19 February 1999. Thanks to Dan Dupont.

Inside the Pentagon, February 18, 1999

Public interest advocates argue . . .


By Richard Lardner

For decades, classified satellite and aerial reconnaissance systems have provided inside information about the military capabilities of America's opponents, allowing U.S. officials to develop appropriate strategies and influence public opinion. Public interest advocates predicted this week the spread of sophisticated commercial imaging systems coupled with declassified U.S. intelligence products will give non-governmental organizations that same power, a shift that portends a revolution in the way national security policies are shaped.

At a Feb. 16 conference sponsored by the Washington, DC-based Federation of American Scientists, John Pike, director of the organization's Space Policy Project, formally outlined an ongoing FAS initiative called "Public Eye." According to an FAS paper on Public Eye authored by Pike, he and others expect the effort to "materially alter the terms of public dialogue on a wide range of important policy fronts, particularly though not exclusively in the peace and security arena."

Specifically, FAS believes "emerging technologies and information systems" will give the public "capabilities which were previously the exclusive domain of the national security intelligence community." On top of that, once top-secret photos of Russian nuclear weapons sites are being declassified by the CIA. While difficult to access and interpret, the images could help to fill huge gaps in the public's understanding of the Cold War as well as influence current arms control and nonproliferation programs.

"Just as imagery intelligence informed and illuminated internal government policymaking, substituting fact for conjecture, now non-governmental analysts will have direct evidence to supplement traditional analytical sources and methods," the FAS paper reads.

"And just as powerful governments have in the past used imagery intelligence to make and shape the news, so too will non-governmental organizations be able to exploit and disseminate imagery to further their policy agenda. The news media has long recognized that a picture is worth a thousand words, and now non-governmental actors will have compelling pictures to draw attention to their stories, enabling them not only to shape news, but to make news by releasing timely imagery to the media," says FAS.

Pike and others, however, recognize this competitive vision will not be easy to fulfill. Whereas the U.S. intelligence community has billions of dollars at its disposal every year, Public Eye has recently secured enough funding to finance a one-year "pilot," said Pike. FAS continues to seek financial support and "strategic partners" for the effort, acknowledging that "the scope and pace of activities conducted under this initiative is conditioned by the availability of external support and partnering."  

In addition to finances, there "remains widespread unawareness of the impending availability of these imagery products as well as significant shortcomings in the computer hardware and software and associated exploitation skills set needed to exploit and disseminate this product," the paper reads. Emerging opportunities with signals intelligence and other technical collection products will likely present the same difficulties.

Robert Norris, senior staff analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council and director of the Nuclear Weapons Databook Project, said the availability of sophisticated imagery products will not replace tried and true research tactics. Interviews, field visits to Russian facilities and U.S. nuclear installations, and an ample understanding of military culture remain important "puzzle solving" tools, Norris said at the conference. "A picture is just a picture unless you know what to look for," he said.

Joshua Handler, formerly of Greenpeace's Nuclear Free Seas Campaign and now a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University, provided conference attendees a first-hand account of how the release of "Corona" imagery has already proved very beneficial.

Corona was the first series of U.S. reconnaissance satellites. The program operated during the throes of the Cold War, snapping hundreds of thousands of images of Soviet territory and other denied areas. In February 1995, President Clinton authorized the declassification and public release of the imagery acquired through Corona. As part of his doctorate program, Handler is working on a paper examining current nuclear weapons dealerting proposals and Russia's contention that it lacks the storage space required to hold all the nuclear warheads that would be removed from deactivated ballistic missiles. According to Handler, the Corona products "have been very useful."

In particular, Handler said the Corona imagery has permitted him to identify 10 "national-level" nuclear storage facilities in Russia. The photos revealed substantial details. For example, some facilities "are built in ravined areas where the bunkers seemingly may continue into a hillside." Older photos can also be compared with newer images, which often show significant new construction activity.

Handler's analysis, aided by the Corona products, indicates U.S./Russian Cooperative Threat Reduction efforts "are more feasible than ever." Handler also said in addition to arms control, declassified and new commercial imagery could offer substantial insights into military environmental issues like nuclear waste sites operated by Russia's Northern and Pacific fleets, as well as shipyards where submarines are decommissioned.

Oleg Bukharin, educated at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and now with Princeton's Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, noted that the principal elements of the former Soviet Union's nuclear weapons production infrastructure were built in 10 "secret" cities. "The fissile material production facilities have recently become somewhat more open," Bukharin says in a paper released Tuesday. "The Corona satellite imagery, however, is essential to confirm their locations and layouts, and to validate information about these facilities from other sources. The warhead production complex has been one of the most closely guarded secrets in the Soviet Union and Russia. The Corona satellite imagery provides a first look at its facilities."

Acknowledging the Public Eye effort faces challenges, Pike noted time will tell if "this type of activity enters the mainstream of public policy or remains a curiosity." For now, however, he's bullish about what he jokingly refers to as the "Non-Profit Imaging Center."

"The tens of thousands of dollars required [for Public Eye] are trivial compared to the hundreds of billions expended in such activities over the past several decades by the superpowers," his paper states. "We look forward to exploring opportunities to identify the requisite resources so that our community can fully reap the benefits of this impending information revolution."

