back to article US spy chief wants 'some control' over satellite imagery

An American intelligence boss has hinted at curbs on commercial satellite imagery to prevent its use by enemies of the USA. "If there was a situation where any imagery products were being used by adversaries to kill Americans, I think we should act," vice Admiral Robert Murrett, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence …


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  1. Martin Gregorie

    No, not more space junk

    "or even shooting down troublesome satellites, like the Chinese" - no no! Anything but that. There is quite enough junk in orbit without blowing up any more satellites, thank you very much.

    Fortunately that isn't needed - instead of blowing up a satellite, all you need is a paintball gun or a rattle can: just motor up to the satellite you want to blind and paint it and its lenses matt black. As a bonus this will fry its electronics too.

    A really smart satkiller would add suitable graffiti, such as "Kilroy was here", as a final touch.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They've done it before

    The US Government suppressed satellite images from 9/11.

    In fact, it was more sinister than that. AVHRR imagery is routinely used to map big fires around the world (they catch the smoke plume). So by the afternoon of 9/11, it had appeared as usual on the Web for all to see.

    The following day it had gone. But not only had the imagery gone: history had been rewritten to say it had never been there! By the Friday it was back, processed and annotated to make it more friendly to the public.

    Now this imagery is acquired by NOAA weather satellites, and is wide-area imagery at a spatial resolution of about 1km per pixel, so most unlikely to show anything of traditional military or terrorist significance (it is high-resolution in a temporal sense: every point on the Earth's surface is revisited every few hours: by contrast, high-res imagery that shows small objects only captures a tiny area by comparison, and won't typically revisit for several weeks).

    And it's amongst the most important data in the scientific community. Scientists don't react to world events - even catastrophic ones - by suppressing data. On the contrary, they want more of it! The suppression of this imagery is utterly out of character for anyone working on this data (I worked on it myself from 1995 to 1997, and on a related project in 1998/9). That order didn't come from a scientist.

    So, why suppress this imagery? I can only imagine it being a panic order. What did they have to hide?

  3. Gary McCabe


    To the poster of "They've done it before".

    Really? Could you give us some evidence of this, please?


  4. Dillon Pyron


    SEASAT was supposed to provide us with remarkable images of the sea bed. The first satellite when off line within moments of it's first image. These were overseen by the US Navy. The rumor has always been that the first thing they saw were submarines.

    There never were anymore satellites of this configuration launched.


  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    No, the first thing SEASAT saw was Cthulhu

  6. Ken Lord

    They started this during the first gulf war

    The USA started oganizing first purchase rights of satellite images from private venders to cover their lies because of the First gulf war.

    The Americans were caught lying about Saddam Hussein's military intentions (gee surprise). They claimed that they had to invade immediately because Saddam had 1500+ tanks and a quarter million troops lined up to invade Saudi Arabia.

    An American journalist ... in what may be the last example of an american journalist actually doing good unbiased in-depth investigation ... bought satellite images from a private vendor, of the area where troops were supposedly amassed, and exposed the American government as a bunch of lying bastards. There were no troops, no tanks, no tracks, just sand. Lots of sand, in fact many roads in the area were so buried with sand that no troop vehicals could have passed. Other vehicals and tracks could easily be seen ... vehicals used in servicing oil wells ... but no great Iraqi army.

    The USA government claimed that perhaps the journalist had acquired images from an earlier date by mistake ... but they have never revealed any of their own images to prove that the Iraqi troops were truly there.

    Here's the archived original article by the journalist:

    So, even way back in 1990, when the USA actually had justifiable reasons to invade Iraq, they were making up evidence and lying to their own people to gain support.

    Seems to be the only thing Dubya learned from his father.

  7. JC

    To the posters

    To the poster of "They've done it before" and Ken Lord:

    *Queue sinister music* Dum dum dum dum dummmmmmm

  8. Tim J

    SEASAT's failure was no conspiracy

    It was just a cock-up... at least that's the view of the author of this article from the Space Review:

    "[...] In 1977, NASA launched a radar satellite known as Seasat and used to observe the oceans. Seasat failed early in its mission, and there has long been speculation that the satellite had successfully detected American submarines at sea and this was so alarming that it prompted the Navy and/or the intelligence community to demand that the satellite be shut off. However, this story seems highly unlikely. If the satellite had been so successful, it seems more likely that the military and intelligence communities would have wanted it to continue in order to gather more data. At the very least, they would have wanted to try and track Soviet submarines. They could have easily classified the data while keeping the satellite in operation. There has been enough information released on Seasat’s failure to make it clear that a simple malfunction, and not a government conspiracy, was the real problem."

  9. Alan Maher


    Technological advances, are not concurrent with advances in human nature or intelligence.

    There are so many satellites whizzing above our heads providing imagery, and weather, and terrain data, that I am surprised that more have not banged into each other, and provided us with the sight of unearthly firestorms that might frighten horses.

    In my humble observation, many of the things that have been described as intelligence coups, or events that support the "conspiracy theorist" allegations, are just the normal ebb and flow of human intelligence.

    In the end, it is a subjective judgement that decides to take some action based upon an observation from a great height, in a one dimensional aspect.

    It is a more intelligent, and objective decision, to take some action based upon practical and demonstrable evidence provided by individuals who are on the ground and know their turf. Sure, a few spy satellite photos might add weight to the evidence, but to rely on these images as the primary source of intelligence, is completely foolhardy.

    I very much doubt that terrorists use satellite imagery as a means to discover the weak points of their protagonists, although they may use it as means to reinforce whatever point of view they are attempting to "market" to their leaders.

    I am more inclined to believe that they use it like most people, a quick and free map of the area that they are in. And possibly a clue to the local weather forecast.

    What amazes me is today's news that Iran has done a test launch of a new North Korean missile.

    How did it get there? Did the spy satellites not observe it being shipped? Who was the middleman- given North Korea's status as the odd man out lately?

    I suspect good old human intelligence might be needed to work that one out.

    Those questions will not be resolved by satellite imagery.

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