January 19, 2007

Newspaper: terrorists use Google Earth to hit bases (updated)

Filed under: politics, Surveillance — ubikcan @ 2:12 pm

Udated below

The Daily Telegraph has posted a story in which they claim that terrorists have used Google Earth to attack British troops:

Terrorists attacking British bases in Basra are using aerial footage displayed by the Google Earth internet tool to pinpoint their attacks, say Army intelligence sources.

Documents seized during raids on the homes of insurgents last week uncovered print-outs from photographs taken from Google.

The satellite photographs show in detail the buildings inside the bases and vulnerable areas such as tented accommodation, lavatory blocks and where lightly armoured Land Rovers are parked.

Written on the back of one set of photographs taken of the Shatt al Arab Hotel, headquarters for the 1,000 men of the Staffordshire Regiment battle group, officers found the camp’s precise longitude and latitude.


“This is evidence as far as we are concerned for planning terrorist attacks,” said an intelligence officer with the Royal Green Jackets battle group. “Who would otherwise have Google Earth imagery of one of our bases?

“We are concerned that they use them to plan attacks. We have never had proof that they have deliberately targeted any area of the camp using these images but presumably they are of great use to them.

This is the kind of story, which, while hard to verify, causes governments to shut off publicly available data.


Ogle Earth has a long post analyzing what’s going on by comparing “before” and “after” photos of Basra. He shows that the current imagery available is older than it used to be (eg., there are place markers showing “craters” where none exist in the image, presumably the placemarker was made by someone over newer imagery). (Update: but this is not “blotting out” as the Telegraph later reported–this is largely sensationalism according to Ogle Earth. Rather, some tiles are at lower resolution.)

It’s not clear though when the imagery was replaced with older stuff. He asks:

If this imagery was replaced by Google at the request of the coalition forces, doesn’t this rather undermine the arguments made by Google to other governments explaining why it won’t censor imagery at their request? You know, arguments such as that the imagery is a few years old, that it requires context to be useful, that it is freely available on the web, that anyone can purchase more recent imagery on the web, and that all technology is a two-edged sword — just look at cellphone detonators for bombs, cars driven by suicide bombers, GPS devices for targeting…

Finally, some other paragraphs from the article were just begging for commentary:

The British security services are concerned that terrorists will be able to examine in detail sensitive infrastructure such as electricity stations, military basis [sic], and their own headquarters in London.

Sneaky segue, that. Should everyone be censoring bits of London too, then? I see a slippery slope ahead. And then there is this nugget:

Soldiers from the Royal Green Jackets based at the Basra Palace base said they had considered suing Google Earth if they were injured by mortar rounds that had been directed on the camp by the aerial footage.

Clearly these boys aren’t Britain’s finest legal minds. Perhaps they’d also consider suing the mortar manufacturers?

[PS. this is not the first time Google Earth has been used in asynchronous warfare — they also had a go in Yemen, as reported here in October 2006.]

[Update 2007-1-18: The story unfolds thus:
Jan 16: Fixing Basra: Turns out you can still buy the imagery online via the DigitalGlobe Online Store.
Jan 18: DigitalGlobe removes Basra imagery from online store: This confirms the image is actively being removed from public access.]

There’s then a lengthy set of political comments following the post which discuss all this–fairly unusual in a geospatial blog, but welcome nonetheless.

1 Comment »

  1. I use google earth myself and they tell you when you download the system that images may be as old as 2 years.

    Still, I’m not surprised that any tool available will be used to kill the infidels.

    Comment by icanplainlysee — January 19, 2007 @ 2:17 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: