Public Eye - Lessons Learned
The recent efforts of Public Eye have significantly improved public understanding of a variety of
topics of significance to the public policy community.
Newly available commercial high resolution imagery has clarified a number of important questions
in the field of non-proliferation. North Korea's long range ballistic missile program evidently rests
on a surprisingly modest infrastructure. The missile tests conducted to date [one each in 1993 and
1998] have provided more diplomatic leverage than operational military potential, and existing test
facilities would probably require expansion to support a more extensive test program. Pakistan
evidently regards North Korea's Nodong missile as a work in progress rather than a finished product,
as demonstrated by the construction of missile testing infrastructure at Kahuta. Conversely,
Pakistan's nuclear and missile programs are rather more elaborate and sophisticated than previously
suggested in the open literature, calling into question the Clinton Administration's objective of de-nuclearizing the sub-continent. Although surely this information was previously known to the
classified intelligence community, it has only been through the use of high resolution imagery that
this understanding was introduced into the public discourse.
During the Cold War, satellite imagery had both stabilizing and de-stabilizing influences on the
Soviet-American arms race. In the long run, satellite intelligence was ultimately regarded as making
a stabilizing contribution to confidence building and arms control. The question of whether the
pervasive commercial availability of high resolution satellite imagery will prove equally stabilizing
remains unanswered. It is evident from initial experience, as demonstrated through the Area 51
campaign, that competitive market forces will drive imagery providers to improved products and
services. It is equally evident, from this same campaign, that the timeliness and predictability of
commercial imagery remains vastly more useful for stabilizing peace-time strategic intelligence than
for potentially de-stabilizing wartime targeting.
New commercial imagery, supplemented by declassified historical imagery, is a powerful tool for
the non-governmental public policy community. Aerial and satellite imagery revolutionized the
classified intelligence community four decades ago, and it promises the same revolution for the
public policy community. Satellite imagery of previously inaccessible facilities transforms facilities
that were previously little more than names and dots on a map into actual places. Imagery provides
a wealth of detail concerning the actual characteristics of facilities that has dramatically enhanced
public understanding. Imagery, in conjunction with careful analysis, provides the opportunity for
non-governmental organizations to make news - rather than simply shape news. The new knowledge
derived from imagery enables the public to critically evaluate government policies, and credibly
suggest alternative courses of action. Empowered by this new source of information, public interest
organizations and the public generally can become more effective and influential participants in the
formulation of national policy.
Over time, high resolution satellite imagery will become an increasingly integral component of the
public policy process. Precedents for this development include the various implementations spawned
by the advent of the internet over the past five years, and previous new information technologies
from the printing press to the photocopy machine. However, as with these other new information
techniques, the innovation process will be neither automatic nor instantaneous. Although the advent
of high-resolution satellite imagery has been long awaited and much heralded, in practice it has
turned out to have attributes rather different from those imagined in theory.
The intelligence cycle is conventionally partitioned into tasking, collection, exploitation, and
dissemination - figuring out what you want to know, collecting it, figuring out what you have gotten,
and informing others about your findings.
Until January 2000, the fundamental roadblock was evidently collection, a problem apparently
solved by the entry into commercial service of Space Imaging's IKONOS satellite. Traditionally,
exploitation was regarded as the next great challenge for public imagery intelligence, as it was
assumed that the arcana of photographic interpretation would baffle the public policy community.
The prior theoretical literature has given little if any attention to tasking and dissemination.
In practice, tasking has proven the greatest challenge, closely followed by dissemination. While
collection is now at long last at least possible, collection management remains a complex process.
Surprisingly, of the four components of the intelligence cycle, exploitation has proven the least
worrisome. It has not proven particularly difficult to figure out what is in an image, once the image
is in hand. Figuring out where to point the satellite camera [tasking] has proven vastly more difficult
than foreseen in the prior literature, and the simple mechanics of preparing the imagery for public
display have proven distressingly time-consuming and complex.
Lessons Learned - Tasking
The intelligence cycle is inherently iterative, each step interactively building on the prior iteration.
Conventionally, the process starts with tasking - identifying the information that is to be collected.
Tasking includes both identifying key intelligence questions - the most important puzzles of the day
- as well as the new data that is most likely to help solve these puzzles.
