Tuesday, September 24, 2002

A satellite view from the web

The New York Times reporter, Erik Umansky, reports in the International Herald Tribune (the 23rd of September), about how we can survey the American and Iraqi military build-up in the Gulf region.
Spy satellites that before were closely guarded secrets, are now available to you and me. The American military brass in Pentagon is of course not very happy. The Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld have groaned and complained, but he cannot stop the development of a new industry, which some say is the next information revolution.
Some voices in the US say that it is time to stop (by any means) these commercial satellites that discloses national secrets, but the free word is strong. - Let’s hope that the right of speech and look prevails.

We, amateur strategists and fantasy generals, can now, with the help of the information from www.globalsecurity.org analyse the situation in Iraq and decide if we can strike at Saddam Hussein or not.
The site is very ambitious and has a lot of information, though one can see that it is a site under construction. Many of the headlines are for the moment empty. But what I have seen is that the US has a chilling military power. The site contains various tables and articles regarding the situation in the Middle East. The interested reader can really get a full picture of the situation and draw his/hers own conclusions.
Look, for example, at the build-up of the American air base Al – Udeid in Qatar, where during the past six months, a considerable military force has been developed, with new aircraft shelters, storage tanks and parking ramps.

The site, the Global Security, has it’s own philosophy:
GlobalSecurity.org is a non-profit non-partisan policy research group. We receive no government or corporate contracts, and are entirely dependent on public support for our operations. We are focused on innovative approaches to the emerging security challenges of the new millennium. The organization seeks to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons. It aims to shift American conventional military forces towards new capabilities aligned with the post-Cold War security environment. The organization is working to improve the capabilities of the American intelligence community to respond to new and emerging threats, reducing the need to resort to the use of force, while enhancing the effectiveness of military forces when needed.

Regarding the development of satellite pictures, I take the liberty to cite Eric Umansky:
It used to be that only the spy agencies of the two superpowers had the ability to take snapshots from space. That changed 16 years ago when a French commercial-government joint venture launched the world's first satellite offering photographs for sale. The quality of those early pictures wasn't particularly good, but in late 1999, an American company, Space Imaging, launched the first high-resolution satellite, Ikonos. It can take pictures with a clarity 10 times that of the French satellite -- enough to spot a car on the ground or an American airfield. Ikonos, as well as another American commercial satellite launched this year, took the photographs of Al-Udeid. As with the Internet and Global Positioning Satellites, the Defense Department invented the satellite imaging technology, and it has tried since to keep some control over it. A 1992 law allows the government to declare any part of the earth off-limits to American commercial satellites to "meet significant national security or significant foreign policy concerns.

Of course freedom-of-speech advocates have contested the law. They argued that “the shutter control” was so vague that it is unconstitutional:
"It's that there must be a clear and present danger. This law forgets that."

Last October, during the Afghan campaign, the US government bought the rights of Space Imaging of the space over Afghanistan for $4 million. Someone in the Pentagon obviously got the bright idea that the Talibans and Al Queda might have access to Internet and could analyse the American movements there. It was a straight business deal. So far, according to Umanski, the US has not yet bought the rights over the Gulf, so we amateurs can continue making our own plans regarding the Gulf War II.

Globalsecurity.com does not only contain American air bases, but also Iraqi and Iranian research centres and other bases. Their developments are also chilling. The satellite photos are very descriptive and show how these countries steadily improve their research and military capability. – I wonder how it all will end?

Written by Erik Edelstam

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