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Public Eye

Public Eye - Introduction

Public Eye is an initiative focused on public policy applications of high-resolution satellite imagery. Beginning with the late 1990s declassification of Cold War era airborne and satellite imagery, and continuing with the advent in early 2000 of commercial imaging satellites, the public policy community has been presented with an information resource previously available to only a handful of governments. The Public Eye initiative is using this newly available imagery to improve public understanding of the status of nuclear weapons and missile programs around the world. Public Eye is also evaluating the global security implications of the pervasive proliferation of high-resolution satellite imagery, and the general applicability of this novel information technology to enhance the potential of the non-governmental sector to impact public policy.

During the Cold War, many national security and arms control controversies were rooted in disputes over intelligence capabilities and estimates. The end of the Cold War has diversified the range of potential threats from weapons of mass destruction, and presented new challenges to the intelligence community. The debate over missile defense is in no small measure a debate over threat estimation by the intelligence community. The declassification of Cold War era reconnaissance aircraft and satellite imagery, and more recently the commercial availability of high resolution satellite imagery, promise a fundamental shift in the ability of the public to make independent assessments concerning threats from nuclear, missile and other special weapons proliferation. We have been at the forefront of efforts to use high resolution satellite imagery to assess the status of nuclear and missile programs around the world. Already, we have demonstrated that North Korea's missile program is less extensive than previously thought, and that India and Pakistan have laid a much more extensive foundation for an arms buildup than previously disclosed.

The public policy community plays a crucial role in the utilization of these new sources of information. The corporations that operate high-resolution imagery satellites are in the business of collecting images, not interpreting the imagery they collect. Although news organizations have demonstrated considerable interest in disseminating high-resolution satellite imagery, they are evidently not well equipped to manage the challenging and complex tasking and interpretation activities associated with satellite imagery. Only the public policy community has the value-added expertise and knowledge needed to serve as a bridge between the satellite operators, the news media, and the ultimate public consumers. Analysts in the public policy community provide the essential value-added services of identifying interesting targets, and explaining the meaning and significance of the facilities disclosed by satellite imagery.

For decades, the non-governmental public policy community has labored under a profound, and growing, disparity between the information that is publicly available, and the classified information that is available within the government. Too often the non-governmental sector has been reduced to chewing on the scraps that emerge from the government, while decision-makers dine on a splendid repast. Given this disparity in knowledge, it is far too easy for government officials to dismiss the public policy community as ill-informed. Commercial satellite imagery has a significant potential to reduce this disparity in knowledge, and to greatly enhance the ability of the non-governmental community to influence government decisions.

Over the past several years, medium and high resolution imagery has become available from a variety of sources, all of which are important sources for the public policy community.

United States Geological Survey and other domestic sources of aerial imagery of the United States provide high resolution coverage of some facilities in the United States, which are of both intrinsic interest and a useful basis for comparison with facilities in other countries.

Medium resolution imagery from satellite systems such as SPOT, LANDSAT and IRS-1C/D, with global coverage at resolutions ranging from 5 to 15 meters, remains useful for determining the overall layout of very large facilities and determining the exact location of imprecisely located facilities.

Declassified CORONA satellite imagery, with resolution as good as two meters covering the period through late 1972, provides important historical context for older facilities, and is useful for negation and change extraction in campaigns targeted on facilities constructed since 1972.

Declassified U-2 aerial imagery from the late 1950s through the early 1970s provides more restricted geographical coverage than CORONA, though with significantly superior resolution.

Russian satellite imagery, initially with a resolution of two meters and with one meter coverage by mid-2000 can provide extremely useful coverage of selected targets in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Some of this imagery is available through the TerraServer website, and this older imagery has proven extremely useful for change extraction in comparison with newer commercial imagery.

Space Imaging's IKONOS satellite began commercial operations in January 2000. Customer requests for new imagery require a minimum order of about $3,000 for a scene outside the United States. ImageSat International Space [a joint venture of Israeli and American companies] began commercial operations in January 2001, and offers a product similar to that of Space Imaging.

