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[infowar.de] SPT 15.03.03: U.S. satellites won't be watching alone
Die übliche Vorkriegsbedrohungsprosa (klar, Irak bedroht USA), diesmal
womöglich durch "hijacking data" from an American satellite (eine technisch
nicht ganz richtige und somit kecke Formulierung). Auch einige
Unrichtigkeiten, was die Ikonos-Nutzung im Afghanistan-Feldzug anbelangte.
St. Petersburg Times March 15, 2003
U.S. satellites won't be watching alone
By Jean Heller, Times Staff Writer
If there is a war with Iraq, at least a dozen nations will watch it unfold
from space, including some countries that oppose U.S. policies in the
That means a hostile government could share satellite intelligence about
U.S. war strategy with Saddam Hussein.
Or Iraq itself, which has no satellites but does possess sophisticated
intercept equipment, might just steal the data.
"It has happened before," said Bill Kennedy, a veteran satellite imaging
specialist in Washington, D.C. "A Japanese university was caught hijacking
data from (an American) Landsat satellite as it flew over Japan. You have
to have a high level of technology and sophistication, but it can be done.
It has been done."
A profusion of both spy and commercial satellites in the last several years
virtually guarantees that nothing done in the open can remain a secret for
long. Some satellites boast technology that allows them to clearly see
objects as small as 2 feet.
If Hussein wanted, for example, to use chemical or biological weapons
against opposing forces, a government with a bird's eye view of Iraq and
the region could tell him which forces were operating where. Hussein
himself might possess the means to pirate the intelligence.
"Before the first Gulf War, Iraq's nuclear weapons establishment built up
an incredibly sophisticated network for procuring banned items," said Peter
Zimmerman, a physicist and long-time defense and foreign policy analyst in
Washington. "They could have rebuilt that network -- somehow they bought
banned aluminum tubes last year -- and salted it with some innocent
sounding organizations that already traffic in imagery for the Middle East.
"Besides, Saddam may be able to crack the simple encryption used to protect
downlinked commercial imagery data. Possibly he could even take control of
a satellite's functions."
Satellite intelligence could show Hussein that U.S. forces are ready to
launch and let him counter with chemical or biological agents.
"Just because he could doesn't mean he will," Zimmerman said. "But
satellite photos would be a useful aid in making such a decision one way or
The highly secretive National Imagery and Mapping Agency, which operates
many of the United States' best intelligence-gathering satellites,
acknowledged that foreign satellite intelligence could aid Iraq in a war.
"All sources of information about U.S. troops present risks that must be
appropriately assessed by those who review the operations security
procedures," said NIMA spokeswoman Joan Mears. "Commercial imagery is only
one factor. The U.S. military takes actions that mitigate the risk these
satellites may pose."
Mears deferred to the military on all questions about those possible
actions, and the military isn't talking.
It is difficult to gauge the scope of the threat, but Kennedy said the
proliferation of both government and commercial satellites leaves the door
"The list of countries with satellites up there is long and growing longer
every week: China, Brazil, Israel, India, Japan, Russia, France and others,
and some of those satellites are pretty doggone good ones," Kennedy said.
"With the fractioning of the U.N. Security Council, the Chinese, the
Indians, the French, who knows who might be willing to share information,
even with Saddam Hussein?"
Tim Brown, senior analyst with the nonprofit group GlobalSecurity.org in
Alexandria, Va., thinks the opportunities for mischief are limited.
"You have to ask yourself the question, if Saddam Hussein had the best
imagery available, what would that accomplish?" Brown said. "If they want
to know what's going on at a U.S. air base, do they need satellite imagery
to accomplish that, or is it information they can get from the ground? I
think the danger of the imagery is overblown."
The Russians, for example, who oppose a war with Iraq, are "much more
responsible than you might think about who they make their satellite images
available to," Brown said.
"But having said that," he added, "we know that selling arms in Russia is
an entrepreneurial exercise. Are there people who are tired of living in
their crappy Moscow apartments who might be willing to sell images to the
Iraqis? Probably. The trouble is, that might not help the Iraqis when the
war starts if their sources get cut off."
He also discounts leaks from the French, despite their adamant opposition
to a war with Iraq.
"Their animosity doesn't run to that level," Brown said. "The French see
the U.S. as a superpower that needs to be balanced out. They don't want to
be seen as partners to terrorists."
Satellite imaging most commonly is acquired above board at a hefty price,
with interests as diverse as oil companies, agribusiness, geologists,
forestry services and even the news media buying directly from the source.
This was true even during the first Gulf War, when satellite imaging was
far less common.
In September 1990, the first Bush administration said that 265,000 Iraqi
troops and at least 1,500 tanks were in Kuwait, many positioned along the
border with Saudi Arabia, poised for an invasion. Based on those reports,
the Saudis asked a coalition of forces, including the United States, to
The St. Petersburg Times purchased Soviet commercial satellite photos of
the border and had them examined in detail by two imaging specialists,
including Zimmerman. They found no evidence of significant military
buildups along the Saudi border.
After the war, Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
now secretary of state, acknowledged that there could have been far fewer
Iraqi troops in Kuwait than originally believed.
Since then, the use of satellite information has grown exponentially, even
by the U.S. government.
During Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, the Pentagon contracted
with Space Imaging, a Littleton, Co., concern, for all images of
Afghanistan and Pakistan that the company's satellite could produce between
Oct. 5, 2001, and Jan. 5, 2002.
The goal was not censorship but mapping, according to Mark Brender,
director of government relations.
"There was a lot of uncertainty after Sept. 11, and the Pentagon wanted to
keep its own satellites free to do intelligence work," Brender said. "The
most recent maps of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region were from the mid 80s,
Russian maps used during their war in Afghanistan. They were useless, so
the Defense Department used images from Ikonos to give U.S. troops
up-to-date mapping and terrain data."
Under a law passed in 1992, the federal government can close off all data
developed by American commercial satellites if the secretaries of state and
defense decide that's necessary. They can limit access to the data only to
protect international obligations, foreign policy and national security
The limitations are imposed by the secretary of commerce, whose department
licenses the satellites.
So far, Brender said, there are no indications that this will happen in the
event of war with Iraq.
"I think the administration finds it better to have the images in the
public domain," he said. "They show our strength and resolve to the Iraqis
and others who might need to see them."
Even if images from U.S. satellites were closed off, "it would be expensive
and difficult," Zimmerman says. "There are too many eyes in the sky. We
can't control them all."
-- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
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