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United Press International September 20, 2002

U.S. unveils Cold War-era spy pictures

by Irene Brown

BETHESDA, Md., Sept. 20 (UPI) -- After more than a decade of delays, on Friday the U.S. government released thousands of photographs and mapping imagery obtained by two high-flying robotic sentries of the Cold War: Keyhole reconnaissance satellites.

"I have no doubts that there will be surprises because we've just never seen some of this stuff," said John Pike, with Globalsecurity.org of Alexandria, Va., a research organization focusing on military issues. "I think it's just going to rip away the curtains."

Pike's enthusiasm, however, is dampened by the fact that only mapping imagery -- not high- or medium-resolution pictures -- taken by the more sophisticated KH-9 spacecraft is being released at this time. He and his colleagues are more interested in the sharp-resolution views of the Soviet Union taken by the older KH-7 satellite, which flew from July 1963 to June 1967. The KH-7 monitored key targets such as ICBM complexes, radar systems and hot spots around the globe. It also provided the basis for producing large-scale maps of airfields, harbors, cities, and missile defense systems.

The KH-9 spacecraft flew from March 1973 to October 1980. The National Imagery and Mapping Agency is releasing KH-9 geodetic data, including geopositioning, elevation and other information the military used to pinpoint locations for air, sea, and ground operations. This system was also used for tactical and strategic weapons system planning. Still under wraps are thousands of medium- and high-resolution pictures.

"It is kind of a disappointment," said Charles Vick, with the Federation of American Scientists. "There's no illustrations of the spacecraft even. But it is significant that they are releasing anything -- let's just hope we can get some more."

The images are being released by the National Imagery and Mapping Agency as part of a conference on historical imagery declassification at the University of Maryland in Adelphia.

NIMA is leading a U.S. government effort that began in the Clinton administration to declassify and release to the public historical information about the nation's Intelligence systems.

The point of the declassification is threefold: to promote the spirit of open governance; to demonstrate results of taxpayer investment in national security; and to give researchers access to useful and unique sources of information.

"It is fundamentally impossible to understand the chemistry of the Cold War without understanding the imagery," said Pike. "This is the imagery that the U.S. government was looking at when they were making all these decisions."

The conference, titled "America's Eyes: What We Were Seeing," is the culmination of a cooperative effort by intelligence, defense and civil organizations to review and declassify Keyhole imagery from the KH-7 surveillance imaging system and KH-9 mapping system. It marks the official transfer of the original satellite imagery from NIMA to the National Archives and Records Administration, as stipulated by an executive order signed by President Clinton in February 1995.

NARA will archive the original imagery and make a duplicate copy available for the public. The United States Geological Survey's EROS Data Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., will receive a duplicate negative of this imagery and browse images for the public to view on their Web site before ordering.

The public will then be able to order prints and film transparencies from EDC via the Internet at earthexplorer.usgs.gov. Previously classified CORONA satellite data also are available at this site.


Copyright 2002 United Press International