Other sources of new commercial satellite imagery may emerge before the end of 2001, with planned launches by EarthWatch and Orbital Sciences Corporation The projected launch dates of these satellites have demonstrated persistent delays, suggesting that one [or perhaps all] of these companies will eventually decline to enter this market in competition with SpaceImaging.

By around 2005 follow-on systems launched by Space Imaging and EarthWatch are planned which will offer improved resolution in the range of about 0.5 meters, which could provide substantially improved interpretability for some types of targets.

The Public Eye initiative developed in the mid-1990s in response to the impending availability of high resolution satellite imagery. It built on over a decade of work with medium resolution imagery from sources such as SPOT and LANDSAT. These remote sensing satellites, developed for resource monitoring and land use planning, provided imagery with a resolution of ten meters - sufficient to see airport runways. High resolution imagery from declassified and commercial sources, with a resolution of one to two meters, would be sufficient to identify the aircraft on runways.

Public Eye activities consist of two complementary imagery campaigns.

The Baseline Campaign includes work using declassified imagery and other publicly available imagery sources to document the global inventory of special weapons and related facilities around the world. Areas of interest include facilities related to nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, missile and other delivery systems, supporting command and control and intelligence facilities, as well as major industrial facilities sustaining these programs. The list of facilities of interest includes nearly 1,100 separate locations in some 21 countries. As used here, the term "facility" applies to an entire functionally integrated geographic area, such as a missile base, rather than individual structures, such as a launch complex. Facilities typically consist of many individual structures over an area of several to many square kilometers. Imagery coverage of these facilities provides historical perspective on the development of the special weapons programs of the major nuclear powers, as well as providing a basis for comparison for the facilities of countries of proliferation concern. As of mid-2000 the Baseline Campaign had identified and prepared preliminary characterizations of nearly 1,100 facilities worldwide. Identification of additional facilities, and enhancements to existing facility profiles, are an ongoing process.

The Priority Campaign, which builds on the foundation of the Baseline Program, includes work using newly available high-resolution commercial satellite imagery. This program is initially focused on the opaque or emerging special weapons programs of countries such as North Korea, Iran, India and Pakistan, with additional attention to other high-interest facilities in countries such as China and Israel.

Online facility profiles include a narrative description and history, maps, and in many cases photographs and imagery. Facilities are important and frequently neglected entities that provide critical insights into a variety of policy issues, ranging from the military balance across the Taiwan Strait to the status of nuclear and missile programs in countries such as India and Pakistan. Indeed, understanding the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is almost impossible without understanding the facilities at which these weapons are developed, tested and deployed.

The long-range goal of Public Eye is to achieve complete coverage of all facilities of interest, to include both historical and current imagery. Over the past five years this effort has achieved historical coverage of about two hundred of the potential targets identified under the Baseline Campaign, and a dozen of the highest priority targets identified under the Priority Campaign. Both campaigns are resource-constrained. Although the historical declassified imagery that is the core of the Baseline Campaign is relatively inexpensive, considerable staff time is required to acquire and use this imagery, and to develop the associated narrative text for facility profiles. The Priority Campaign is constrained by the high cost of new commercial imagery [typically several thousand dollars per scene], and is additionally constrained by associated exploitation costs which substantially exceed the purchase price of the commercial imagery.

To date the Public Eye initiative has made important contributions to public understanding and awareness of the special weapons programs of countries such as North Korea, India, and Pakistan. In addition, the Public Eye initiative has developed a concrete appreciation of the potential of commercial satellite imagery to increasing the capacity of the non-governmental community to influence the public policy debate. It would be difficult to overestimate the potential of high resolution satellite imagery for empowering the non-governmental sector to influence the public policy debate, or to overestimate the difficulties that stand in the way of realizing this potential.

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Page last modified: 01-07-2011 18:34:32 ZULU