from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2008, Issue No. 109
November 10, 2008

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As the quality and availability of commercial satellite imagery continue to improve, the technology is adding a new dimension to public understanding of world events, while both enhancing and challenging national and global security.

"Last month, the most powerful commercial satellite in history sent its first pictures back to Earth, and another with similar capabilities is set for launch in mid-2009," wrote Peter Eisler in USA Today last week. "The imagery provided by those and other commercial satellites has transformed global security in fundamental ways, forcing even the most powerful nations to hide facilities and activities that are visible not only to rival nations, but even to their own citizens."

See "Google Earth helps yet worries government," November 7.

Iraqi insurgents and other violent non-state actors have also taken advantage of the new capabilities offered by satellite imagery.

A 2006 dispatch prepared by the DNI Open Source Center (first reported by USA Today) documented "the use of Google Earth for tactical planning of rocket attacks against U.S. military targets in Iraq." See "Iraqi Insurgency Group Utilizes Google Earth for Attack Planning," July 19, 2006.

A newly disclosed GeoEye commercial satellite image of the site of a suspected Syrian nuclear facility at Al Kibar that was taken on November 23, 2007, some two months after it was bombed by Israel on September 6, 2007, shows rather rapid reconstruction of the destroyed facility.

"I'd say it confirms that the Syrians were in a really big hurry to get the site covered up," said Allen Thomson, a former CIA analyst who has studied the case. "The previously available DigitalGlobe picture of 24 October 2007 showed only a mound of dirt. By a month later (the GeoEye pic), what appears to be a thick slab (you can see that it casts a shadow) was in place. And January 11 photography shows the new building up and the roof in place."

The new image was released last week courtesy of GeoEye / Space Imaging Middle East. It appears on page 1170 of an extensive open source compilation on the Israeli Strike in Syria prepared by Mr. Thomson.


Prof. James C. Warf, a Manhattan Project chemist, author and activist, died last week.

An early member of the Federation of American Scientists, Dr. Warf held patents on the separation of plutonium from high-level nuclear waste. He taught chemistry at the University of Southern California for forty years, specializing in rare earth metals. He also taught for ten years in Indonesia and Brunei and, his son recalled, he wrote the first textbooks on organic and inorganic chemistry in the Indonesian language. He was a skilled amateur vintner and happily gave away samples of his product.

Dr. Warf also gave generously of his time and expertise to public interest groups concerned with nuclear weapons and nuclear reactor safety. He was a fundamentally decent man.

He was remembered in "James C. Warf dies at 91; Manhattan Project chemist became peace activist, USC professor" by Claire Noland, Los Angeles Times, November 9.


"Pakistan -- a key U.S. ally in global efforts to combat Islamist militancy -- is in urgent need of an estimated $4 billion in capital to avoid defaulting on its sovereign debt." See "Pakistan's Capital Crisis: Implications for U.S. Policy," Congressional Research Service, November 7, 2008:

A new Pentagon manual issued by Under Secretary of Defense (Intelligence) James R. Clapper prescribes the implementation of the Department of Defense operations security (OPSEC) program. OPSEC is the process of identifying sensitive information that could be exposed to hostile collection in the course of military operations, and taking steps to protect such information. See "DoD Operations Security (OPSEC) Program Manual," DoD Manual 5205.02M, November 3, 2008.

The state of national preparedness for a bioterrorist incident was examined last year in a newly published congressional hearing, which includes supplementary questions and answers for the record. See "Six Years After Anthrax: Are We Better Prepared to Respond to Bioterrorism?", Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, October 23, 2007.


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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