Over the past two decades the public arms control and non-proliferation community has developed
a rich knowledge base covering the primary facilities involved in nuclear, missile, and other special
weapons programs around the world. During the Cold War, the national security community was
primarily concerned with Soviet and American delivery systems, the missiles, bombers and boomers
that were the subject of arms control agreements, and the potential instruments of instant
annihilation. With the end of the Cold War, the attention of the public policy community
increasingly shifted to the nascent or emerging special weapons capabilities of a much broader list
of countries. With this shift in focus came a parallel shift from delivery systems to facilities, since
in most instances the countries of new concern had development and production facilities, but not
the diverse delivery systems of the superpowers.
Across the entire range of the non-governmental public policy community, researchers and
organizations working on non-proliferation are the most likely to immediately benefit from the new
availability of high resolution commercial satellite imagery. Nuclear and missile facilities are one
of the primary units of account in the non-proliferation field, and unlike the subjects of many other
public policy fields, these facilities are visible, large, and fixed.
By the end of the 1990s, the public non-proliferation community had apparently achieved a
reasonably complete inventory of the principle locations associated with at least the nuclear
weapons programs of countries of proliferation concern. Apart from a few nagging questions [such
as the exact whereabouts of its nuclear stockpile], India's special weapons infrastructure appeared
reasonably well characterized. And much the same could be said of countries ranging from Israel
and Iraq The broad outlines of the facilities of Pakistan and [perhaps surprisingly] North Korea also
seemed reasonably well in hand, though interesting questions remained. Iran was something of a
puzzle, though whether this puzzlement reflected a well-hidden program or simply a small program
remained the core of the puzzle.
Without detracting from the magnitude of what has already been accomplished, significant gaps
evidently remain in the public understanding of special weapons facilities [and programs] around
The level of completeness of coverage of nuclear weapon facilities is not matched by
the coverage of facilities related to chemical weapons [which are more widely
proliferated and certainly more likely to be used] nor of missile and aircraft delivery
systems [which are becoming more important as at least India and Pakistan move
The open literature has tended to focus on the accumulation of long lists of "suspect
sites" rather than the development of a hierarchical appreciation of the most
important facilities. This tendency is most pronounced with respect to Iran, but is
almost universally evident.
Reflecting the observational rather than experimental nature of the enterprise, the
literature has tended to focus on the aggregation of reports of what is known or
thought to be known about a facility, rather than what is unknown but potentially
interesting about a facility.
The open literature has largely contented itself with identifying the general proximity
of an institution, rather than establishing the exact location of the particular facility.
This geographical imprecision is at least in part an artifact of the hardcopy
dissemination medium [books and magazines], in which a map of an entire country
must fit on a printed page, and whole cities are reduced to mere dots on the map. As
long as the dots are placed in roughly the right part of the country, the fact that each
dot is dozens of miles across and may represent several distinct and widely separated
facilities has been of little concern. This positional vagueness reaches virtually
pathological extremes in the case of Iran, where far too many "suspect sites" are little
more than place names of entirely indeterminate location somewhere in Iran.
The advent of publicly available high resolution satellite imagery clarifies the extent to which the
prior literature provides an adequate basis for tasking the collection of imagery, as well as novel
opportunities for tasking.
Nuclear material production facilities, particularly reactors, are large and readily
identifiable facilities. The relatively small number of these facilities are fairly well
characterized in the open literature. While satellite imagery may provide a visually
compelling depiction of these facilities, at times it may prove challenging to identify
first order new knowledge that may be derived from imagery. Missile test and
production facilities are slightly more difficult targets, but probably present more
interesting opportunities for developing new knowledge. Chemical weapon facilities
remain an intriguing but largely unexplored target system.
Understanding the hierarchy among facilities is essential for a resource-constrained
imagery campaign. In the past, casting a wide net to capture every location [or entity]
that might be associated with special weapons activities appeared an appropriate
analytical response to Iraq's unexpectedly diverse infrastructure. However, pending
pervasive coverage of all suspect sites, identification of the largest or most important
facilities is the first order of business for public imagery intelligence.
Developing "key intelligence questions" concerning a particular facility, and its
known or conjectured role in the overall program, is an essential precondition for
tasking. Given the evident impossibility of experimentally answering such questions,
the prior literature has not concerned itself with posing the open questions associated
with specific facilities. Although the literature does incidentally address some
outstanding puzzles concerning some special weapons programs, this has not been
done in the systematic fashion that would readily support tasking imagery collection.
