Intelligence: Google Earth Goes to War


January2, 2007: In the last 18 months, Google Earth ( has revolutionized military intelligence, but the military doesn't like to admit it. By putting so much satellite photography at the disposal of so many people, in such an easy- to- use fashion, much more information has been made available to a lot more people. That includes people in the military, and those they fight.

If you have a PC with a high-speed Internet connection, you can use Google Earth, and find satellite photos of all sorts of interesting stuff. For example (just enter the coordinates given below into the "Fly To" box in the Google Earth program);

An American air base in Afghanistan Longitude: 34°56'50", 69°15'34"

The Pentagon: 38.87, -77.506

North Korean nuclear test site; 41.279, 129.087

North Korean air base; 39.905 125.49

Russian subs in Petropavlovsk naval base; 52 55' N 158 29' 25" E

Kiska, Alaska, World War II shipwreck; 51°56'4.44"N, 177°27'22.10"E

Kiska, Alaska battlefield, showing bomb craters preserved in the frozen landscape; 51°57'4.64"N, 177°32'53.07"E

Google Earth's major problem was not it's ease-of-use, but the manner in which it showcased the shortcomings of the American NGA (National Geospatial Intelligence Agency). The NGA is responsible for taking the satellite photos, spiffing them up as needed, and getting them to the troops. Trouble is, the stuff still isn't getting to the troops that need it, when they need it. This was made very obvious when Google Earth showed up, and demonstrated how you can get satellite images to anyone, when they need it, with minimal hassle.

For over two decades, the generals, and other officers with access to "satellite imagery", have been complaining about the difficulty they have in getting their hands on this stuff. Hundreds of billions of dollars has been spent on photo satellites since the 1960s, and the troops always seem to get leftovers, if anything. Yet the satellite people regularly con Congress out of more money so they can build more satellites, and neat systems that will get the satellite imagery "to the troops." The goods never arrive, or never arrive in time. Generals gave angry testimony before Congress about this non-performance after the 1991 war. The satellite people seemed contrite, and said they would make it right. If given the money to do it. They got the money and the troops got nothing.

Now the troops got access to Google Earth, and have seen what they have been missing. To make matters worse, the software Google Earth uses to get the job done, was first developed for the NGA. But the way the NGA operates, you have to worry about security considerations, and all manner of bureaucratic details. The troops are fighting a war, you say? Well, we still have to deal with security and keeping the paperwork straight. But now the troops are beating NGA over the head with Google Earth, and some in Congress are beginning to listen. But will they listen enough to get NGA to do right by the troops? That seems unlikely. NGA bureaucrats are close at hand, and the angry troops are far away. But at least the troops have Google Earth, unfortunately, so does the enemy.




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