this nice short article).

  • That being said if the material is potentially dangerous then they might just try to keep it as a military secret which means either DOE (as in @user535733’s response) or the DOD.

    • There are a lot of good arguments for DOE as they handle a lot of top-secret projects in terms of the dangers of energy.
    • If the material were immediately weaponizable (Plutonium?) it would still go under DOE! (as it currently does!)
  • That being said, if the politics were at play it might end up staying under the DOD as part of the Space Force itself (even though it is new, we can expect that it will exist in 40 years).

  • Currently, all of the military branches have some touch on space through the need for military communications satellites. It is yet to be seen how much of this flows over to the Space Force in the coming future.

  • I would also note that in 40 years it is very realistic that there will be plenty of independent organizations who could be the ones who discover it and you could play all sorts of havoc with their specific contracts with the governments of earth. (For example, there are only two countries that currently allow for the exploitation of outer space materials, the USA and Luxembourg.)

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You would have to re-write several laws. Barring change of federal policy or wide and massive corruption, it can’t actually be any civilian agency. The problem is, NASA being hugely expensive (as far as the public and congress see it), pretty much everything it does falls under some sort of public access policy. You can get a temporary embargo for some very specific things, but it’s a process. unless your initial discovery is immediately recognized as earth shatteringly sensitive, the presumed innocuous data gets released, and unrelated scientists will downloaded it on the off chance they can scoop the primary investigators. You either need a cyber-magic undo button to rein in all the imagery and raw data that ended up public before the powers that be realized they need a cover up, or you need a situation to overcome public release. So for example, the NRO can get certain embargoes on satellite imagery, but Richguy McBillionaire cant just pay to hide his orphan safari canned-hunting preserve. Now if the country we’re already at war, you could manhattan project to your heart’s content, no problem.

tl;dr if your discovery takes any significant time to be recognized, the cat will be out of the bag. If your mineral instantly does something dramatic, dangerous or impossible upon discovery… maybe the NSA gets involved. If there is a lengthy process of isolation, testing, and refining before some research team has an “Oh sh” moment- no, the public (or at least other competing specialists in that field) will know it exists (though perhaps not how important it is).

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