It is much easier to identify a facility than to identify the new knowledge that might
be derived from imagery of the facility.
Location, location, location - the mantra of the real estate industry, and the cry of
despair of the public imagery community. The existing literature is almost entirely
inadequate to the challenge of locating a particular facility with an accuracy of a few
miles. High resolution satellite images typically cover an area about five miles on
a side, which fortuitously is about the scale of a typical special weapons facility. But
knowing that a facility of interest is "at Hyderabad" is very different from knowing
exactly how many miles in which direction from the center of the city a particular
institution resides, or knowing which other institutions may reside at the same
location. In some cases it is simply not possible to locate a particular facility with
sufficient precision to task the collection of imagery. And there is always the risk that
even a slight miscalculation in the location and extent of the facility will exclude
some interesting part of the facility from the collected imagery.
The prior theoretical literature essentially neglects tasking, evidently assuming that this part of the
public imagery intelligence cycle would prove straightforward, if indeed not entirely transparent.
In practice, tasking is the most challenging [and certainly the most stressful] part of the entire
process. With each newly collected image costing thousands of dollars, there is little margin for
error, and self-evident incentive to ensure that each image is visually compelling and adds new
knowledge to the public policy process.
The challenge of tasking also presents an important opportunity. High resolution imagery promises
to greatly enlarge public understanding of special weapons proliferation, both directly through
imagery of specific facilities, and indirectly through the discipline imposed in the tasking process.
The prior knowledge required for successful tasking provides both the requirement and the
opportunity to systematize all that is knowable from collateral sources, and to rigorously contemplate
what is not known but potentially knowable. We have found in practice that the exacting
requirements of characterizing facilities with sufficient fidelity to establish a confident basis for
tasking has in itself provided an opportunity for significantly enlarging the public literature on the
special weapons programs of a number of countries.
Lessons Learned - Collection
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
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. The U-2 imagery has been provided to the National Archives without finding aids
or other associated metadata, which reportedly was never created by the intelligence
community, and use of this product requires manual examination of large quantities of
imagery to identify areas of interest.
Russian satellite imagery, typically with a resolution of two meters [though one meter coverage is
expected in 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,
though in practice pricing and availability have thus far restricted the utility of this product
to selected applications.
Space Imaging's IKONOS satellite began commercial operations in January 2000. Customer
requests for new imagery require a minimum order of $1,000 for a single image of a target
in the United States, and $2,000 for a scene outside the United States. Space Imaging adds
a 10% premium to this base price for 95% cloud-free coverage, versus the 80% cloud-free
of the standard scene, and no useful purpose is served by requesting cloudy imagery [Space
Imaging apparently no longer offers to collect 100% cloud-free images]. In addition to
collecting new imagery in response to customer tasking, Space Imaging operates the
CarTerra online browse archive that includes much [but not all] of the imagery collected by
the IKONOS spacecraft. News organizations may purchase publication rights to IKONOS
imagery for $500, but these images are much smaller than the standard minimum scene, and
are not geo-referenced. Although this lower-priced option is available to large commercial
news organizations, Space Imaging's corporate policy precludes the sale of publication
rights at this price to public policy organizations. Consequently, public policy
organizations wishing to use IKONOS imagery in their publications must pay a minium
of $2,000 per scene.
Other sources of new commercial satellite imagery may emerge before the end of 2001, with
planned launches by EarthWatch, Orbital Sciences Corporation, and West Indian Space [a
joint venture of Israeli and American companies]. 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.
The declassified CORONA imagery remains curiously underutilized, although it is a treasure trove
of data. The public policy community has generally been eager to mine the riches of newly
declassified documents, but has been almost completely indifferent to the declassified CORONA
and U-2 imagery archives. This must be due in no small part to the physical challenges associated
with "collecting" this imagery. The standard procedures for ordering CORONA imagery from the
US government yield a product with a resolution visibly lower than the advertised two meters. Direct
reproduction at the archives yields a far more satisfactory product, but considerable effort and some
talent is required to master this technique. Collection of declassified U-2 imagery is further
complicated by the present absence of finding aids to assist in locating imagery of interest.
