from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 84
August 29, 2002


The increasing availability of commercial high-resolution satellite imagery opens up vast horizons of remarkable and previously inaccessible data to the general public.

But it can also provide detailed target information to opposing forces and erode the element of surprise. As such, it represents a qualitatively new challenge to war planners.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld this week lamented the exposure of U.S. forces due to satellite imagery.

"I looked the other day at one of our airfields that we use in the Middle East, and there was a commercial satellite photograph on one of the television channels, showing exactly where our fighter aircraft and where our refueling aircraft were located on that airport -- this is on a television station -- from a commercial satellite, showing where our planes were and how they'd move, how one was there yesterday and was not there today, and noting that," Rumsfeld said on August 27.

"Now, can we live with that?" he asked rhetorically about this and related operational security challenges. "You bet, we'll live with it." But he added, "I wish we didn't have to live with it." See:

A sampling of the types of satellite images Rumsfeld was discussing (including perhaps the very one he was referring to) have been made available by the policy research organization

See "New imagery from Space Imaging's Ikonos and DigitalGlobe's Quick Bird reveal continued construction at Al Udeid Airbase (Qatar)" here:

In a "Q&A on Satellite Imagery," presents its rationale for publishing the imagery, along with hostile comments the organization has received for doing so. See:

An unofficial military assessment of the "commercial satellite imagery threat" notes that "even minor adversaries now have the capability to use militarily relevant satellite imagery against U.S. forces."

The assessment, a paper submitted to the Naval War College by Maj. Robert A. Fabian, former chief of space control strategy, policy and doctrine for Air Force Space Command, concludes by proposing consideration of a "space blockade."

"By combining diplomatic, economic, and military efforts..., the space blockade provides a joint force commander with a potentially effective means of denying adversary access to commercial satellite imagery," Maj. Fabian wrote.

See "Force Protection in an Era of Commercially Available Satellite Imagery: Space Blockade as a Possible Solution," dated 4 February 2002 here (26 pages, 1.3 MB PDF file):


The Marine Corps leadership has added its voice to the chorus of military officials who are warning against "leaks" of classified information.

"Classified information concerning operational planning for the global war on terrorism has recently been published by the national media," observed Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Jones in an August 28 message to Marine Corps personnel.

"Some may characterize this as a quote leak end quote. In reality, intentionally passing classified material to unauthorized recipients is a crime, whether to the media or foreign intelligence organizations. Military members who violate this trust will be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)," General Jones wrote.

See the full text of his message, first reported by Thomas Duffy in, here:

Earlier this month, following the lead of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Army and Air Force officials delivered similar warnings to their personnel. (SN 82, 8/22/02)


On August 25, the People's Republic of China issued its first formal export control regulations for missiles and related technology. The U.S. Government praised the move as a contribution towards limiting missile proliferation.

"Without being licensed," the regulations state, "no unit or individual shall export missiles and missile-related items and technologies." See:

"We welcome the publication and promulgation by the Chinese on August 25th of controls on missile exports," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on August 26. "It may help advance China's efforts to prevent the proliferation of dangerous missile technologies."

However, Mr. Boucher said, "the real measure of China's control over missile-related exports will be the effectiveness with which controls like these are enforced, and a real reduction in problematic exports by Chinese entities."


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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