Inside the Pentagon, February 18, 1999


By Richard Lardner

In 1995, the Clinton administration elected to release thousands of once highly classified satellite images of Russian and Chinese nuclear facilities. However, the administration did not make available the U.S. intelligence community's own analysis of these photographs taken by the Corona series of U.S. reconnaissance satellites.

According to a paper prepared by Charles Vick, a senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, this shortcoming "substantially diminishes" the historical utility of Corona. With just the images, Vick and colleagues like John Pike, director of FAS' Space Policy Project, are still able to learn a great deal. However, the photos would be much more valuable if the CIA's own text were to accompany them, he says.

"In a peculiar reversal of custom, CIA in this case has disclosed its 'sources and methods,' but continues to withhold its resulting analysis," states Vick's paper. "The Photographic Interpretation Reports based on the Corona imagery . . . have not been declassified -- except for a few samples released at the time the imagery was originally declassified."

Vick spoke this week at an FAS-sponsored conference entitled "Through the Keyhole: Public Policy Applications of Declassified Corona Satellite Imagery."

Vick also noted the CIA recently declassified some imagery from the U-2 spy aircraft but failed to publish an index of the photos. "This unfortunate practice calls into question the good-faith of the decision to declassify the U-2 imagery," writes Vick.

From a larger perspective, these decisions also undermine the original promise of greater openness on the part of the government, Vick adds.

"Everyone concerned acknowledges that overhead imagery from Corona and beyond is a unique resource for historical, environmental and other policy research which has barely begun to be tapped," he writes. "CIA's initial willingness to declassify the Corona imagery seemed to herald the dawn of a new era of openness in intelligence. But lately the agency has seemed to do everything possible to frustrate those who would make use of archival imagery."

Thanks to Anon.

Source: http://wire.ap.org/ (AP Breaking News)

Associated Press, 16 February 1999, 17:56 EST

Declassified Spy Photos Studied By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. spy satellite photographs of the Soviet Union taken during the Cold War are emerging from their shell of secrecy.

They were taken in the urgent context of the U.S.-Soviet nuclear standoff, but many now have been declassified and can be used for peaceful purposes, helping to verify and even advance arms reduction efforts, researchers say.

Thousands of images taken by CIA spy satellites from 1960 to 1972 had lain in the National Archives, spooled in reels 30 inches long by 2.5 inches wide. Now arms control experts are beginning to pore over the pictures, using microscopes to examine satellite pictures of such places as Krasnoyarsk-45 in south-central Russia, a super-secret Soviet uranium enrichment facility, and Zlatoust-36, a nuclear warhead assembly plant in Siberia.

At a symposium Tuesday at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, Joshua Handler of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School said the photographs show that Russia may have enough secure storage space to enable thousands more nuclear warheads to be removed from missiles under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Both Russia and the United States have faced a daunting task of financing adequate security for thousands of weapons storage sites scattered across the former Soviet Union. The specter of terrorists raiding a storage site, or of impoverished nuclear commanders selling them to rogue states, has been the driving force behind annual U.S. expenditures of more than $350 million per year in disarmament aid.

As Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakstan have eliminated their nuclear arsenals, however, the number of active storage sites has shrunk dramatically as has the cost of providing adequate security, Handler argued.

"Now it is clear that the number of storages is much smaller, their locations are more well-known and the possibility of understanding the cost of upgrading their security is much greater,'' Handler said. Based on Russian cost estimates, 20 national-level weapons storage sites and 60 smaller, military storage sites could be secured for $400 million.

The satellite photographs being used by Handler and others were taken under the CIA's Corona program, the world's first successful spy satellite system. The program was developed by rocket scientists pressing to find a replacement for U-2 spy planes after the downing of Francis Gary Powers' U-2 in 1960, and by optical scientists at Kodak in Rochester, N.Y., and Polaroid and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both in Cambridge, Mass.

Images of the Soviet Union taken by Corona satellites were among the most highly classified documents in U.S. hands until 1995 when the Clinton administration approved their declassification, mainly for use by environmentalists and historians.

"There's the gee-whiz factor -- nobody had seen these nuclear weapons storage sites before, whether from space or on the ground,'' Handler said.

To the untrained eye some of the photographs look like distant views of vast construction projects in a dense wood. Closer examination, however, reveals clues and patterns.

Characteristic looping road patterns point to weapons storage bunkers. Often a helipad or an elaborate perimeter fence indicate a project's sensitivity. And the Soviets sometimes placed soccer fields near troop quarters, providing a handy measuring stick for the size of various buildings.

Scholars examining the Corona pictures are hampered by the fact that little if any of the CIA analysis that went with the images has been declassified. These "photographic intelligence reports'' contained detailed descriptions of the facilities pictured, according to Charles Vick, an expert in Soviet rocketry for the Federation of American Scientists, a Washington-based research group that follows national security issues.

Still, Dr. Oleg Bukharin, co-author of a book on Russia's strategic nuclear weapons, said the Corona images will help diplomats understand the ways in which the U.S. and Soviet nuclear stockpiles are markedly different, which is essential to reaching workable arms reduction agreements.

Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.