The prior literature on commercial high resolution satellite imagery largely focused on the fact that
the digital cameras on such satellites can relay images to the ground within minutes after acquiring
the image. It was implicitly assumed that, to the first approximation, this physical possibility would
translate into a system attribute that closely matched the reported near-realtime coverage of classified
imagery intelligence satellite systems.
In principle, the Space Imaging IKONOS system is capable of collecting imagery on a near realtime
basis, with a demonstrated collection cycle from tasking to delivery as short as a few days. In
practice, simply placing and confirming the placement of a collection order can stretch over several
days [and careful attention is required to comply with Space Imaging's use of decimal degrees, rather
than degrees and minutes, to specify the area of interest] The advertised 30-day collection window
represents a realistic projection of the typical time required to fulfill an order. If Space Imaging is
unable to collect the requested image within the initial 30-day collection period, whether due to
cloud cover or conflicting collection priorities, another 30-day collection effort is made. Although
Space Imaging presumably anticipates cloud cover in planning collection attempts, the abundance
of extremely cloudy imagery in the company's browse archive suggests that this attribute of the
system remains at best incompletely implemented.
Users conditioned by the world-class customer service interface provided by Federal Express or Dell
Computers will find the Space Imaging order fulfillment process distressingly opaque, providing
essentially no insight into the status of a collection request between the time the order is confirmed
and the time the nicely packaged CDROM with the image arrives [via Federal Express]. The
modalities by which the Space Imaging collection management system prioritizes collection attempts
remains entirely opaque. Presumably, collection is constrained by the throughput capacity of the data
recorders on the spacecraft and downlink bandwidth limits at ground stations, but the maximum
theoretical daily output of the system remains undisclosed. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Space
Imaging gives some priority in collection attempts to larger customers, although the extent and
impact of this prioritization on smaller customers remains opaque. The simple expectation that Space
Imaging would regard each request for collection of a scene with equal priority, much as Federal
Express gives equal priority to all packages, would seem without foundation.
Realistic customer expectations are also an important attribute of ordering archival IKONOS
imagery. The "best of breed" standard is unavoidably the TerraServer online browse archive, in
which it is possible to preview full resolution imagery, purchase the imagery online, and pull the
requested scene from a server within a few minutes after making the purchase. Space Imaging's
existing CarTerra browse archive has a variety of annoying features, which do not merit enumeration
since a significantly improved version is said to be impending. However, once imagery is selected
from the archive, the customer is confronted with a manual ordering process, the normal opaque
order fulfillment status, and what realistically appears to be a waiting period of one to two weeks for
delivery. The available browse imagery is sub-sampled to about 15 meter resolution, which renders
purchasing imagery of "suspect sites" a risky speculation. But the fact that the IKONOS sub-sampled
browse imagery has a resolution comparable to the full resolution imagery from medium resolution
systems such as LANDSAT renders even this browse imagery an interesting product in its own right
[particularly given the price].
The fact of the existence of the CarTerra browse archive is a two-edged sword for the public policy
community. On the one hand, the archive permits relatively rapid and predictable acquisition of
imagery. On the other hand, Space Imaging customers do not enjoy the exclusive rights to imagery
that are the normal expectation of principle investigators associated with NASA's scientific
spacecraft. Although the exact latency remains opaque [as with many other attributes of Space
Imaging's operation], a prudent customer should assume that any imagery, once collected, will find
its way into the publicly accessible browse archive on a time-scale of days rather than weeks. That
is, one cannot evidently exclude the possibility of being "scooped" by an enterprising competitor.
The browse archive also has additional implications for the dissemination stage of the intelligence
Lessons Learned - Exploitation
Prior to the actual advent of commercial high resolution imagery, it was evidently assumed that
imagery exploitation would pose the greatest challenges to the public policy community. In practice
it appears that photographic interpretation is probably the least challenging stage of the public
imagery intelligence cycle..
Evidence to sustain the anticipation of the challenges of photo-interpretation was readily available
in the various instances in which medium-resolution SPOT or LANDSAT imagery had been grossly
mis-interpreted. Given the coarse resolution of this imagery, there were ample opportunities for
failing to identify outstanding features of a particular structure, or mis-identifying specific structures
at an installation, or completely mis-identifying an entire installation. These opportunities for sins
of omission or commission were not always avoided by the practitioners of the day. With the benefit
of one-meter resolution hindsight, it is evident that one carefully annotated SPOT image -- published
in a well-known magazine as depicting the North Korean Nodong missile test facility -- was in fact
an image of a nearby port, with all of the detailed annotation entirely in error.
