For the second time in history government plotting could kill a Galileo. This time, a secret letter from the US government to European ministers of defence requests that they put the brakes on the Galileo global positioning satellite project, which could signal the end of the European effort to create an alternative to GPS.

The US does not explicitly demand that the project be cancelled in the letter, but if the EU yields to US pressure the project is doomed.

Gilles Gantelet, press spokesman to EU commissioner of transportation, Loyola de Palacio, reportedly admitted, "Galileo is almost dead."

For several years the US has lobbied against the Galileo project. One argument used is that GPS, the satellite positioning system operated by the US Department of Defense, is all that is needed. A secret letter sent by US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to EU defence ministers adds to the campaign.

In his letter, Wolfowitz says there are several national security problems with Galileo. Signals from Galileo satellites might interfere with GPS signals — this applies to the GPS-M system, only available to US forces. The other problem is that the Galileo system might itself be used for military purposes.

The secret letter was sent on 1 December last year to the ministers of defence in those EU countries that are Nato members. The target, though, was the EU ministers of transportation, who met on 6 December, as it is they who actually handle Galileo.

"I do not believe the current civil forum being used by the EC provides the proper venue to fully assess the security implications," Wolfowitz wrote. Translated from diplomatic jargon, Wolfowitz's statement could be interpreted as discouraging civilians from dealing with something that should be handled by the military.

Wolfowitz urged the ministers of defence to "convey these security concerns" to the ministers of transportation. They need to make sure that Galileo does not interfere with the frequencies needed for the military part of GPS. If the EU is planning to adapt Galileo for military use, Wolfowitz wants this to be discussed "in an appropriate forum". That likely means a military forum.

However, any such discussion must be concluded before 25 March, which seems impossible. The meeting of the EU ministers of transportation that day will, in effect, determine the fate of Galileo.