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Google Earth Geeks

tomahawk6

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Amazing what some free time, access to sat photos can acheive. :D

http://server09.densan.ca/archivenews/060916/npt/060916c6.htm

The google hunt: Surfing for missiles, subs on the web

Under cover of night, after the dinner dishes are done and the children have been sent to bed, Google geeks slip into another dimension.

They take clandestine tours of North Korea, carefully noting the location of the air defences ringing Pyongyang, capital of the secretive Hermit Kingdom, and the artillery dug into mountains along the demilitarized zone.

They hunt for surface-to-air (SAM) missile sites in Syria, spy on Russia's Northern Fleet or peek at Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities at Esfahan and Natanz.

Consulting high-resolution satellite images previously available only to a few governments, the Internet spooks become Walter Mittyish spies, searching the world for terrorist training camps, nuclear sites, troop movements or simply the occasional camouflaged runway.

When they tire of international sleuthing, they can always spy on their own neighbourhood.

But unlike real spies, when the Google geeks discover a military secret they rush to share it with the rest of the world via dozens of online forums, Internet bulletin boards and personal blogs.

They are the world's new trainspotters.

Sure, sometimes their observations are more Maxwell Smart than James Bond.

For instance, there is the occasional ominous-looking shadow on the Earth that is described as "not friendly looking." But for the most part, the Internet spies make some interesting discoveries.

Last month, they uncovered a secret underground/underwater submarine base on Hainan Island in the South China Sea, the previously secret home of China's new Shang-class Type 093 nuclear attack submarines.

In July, a German computer enthusiast discovered a top secret Chinese army training area where the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is preparing for a possible war with India high in the Himalayas.

They are armed with the year-old Google Earth software, which allows home computer users to search the Earth's surface using a database of high-resolution satellite images.

This enabled a German geek, who uses the online name "KenGrok," to home in on a startling large-scale model of snowy mountain peaks and glacial lakes in the middle of an arid plain near Huanyangtan, 35 kilometres southwest of Yinchuan, capital of the autonomous region of Ningxia in northern China.

The model, clearly visible to a satellite from outer space, is about the size of nine football fields and situated near what appears to be a large military depot, with hundreds of military trucks parked alongside red-roofed buildings.

At first no one seemed to know what to make of KenGrok's discovery.

Tens of thousands of Google Earth enthusiasts, from retired intelligence officers to conspiracy theorists, engaged in an online guessing game, speculating the weird landscape was anything from a mini-golf course to an army tank training ground.

In the end, experts concluded it was a scale model of 157,500 square kilometres of land in and around China's contested Himalayan border with India and Pakistan.

The Aksai Chin region, an area the size of Switzerland bordering India's Ladakh region, is one of the sites along which Chinese troops invaded India during a brief 1962 border war.

The scale model, located roughly 2,400 kilometres from the actual mountain range, is believed to be used by the PLA as a training aid for helicopter pilots to familiarize them with a potential battlefield.

China is not admitting anything and refuses to discuss the case.

But that's typical in this new era of global transparency.

The ability of Internet users to zero in on any spot on Earth to survey the surrounding area has raised far more than some simple privacy considerations.

Since Google first made its database of satellite photographs available, nearly a dozen countries have complained the service is a national security threat that leaves them vulnerable to terrorists or hostile governments.

South Korea lamented that its military bases were on plain view to North Korean spies.

India pointed out the security of its military sites and buildings, such as parliament and official residences, had been jeopardized.

In Sydney, the operators of a nuclear power plant said year-old satellite images of their facility increased the likelihood of a terrorist attack.

And in Iraq, U.S. soldiers were alarmed to find they could download satellite images of their base. They said Camp Anaconda hadn't changed much in the year or two since the satellite photo was taken so anyone could use the image to help target a rocket or bomb attack.

In Jordan, members of the royal family reportedly started blocking Jordanians' access to Google Earth after people began checking out their plush palaces on the Web.

In Russia, Lieutenant-General Leonid Sazhin of the Federal Security Service told the Tass news agency, "Terrorists don't need to reconnoitre their target. Now an American company is working for them."

As a result, some countries may have managed to persuade firms providing satellite photos to Google to lower the resolution of some images that show sensitive areas or even to alter them.

Google insists it "doesn't doctor or change the imagery that we receive from our third-party satellite data providers." But it also says it is willing to negotiate with foreign officials.

"We take security issues very seriously and are willing to talk with representatives from individual countries," a spokesman said when the first rash of complaints surfaced.

Since then, some countries have made attempts to control the companies distributing satellite images, tightening licensing arrangements or restricting the images they make public.

A 1997 U.S. law already mandates the resolution levels commercial satellite operators can use when photographing Israel and the West Bank, while other regulations allow the U.S. government to interrupt commercial satellite services by ordering operators to close a satellite's eye over certain areas of the globe.

Last April, Sweden's state mapping agency was caught camouflaging satellite photographs that had shown the country's national security headquarters on the outskirts of Stockholm.

The intelligence facility is housed in a collection of buildings in the centre of a small forest, but the satellite photograph released by the government was altered to block out all the buildings and replaced them with trees.

An earlier Google Earth image revealed the sudden contrast.

Generally, experts insist the concern over Internet spies is a little overblown. The images available online are not displayed in real time and are collected from the nearly 3,000 satellites already orbiting the Earth beaming back photographic and other data.

"The imagery that's available online doesn't provide information that can't already be obtained easily in an open society, from other image providers, from governments or from other sources of public information," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a military and intelligence information Web site.

Google Earth's images aren't "particularly useful from a military perspective" and probably pose " a negligible risk" to a free country's national security, he adds.
 

Pinto

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I agree with the final statement in the article; Google Earth imagery isn't really useful for real military intelligence. I think the tone of the article is a bit overblown. But, I have to admit to being a Google Earth Geek myself. Some of the stuff you can see is just amazing. Check out Paris and the view of the Eiffel Tower. It was a beautiful sunny day when those pics were taken; you can clearly see people crowding around. Almost as good is the view of Nelson's Column in London. There's a great view of the Forbidden City in Beijing, just a bit north of Tianemen Square. A nice view of Stonehenge. Check out the "Aircraft Graveyard" (the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center) at Davis-Monthan air base in Tucson Arizona; you can count B-52s.

Unfortunately, the view of Parliament Hill in Ottawa has recently changed, and for the worse, in my opinion. It used to show a great view of the Peace Tower, but now the area is covered by clouds.

My $0.02...

Cheers!
 

tomahawk6

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You can locate military installations using google earth. In fact there is an overlay that shows ICBM sites. Just do a google earth search for "google earth ICBM sites" . ;)

 
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