The advent of high resolution imagery would appear to greatly reduce the dangers of such first order
cases of mistaken identity. In the past, with medium resolution imagery it was frequently difficult
to reliably detect even large buildings, and identification and characterization of much beyond the
overall layout of a facility was simply beyond the potential of this imagery. The transition from ten-meter to one-meter resolution imagery produces not a ten-fold but rather a hundred-fold
improvement in interpretability, replacing a single ten-meter pixel with a hundred one-meter pixels.
There are evidently a variety of opportunities for imagery exploitation errors, though these hazards
are not peculiar to the public imagery exploitation community. Intelligence analysts working with
classified imagery long ago repaired to statements of estimative probability to qualify the level of
confidence in assessment or interpretation, with gradations of confidence ranging from "possible"
to "probable" to "almost certain" to "certain."
Gross mis-identification of a facility or location -- mis-interpreting an image of a port as an image
of a missile test facility -- represents a failure in the tasking process, which would almost
certainly be corrected once the actual image is collected and evaluated. We have already
experienced instances in which we have misjudged the extent of a facility or even the nature
of a particular location, but in each case these mistakes were immediately apparent within
minutes of evaluating the full resolution imagery. Poorly characterized and imprecisely
located facilities will continue to represent opportunities for spending money on imagery
devoid of interesting features, but with one-meter imagery it is unlikely that facilities will
be grossly mis-identified.
Mis-identification of the borders of a particular entity or institution within an image or facility
remains an abiding problem. In some cases -- such as nuclear reactors -- facilities of interest
will have unique functionally related observable differences that readily differentiate them
from their surroundings. Clear identification of a facility is simplified by the presence of a
visible security perimeter, which may be complemented by vegetation anomalies of darker
vegetation cover within the security perimeter. In other cases -- such as North Korean missile
production facilities -- distinctive structures and defining security perimeters may be largely
or entirely absent. The Defense Research Complex south of Hyderabad in India presented
the opposite challenge - a clearly defined security perimeter evidently encompassed several
different entities, some of which were more probably associated with specific buildings than
Mis-identification of a specific structure or feature in a facility is probably the failure that will
eventually prove most embarrassing, as it is certainly the type of failure most commonly
associated with public imagery analysis. Careful attention to interpretation keys derived from
comparable structures at better characterized facilities, recourse to appropriate caveats of
estimative probability, as well as general care to avoid the temptations of over-interpretation,
will reduce the hazards of such mis-interpretation.
Neglecting to identify a significant structure at a facility is a hazard that unavoidably follows from
taking care not to mis-identify structures through over-interpretation. We have already
experienced more than one instance in which the most interesting features discovered in a
new image were not disclosed until careful examination of an image which at first glance had
seemed rather unremarkable.
Public imagery intelligence faces the same limitations that confront the classified intelligence
community. Imaging satellites cannot see through roof-tops into the interiors of buildings, nor can
it peer into underground bunkers. By definition, imagery has never detected anything that has been
successfully hidden, and it is widely reported that some countries have engaged in extensive
concealment and deception programs.
Upon reflection, it will be equally evident that public imagery intelligence -- using limited quantities
of one-meter resolution imagery supported by limited collateral information from open sources --
faces many additional challenges. The classified intelligence community works with prodigious
quantities of much higher resolution imagery supported by equally prodigious quantities of
intelligence derived from other sources. Practitioners of classified intelligence, and the consumers
of their products, will correctly observe that a public imagery intelligence enterprise funded to the
tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year cannot pretend to match the classified imagery
community, funded at nearly ten billion dollars annually.
It would mis-understand the nature of the public imagery intelligence enterprise, however, to extend
this critique to suggest that the public imagery community is "practicing photo-interpretation
without a license." Some specialized photo-interpreters within the classified community routinely
use a variety of tools and techniques that are for the present beyond the scope of public imagery
analysts. While stereo-pairs are the stock in trade of those engaged in target mensuration, public
imagery analysts count themselves lucky to have a single image of a target, and would almost always
opt for a new image of a new target, rather than a second image of an existing target to permit stereo
viewing in three dimensions. For the foreseeable future, the expense of the specialized hardware and
software needed for viewing softcopy stereo-pairs is unlikely to find its way into the constrained
budgets of public imagery enterprises.
