Jobs @ MG
Buying up the evidence
By Duncan Campbell
|The US military does not need the
pictures for its own purposes because it already has six imaging
satellites in orbit.. (that) takes hotographic images estimated to be six
to 10 times better than...Ikonos."
According to the London Guardian (17 October), the Pentagon has spent
millions of dollars to prevent western media from seeing highly accurate
civilian satellite pictures of the effects of bombing in Afghanistan.
The images, which are taken from Ikonos, an advanced civilian satellite
launched in 1999, are better than the spy satellite pictures available to
the military during most of the cold war.
The extraordinary detail of the images already taken by the satellite
includes a line of terrorist trainees marching between training camps at
Jalalabad. At the same resolution, it would be possible to see bodies
lying on the ground after last week's bombing attacks.
Under American law, the US defence department has legal power to exercise
"shutter control" over civilian satellites launched from the US
in order to prevent enemies using the images while America is at war. But
no order for shutter control was given, even after the bombing raids began
10 days ago.
The decision to shut down access to satellite images was taken last
Thursday, after reports of heavy civilian casualties from the overnight
bombing of training camps near Darunta, north-west of Jalalabad. Instead
of invoking its legal powers, the Pentagon bought exclusive rights to all
Ikonos satellite pictures of Afghanistan off Space Imaging, the company
which runs the satellite. The agreement was made retrospectively to the
start of the bombing raids.
The US military does not need the pictures for its own purposes because it
already has six imaging satellites in orbit, augmented by a seventh
launched last weekend. Four of the satellites, called Keyholes, take
photographic images estimated to be six to 10 times better than the 1
metre resolution available from Ikonos.
The decision to use commercial rather than legal powers to bar access to
satellite images was heavily criticised by US intelligence specialists
last night. Since images of the bombed Afghan bases would not have shown
the position of US forces or compromised US military security, the ban
could have been challenged by news media as being a breach of the First
Amendment, which guarantees press freedom.
"If they had imposed shutter control, it is entirely possible that
news organisations would have filed a lawsuit against the government
arguing prior restraint and censorship," said Dr John Pike, of Global
security, a US website which publishes satellite images of military and
alleged terrorist facilities around the world.
The only alternative source of accurate satellite images would be the
Russian Cosmos system. But Russia has not yet decided to step into the
information void created by the Pentagon deal with Space Imaging.