Monday, October 15, 2012

Training for the Bin Laden Raid

Last Monday, this blog ran a post about how Google, Apple, and Nokia have been applying varying degrees of censorship to the imagery they provide online (see: Blurring the World for Security's Sake: Google, Apple, and Nokia). Since those blurring efforts are focused on military and economic locations of national significance for countries around the globe, the quality of the respective censorship efforts have been inviting review by military, security and legislative leaders worldwide. As an example, last Tuesday Taiwan let it be known that it was upset about imagery Apple was serving up of a top secret military radar facility.  Even more interesting, by week's end another twist on this story emerged when Cryptome announced it had used differences in source imagery and collection dates to locate the training site for the Bin Laden raid. This time, Bing was the one unintentionally offering up the revealing imagery. More below:

Satellite Images of the CIA's Secret Bin Laden Training Facility (The Atlantic Wire, October 9, 2012)

Osama bin Laden Compound Raid Mock-up (Cryptome, October 9, 2012)

Comment: There are at least four take-aways coming out of these recent stories about the amazing level of imagery now available online from commercial vendors:
1.) If you are doing something you don't want the bad guys to know about, military satellites and aerial collects aren't the only ones you need to worry about.
2.) Depending on location, resolution varies by vendor. Examples below:

3.) The currency of photos can change by scale.  In the full "zoom in" example of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport found below, note the Northwest Airlines paint job on the aircraft. Given the aircraft type on the left were all changed from Northwest to Delta Air Lines colors by March 2010, the default image below is at least two years old. However, when backing out the zoom using the minus button on the left side of the image, note the aircraft paint scheme changes to that of Delta, which means the small scale images for this location are more current than the large scale.

4.) Provided limitations are understood, online imagery providers like Google and Bing have a lot to offer the response community. However, local units of government typically have access to imagery that has even better resolution and is more current. Consequently, any responder who wants access to the best imagery available for his/her area of responsibility needs to be thinking about the who/how/where of what's available before a disaster strikes.

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