Monday, April 11, 2005

Google Maps now has satellite imagery. Which has all sorts of uses. Dave Shea, for instance, remarks here on how much easier it is to find clear cut areas in his local forests through the use of Google Maps.

But the technique has its limits. The roofs of the White House, and nearby buildings, turn out to be featureless blobs of a strange, solid color (as pointed out in comments here). And here is a more interesting case. Ignoring the dummy zip code, the location is the Pentagon's secret whatever-it-is at Groom Lake, Nevada. Zoom down far enough, and all you get is a GIF saying that "we don't have imagery for this zoom level at this location". Clearly, someone's been busy with the magic paintbrush.

The objective is obviously to protect these facilities from prying eyes. But past a certain point, you have to wonder what is being protected here, and more importantly from whom. Anyone capable of really using information about the secret weapons du jour presumably has their own source for higher resolution (and likely, more recent) satellite imagery of this particular garden spot. The people who don't get to see it are the people who merely pay for it. Us.

Which is a security philosophy that appears to be very much in evidence, these days. The National Academy of Sciences was recently asked by Congress to look into vulnerabilities in nuclear power plants. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission stonewalled them on critical information, claiming that security was the reason. But assessing the security efforts was the whole reason for asking the question -- and the final report was certainly going to be censored anyway. What's really going on here is that the "homeland security" crew is protecting themselves -- from investigation of what turns out to be seriously flawed work, as shown by even the partial information that the NAS investigators were able to get.

But protecting American intelligence services from investigations is serious business. Just look how hard the FBI is working to protect itself from translator Sibel Edmonds' allegations that intercepts describing Turkish espionage were effectively suppressed by a translator who was a mole. And there's more where that came from. (via King of Zembla).

After all, if we got the impression these agencies were incompetent, and shot through with enemies of the state, why would we ever let them review bank records without a warrant?


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