All public imagery practitioners stand humbly before the skilled practitioners in the classified
community, learning the tricks of the trade as the opportunities present themselves. As with the early
practitioners in the classified community, the Public Eye initiative has devoted considerable
resources to obtaining imagery of well-characterized American facilities to assist in the interpretation
of new commercial imagery of facilities in other countries. And noting the decision of the National
Imagery and Mapping Agency to migrate to the ERDAS Imagine software as the standard
exploitation environment, the Public Eye initiative has taken up the challenge of using this same
But it is important to remember that while photo-interpretation is an art, a skill, a trade, and a craft,
it is not a profession in the sense that the law or medicine is a profession. It makes no more sense
to speak of "practicing photo-interpretation without a license" than it would to speak of practicing
journalism or photography without a license. The craft of photo-interpretation within the American
classified intelligence community has evolved over many decades, in response to specific
requirements and opportunities. Many skills that are highly prized within this community, such as
the ability to consistently assign National Imagery Interpretability Rating Scale grades to imagery,
or to rapidly exploit large numbers of images using the IDEX workstation, are simply of no
relevance to the public imagery community. Like the individual who had been speaking prose for
a lifetime without knowing it, all human beings blessed with the gift of sight begin practicing some
rude form of photo-interpretation at a rather early age. Television and illustrated print publications
are all predicated on the ability of their audience to engage in some rudiments of photo-interpretation, and the window-seats of airplanes are routinely occupied by amateur photo-interpreters of various stripes.
The public imagery community is in the process of defining the skills and talents required for
imagery exploitation under the conditions that are peculiar to public imagery. In the longer run, it
may be anticipated that these skills and practices may become rather widely diffused throughout the
public policy community, to the point that public policy analysts may routinely use satellite imagery
as they presently use graphics from various other sources. This process of diffusion may take some
time. Even the most rudimentary image manipulation software that might be used with non-georeferenced JPEGs, such as Paintshop, can require months of patient practice to master. And this
basic capability is evidently within the received skills set of only a minority of public policy
analysts. The more complicated [and vastly more expensive] software such as ERDAS Imagine,
which is essential for exploitation of the fully geo-referenced images that are the stock in trade of
more sophisticated exploitation, will remain the domain of public imagery specialists for the
Lessons Learned - Dissemination
The combination of global information distribution via the internet with global information
acquisition via satellite imagery provides an entirely new context for public awareness and
knowledge of a wide range of important issues, including the proliferation of weapons of mass
The advent of high-resolution imagery has occurred nearly simultaneously with the pervasive
emergence of the internet as an important medium of global communications. This has enabled a strong synergy between using mass media communications to create
broad awareness of the fact of the existence of new imagery and analysis, and using the website
to allow a worldwide audience to immediately access the full content briefly summarized in mass
Online release of high resolution satellite imagery, along with associated analysis, has proven
extremely attractive to our online audience.
The 11 January 2000 release of imagery of North Korean missile facilities produced a 50% increase
in website traffic, yielding an additional half-million page views over our baseline of a
million pageviews each week. The total data transfer of 75 gigabytes doubled the previous
week's baseline figure.
The 15 March 2000 release of imagery of Indian and Pakistani special weapons facilities yielded
an additional three-quarters of a million pageviews for the week, a 75% increase over our
baseline website traffic, with a total data transfer of 87 gigabytes.
The 12 May 2000 release of imagery of Chinese airfields, and associated analysis of the Taiwan
Strait military balance, doubled our website traffic to over 2,000,000 pageviews with a total
data transfer of 155 gigabytes. Significantly, this included over 300,000 file requests from
both Japan and Taiwan, and over 200,000 requests from China.
The 16 May 2000 release of additional imagery of Indian and Pakistani special weapons facilities
also yielded an additional million pageviews for the week, again doubling our website traffic,
and producing a total data transfer for the week of 128 gigabytes.
Although direct comparison is difficult, it must be evident that the internet has facilitated the direct
dissemination of imagery and imagery-derived analysis to an audience that would have been
inconceivable by traditional hardcopy means.
