Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
1. Why did it take seven years from the time the CORONA imagery was declassified in 1995 to the KH-7 and KH-9 mapping imagery declassification?
NIMA required time to coordinate the recommendation for declassification throughout the Intelligence Community, the Department of Defense, and the civil community. Following this coordination, NIMA recommended declassification in 1998 and paperwork was forwarded to the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) George J. Tenet for approval. Mr. Tenet approved the recommendation in October 2000 after concurrence by both the Secretaries of Defense and State. NIMA wanted to have a CORONA-like implementation and it took additional months to acquire and reformat the KH-7 and KH-9 mapping imagery metadata, create browse (thumbnail) imagery from these systems, make a set of duplicate positives (for NARA) and a set of duplicate negative (for EROS Data Center). The actual implementation took about 12 months, vice 18 months for the CORONA imagery.
2. What prompted this post-CORONA declassification effort?
The requirement to conduct a classification review of obsolete film-return systems within five years was contained in Executive Order 12951, signed by the President on 22 February 1995. That Executive Order declassified every frame of imagery acquired from the CORONA (KH-1 through -4), ARGON (KH-5), and LANYARD (KH-6) systems. Furthermore, the President delegated any future declassification approval to the Director of Central Intelligence upon concurrence by the Secretaries of Defense and State. The review began in earnest in the summer of 1997 at the request of then-acting DCI Tenet.
3. How can the public access the pictures and how much will it cost?
The Historical Imagery Declassification program lists the United States Geological Survey's EROS Data Center (EDC), Sioux Falls, SD, and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Adelphi, MD, as the two organizations where copies may be procured. More information regarding prices for prints and film transparencies may be obtained from these two organizations.
4. Can the public come to NIMA to get copies of these pictures?
No, because the Intelligence Community is turning over this imagery to the EROS Data Center and the National Archives. NARA has, effective with this ceremony, assumed all responsibility for any Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests regarding this imagery. NIMA no longer maintains a complete copy of imagery from either of these systems.
5. What were some of the significant pictures taken?
Strategic Cold War targets, especially in the former Soviet Union (such as Tyuratam Missile Test Center, Semipalatinsk Underground Nuclear Test Facility, Ramenskoye Flight Test Center, and Severdovinsk Shipyard) and China (such as Lop Nor Nuclear Test Range), were among the most significant acquisitions. Mapping camera imagery over denied areas was used by the former Defense Mapping Agency to create maps for the Department of Defense and other national security purposes.
6. What was the cost of this declassification to the taxpayer?
A small amount of contract support was initially required for technical and policy support. Two million dollars was then earmarked from "Imagery for Citizens" funds, secured for NIMA by former Senator J. Robert Kerrey. These funds were used to duplicate the original imagery for NARA and EDC, create the metadata that will appear with the browse imagery on EDC's website, reproduce index aids (plots of coverage) for public use, and provide technical and administrative support for these efforts and for this ceremony.
7. Is the imagery going to be available on the Internet?
Browse imagery will be available on the EROS Data Center website at http://earthexplorer.usgs.gov just like the KH-1 through -6 imagery is today.
8. Does NIMA have plans to declassify other systems?
There currently are no ongoing efforts to declassify imagery from other national satellite imaging systems.
9. Who built the KH-7 surveillance and the KH-9 mapping camera systems?
A partnership of Government and industry, including major technological firms, accomplished these efforts.
10. Who exploited or used imagery from the KH-7 surveillance and KH-9 mapping systems?
A NIMA predecessor, the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) was a major organization for exploiting on and reporting results gleaned from KH-7 imagery. Other exploitation elements at the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Military Services, and Unified and Specified Commands also exploited imagery. Another NIMA predecessor organization, the Defense Mapping Agency, as well as the Military Services and the United States Geological Survey, used the KH-9 mapping imagery to compile maps and charts.
11. Are there civilian applications for this imagery?
Yes, there are many civilian applications, especially in the areas of historical and environmental research. The imagery may also be used in conjunction with the declassified KH-1 through -6 imagery as well as with imagery from commercial satellites.
