from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
January 18, 2001


Interested members of the public can now study the theory and practice of photo-interpretation in a NASA Remote Sensing Tutorial available online.

The richly illustrated book-length Tutorial explores the use of satellite imagery (mainly from Landsat) for a variety of scientific, environmental and other applications, and introduces the reader to the techniques of photo-interpretation.

Study of this text may not qualify the reader as a professional photo-interpreter, but it will familiarize him or her with the questions that photo-interpreters ask, the analytical tools they have at their disposal, and the kinds of information they can provide.

Although the Tutorial does not specifically deal with intelligence imagery, the rudiments of photo-interpretation explored here are generally applicable to all forms of imagery analysis.

One might add that the diffusion of this kind of specialized knowledge into the public domain has the potential to alter the public's relationship to official imagery collection and analysis agencies, including traditionally secret agencies, in interesting ways. It helps to further erode the mystique cultivated by intelligence officials, who formerly held a monopoly on high-resolution satellite imagery. More important, it also helps to support an intelligence-related knowledge base that is independent of the intelligence bureaucracy with its anachronistic information control policies.

The Remote Sensing Tutorial was originally published by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in 1999 (with updates in 2000), and was co-sponsored by the U.S. Air Force Academy. The primary author is Nicholas M. Short. It is re-posted with permission here:


Allegations that defense contractors TRW and Boeing defrauded the government in their work on a national missile defense were spelled out with new clarity in a complaint filed in federal court on January 6 on behalf of whistleblower Dr. Nira Schwartz.

The complaint argues that "TRW and Boeing have made multiple false claims to the Government regarding the efficacy of TRW's discrimination technology," which is supposed to distinguish an actual incoming warhead from a decoy. "TRW and Boeing have also engaged in a campaign to cover up the severe scientific and technical flaws in the TRW technology. The claims of TRW and Boeing defy scientific principles and contradict extensive test data TRW collected, but systematically failed to disclose to the Government," according to Schwartz, a former TRW employee. TRW and Boeing deny the charges of fraud.

At a time when ideological momentum in favor of deployment of a national missile defense threatens to overwhelm sober policy analysis, the pending lawsuit may help to restore some technological realism to the debate.

A response to the Schwartz complaint is pending. Establishment of procedures for handling classified information related to the case will be one of the major near-term challenges to be addressed, said David E. Adelman, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is representing Dr. Schwartz along with attorneys Guy T. Saperstein and David W. Affeld.

The text of the new complaint is posted here:


The change in Presidential Administrations is likely to produce increased instability in public access to official records, as new agency heads introduce new, not necessarily improved access policies.

Government web sites, especially in the outer reaches of the Defense Department's dot-mil domain, are already notorious for their transiency. It is always a good idea to make a local copy of any interesting document found on a government web site, for tomorrow it may be gone.

There used to be some 200,000 pages of Defense Department records on human subject research in the Human Radiation Experiments online archive at Argonne National Lab:

About a year ago, however, all of these pages were taken offline at the Pentagon's request for "review." In theory, they are to be "restored as soon as possible." But after a year, they have not been. Fortunately, more than 50% of the missing records have been secured by a diligent researcher named Gregory Walker, who runs the Trinity Atomic Web Site:

At a press conference on Tuesday, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta was asked, "Can you tell me what's going to happen to the president's personal papers and official communications?" The short answer is, it all gets transferred to the National Archives. For the long answer, see:


The National Security Archive has assembled an unusually interesting collection of official documents, some highly classified until recently, concerning the Gulf War.

"This briefing book primarily focuses on the intelligence, space operations, and Scud-hunting aspects of the war. It also includes a report describing how Desert Storm affected China's view of future warfare, a document that raises questions as to what lessons other nations have drawn from U.S. military engagements in the Middle East and the Balkans."

The new collection, introduced and edited by Jeffrey T. Richelson, may be found here:


In a new bill introduced in the House of Representatives on January 3, Rep. Bob Barr proposed to eliminate the longstanding official prohibition against assassination.

Executive Order 12333, issued by President Reagan and currently in effect, dictates that "No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination." This restates similar prohibitions issued by the Ford and Carter Administrations.

According to Rep. Barr, however, "These Executive orders limit the swift, sure, and precise action needed by the United States to protect our national security."

Rep. Barr did not indicate exactly who he wants the Government to assassinate. His bill does say, encouragingly, that assassination "is a remedy which should be used sparingly."

Moral considerations aside, the consensus of opinion among mainstream politicians of both parties has always been that the United States has more to lose than to gain by legitimizing assassination.

The text of the new bill, dubbed "The Terrorist Elimination Act of 2001," was posted by John Young on his outstanding site here:


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