This high level of online visibility is due in no small measure to the intense interest shown by the
mass media in high resolution satellite imagery. The 11 January 2000 North Korean missile base
release generated over a dozen separate stories in print and broadcast media, 15 March 2000 India-Pakistan release generated over three dozen stories, the 12 May 2000 Chinese airfield release
generated nearly two dozen stories, while the second India-Pakistan release on 16 May generated
nearly a dozen stories. Coverage has included articles in all major daily newspapers, consistent wire
service reporting, broadcast news coverage, and multiple appearances on CNN.
High resolution satellite imagery has a demonstrated capacity to make news in a highly cost effective
fashion. An aggressively promoted pro-active news event will typically cost approximately $10,000
simply in promotion costs alone, though this expenditure cannot guarantee significant coverage in
the absence of intrinsic news interest. Some multiple of this expenditure may be required in the
development of an analytical report of sufficient magnitude and heft to generate significant news
Dissemination of imagery and derivative analysis has posed unique and unanticipated challenges.
In practice, public presentations of imagery have proven far more effective when conducted with
computer projection screens and powerpoint slides, than when conducted using briefing boards
alone. Not all facilities are equipped with the essential computer projection equipment, and
presentations in such "computationally-challenged" environments have proven somewhat
disappointing. However, large format briefing charts featuring enlargements of key images are an
essential component of any briefing, and the physical production of these briefing boards has proven
peculiarly challenging. Readily available commercial services do not provide an economical product
that meets the demanding reprographic standards of faithfully replicating the detail and depth of
available imagery. While these details of implementation may seem trivial in the larger scheme of
things, in practice they consume a surprising amount of time and attention.
Although not every satellite image contains a headline, and results may vary with the timing of the
"news hole," initial results suggest that newsworthy satellite imagery can consistently generate mass
media coverage at a cost that is a very attractive alternative to traditional pro-active media efforts.
High resolution satellite imagery provides an important opportunity for the public policy
community to make news, rather than simply shape news. Public policy organizations, at least
in the peace and security arena, are generally in the business of reactively shaping the interpretation
of news events, rather than pro-actively creating news events. The news production process is
populated by news-makers, such as senior government officials and elected politicians, who pro-actively make news, and by a variety of other opinion leaders, who re-actively shape the news made
by others. While environmental or human rights organizations may make news with some regularity,
the core national security arena is densely populated with official news makers, who generate a
profusion of official news that almost always overwhelms the news-making potential of the non-governmental sector.
While non-governmental actors in the peace and security community may from time to time pro-actively make news, this community is normally relegated to responding to the news made by others.
Even reactive news shaping is a challenging task, and as a consequence most peace and security non-governmental organizations simply lack a significant presence in the mass media. And a keen
understanding of the dynamics of the news production process, honed by experience with reactive
news shaping, is probably an important ingredient in successful use of satellite imagery for pro-active news making.
News is not "made" in isolation, even by the most visible official news makers. News, at least of the
public policy flavor, it almost always made in connection with some impending event or decision,
seeking to shape or influence the course or significance of the event. The release of imagery of
Pakistan's special weapons facilities a week prior to the President's trip to Pakistan was vastly more
newsworthy than it would have been a week after his return from Pakistan.
High resolution satellite imagery has a profound potential for enabling the peace and security
community to make news, because it gives non-governmental organizations the capacity to
introduce new facts into the public policy debate. The relatively modest efforts to date clearly
demonstrate that the knowledge and insights that can be derived from satellite imagery hold the
promise of a profound extension of public knowledge in the domain of special weapons proliferation
and related national security fields. It is increasingly evident that publicly available and officially
released information on topics such as the status of the nuclear and missile programs of countries
such as North Korea, India or Pakistan is trivial compared to that which is known by the US
Government, or that which is knowable via commercially available satellite imagery.
It is probably the case that at least some of the public interest, and certainly some of the mass media
interest, in satellite imagery derives simply from the novelty value of this unprecedented product.
As this novelty value declines, it may be expected that some public and media interest with also
decline. It is also most certainly the case that the US Government, beginning with the Cuban Missile
Crisis, has consistently made news through the selective release of reconnaissance imagery. This
news-making power is now within the grasp of the public policy community.
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