"The Satellite Revolution" by Charles Lane, in The New Republic (Aug. 12, 1996), 1220 19th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20056; "The Art and Science of Photoreconnaissance" by Dino Brugioni, in Scientific American (Mar. 1996), 415 Madison Ave,, New York, N.Y. 10017-1 11 1.
At the height of the Cold War, notes Bru- gioni, a retired Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official, reconnaissance photographs taken from high-flying U-2 airplanes and satel- lites in space "repeatedly provided timely intel- ligence, sometimes even helping to bring the superpowers back from the brink of conflict." Now, writes Lane, a senior editor at the New Republic, high-resolution photos taken by ultra- sensitive U.S. imaging satellites are about to become "available to anyone in the world who can afford to pay for them." It is unclear whether this will make the world safer-or less safe.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton, over the protests of the Pentagon and the CIA, autho- rized American aerospace firms to market satel- lite photos with a resolution of up to one meter. The first American satellite for this commercial purpose is scheduled to be rocketed into orbit next December by Space Imaging, a spin-off of Lockheed-Martin. Though the most advanced photoreconnaissance technology, "capable of telling a small cluster bomb from a soccer ball," remains a monopoly of the intelligence agen- cies, Lane says, the one-meter-resolution pho- tos are 10 times more precise than anything now commercially available.
By the first decade of the 21st century, he points out, news media and human rights orga- nizations using the satellite-imaging firms' ser- vices will be making it much harder for dicta- tors and violent movements to hide their crimes
from the world at large. "No human rights
monitor has ever been allowed into North
Korean territory; now the rumored North Kor-
ean gulag can be documented from space.
Ditto for China's prison camps, or Cuba's."
Brugioni told Lane that he has been retained
by an unnamed human rights organization to
interpret the new photos.
But the satellite imagery can also be used for
military ends. "In theory," Lane notes, "Islamic
Jihad could get its hands on a one-meter reso-
lution picture, of, say, a U.S. Air Force general's
headquarters in Turkey, convert the shot to a
precise three-dimensional image, combine it
with data from a Global Positioning System
device you can buy at Radio Shack and trans-
mit it to Baghdad, where a primitive cruise mis-
sile purchased secretly from China could await
its targeting coordinates." Critics say that the
satellite-imaging companies' biggest customers
are likely to be foreign governments.
Despite the dangers, Lane argues that
Clinton had little choice in his decision,
because Russian and French satellite compa-
nies were reportedly planning to enter the mar-
ket themselves. "America's economic and
national security interests lie in having the max-
imum number of satellite photo customers
dependent on U.S. companies before foreign-
ers catch up with U.S. technology. At least this
way most of the market will be subject to U.S.
law and regulations."