12. Does release of this imagery pose a threat to the interests of the United States?
No, that is why the recommendation was coordinated with both the Secretaries of Defense and State prior to DCI approval. This coordination assured the DCI that there would be no perception that this declassification posed even the slightest threat, given the age and/or resolution of the imagery from both systems.
13. Did we share this information Keith other countries?
We have shared data with other nations to further US policy and National Security interests. While details of any intelligence relationship are classified, we openly acknowledge that we routinely share imagery of common concern with the governments of Australia, Canada, and Great Britain.
14. Are there pictures of the United States? Were we focusing on American citizens?
Pictures were acquired over the United States for ground truth calibrations and for mapping purposes only. None of the images over the United States was acquired to focus on American citizens.
15. Are there any KH-7 or KH-9 mapping images not being released at this time?
Approximately 100 frames of imagery acquired by both systems over any part of Israel are not being declassified, in accordance with Section 1064 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997.
16. Was any imagery from either system acquired in stereo?
Yes, there were stereo acquisitions on some KH-7 imagery, and stereo coverage on most KH-9 frame imagery for mapping purposes.
17. How does the best KH-7 imagery compare to the current commercial imaging systems in terms of resolution?
Imagery acquired at nadir (when the camera acquires an image looking straight down) on the later KH-7 imagery missions compares favorably with the best commercial systems (Quickbird and IKONOS).
18. How does resolution from the KH-9 mapping imagery compare to other systems?
Resolution from the KH-9 mapping imagery is better than the original Landsat system but not as good as SPOT imagery.
19. Was the KH-7 imagery ever used for mapping or search purposes?
Yes, KH-7 imagery was used for large-scale mapping products. Occasionally, the KH-7 was tasked to acquire imagery for search purposes. Its primary purpose was surveillance of key Cold War era targets to complement the CORONA imagery
20. Was the KH-9 mapping camera imagery used for other purposes?
No, this imagery was only used for mapping purposes. NIMA's predecessor, the Defense Mapping Agency, and the United States Geological Survey were the primary consumers of this imagery.
21. Were color and/or color infrared imagery ever acquired by either system?
The KH-7 missions acquired a very limited amount of color imagery; KH-7 missions 4024 and 4030 acquired the most color imagery. A limited amount of color infrared was acquired on Mission 1206-5. All other imagery was acquired on black and white film.
22. If the United States has a natural disaster in the near future will NIMA direct the Intelligence Community to release current images in support of assistance or clean up? If no, why not?
There are policies in place to provide imagery to support relief efforts and still protect our national security interests.
23. What assistance can this satellite imagery provide to law enforcement organizations?
All of the imagery being released will be available to the public, including law enforcement organizations to use as they please. However, based upon age and resolution it is highly unlikely that our law enforcement counterparts will find this declassified imagery to be of much use in solving today's crimes.
24. Why is the imagery being released limited to only the KH-7 and the KH-9 mapping systems? It has been reported in the press, journals and books that current systems can take photos of license plates.
Imagery is only considered for declassification when it is no longer considered necessary to protect national security. The scope of this declassification is in consonance with this security principle. Some of the KH-7 imagery (Missions 4001 through 4038) is comparable to current high-resolution commercial imaging systems such as IKONOS and Quickbird. Only the KH-9 frame camera (mapping) imagery (Missions 1205-5 through 1216-5) and the system designators (KH-9/ System 1201 through 1220) were approved for release by the DCI. Other imagery has not been declassified and there currently are no plans to declassify this imagery. All other systems provide higher quality products and reflect more current intelligence interests. Release of imagery from these systems would have a negative impact on US intelligence and jeopardize our national security.
25. Why is derived intelligence not being released along with the imagery?
Executive Order 12951 addresses only the imagery declassification. Any other declassification conducted by the United States Government is governed by Executive Order 12958. Derived intelligence includes information and details on intelligence targets and analytic techniques and falls under FO 12958
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