News


Tracking Number:  174017

Title:  "Iraq May Have Used Civil Satellite for War Aims." Three months before it invaded Kuwait, Iraq bought high-definition commercial satellite photographs of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from SPOT Image Corporation, according to investigators. (910226)

Author:  HOLMES, NORMA (USIA STAFF WRITER)
Date:  19910226

Text:
*NEA208

02/26/91 *

IRAQ MAY HAVE USED CIVIL SATELLITE DATA FOR WAR AIMS (Sidebar to "How Iraq Built its War Machine") (870) By Norma S. Holmes USIA Staff Writer

Washington -- Three months before it invaded Kuwait, Iraq bought high-definition commercial satellite photographs of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from SPOT Image Corporation, a French company specializing in photo reconnaissance, according investigative journalists and arms experts.

On May 2, 1990, Iraq, which had contracted with SPOT Image in 1988 for satellite data, requested pictures of areas of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia taken from two different perspectives. Such photos, which highlight terrain features and increase ability to identify installations, could be used to identify defenses and potential points of Kuwaiti resistance in planning an invasion route -- data not normally requested for civilian use, according to Lionel Barber, a Washington correspondent for the Financial Times of London.

"SPOT was sufficiently alarmed by the Iraqi request for data on Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to halt deliveries to its customer, an Iraqi government organization known as the National Remote Sensing Center," the British journalist wrote in an article published January 11.

Dr. Michael Krepon, president of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a Washington non-profit research organization involved in arms control, public policy and national security studies, confirmed that the Iraqis ordered satellite data from SPOT Image in early May of 1990.

He also noted that "after that purchase, and after the invasion in August, the Iraqi Remote Sensing Center ordered more imagery, and they were turned down." Krepon, who previously worked at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, is author of "Strategic Stalemate: Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control in American Politics."

"The real key," Krepon said in a USIA interview, is that "the Iraqis ordered overlapping imagery -- that is, pictures of the same territory, taken from two angles."

Photos of the same territory taken from two angles, when digitized on a computer, can create three-dimensional models of the area, Krepon said. "When a state does that, they are not interested in crop forecasting, not in postal

GE 2 NEA208 zone management. They're interested in learning about targets of opportunity," he said.

Krepon also pointed out that the Boston Globe reported on March 20, 1987, that the Iraqis had obtained the essential computer from a California company, International Imaging Systems, Inc., during the Iran-Iraq war.

According to the report by Globe special correspondent Mark Hosenball, the computer, which was shipped in February 1987 to an institute at the government-run Baghdad University, is capable of "enlarging and sharpening electronic images sent to earth by LANDSAT, a relatively unsophisticated satellite launched by the United States for non-military research purposes."

SPOT satellite technology "is heavily used by the intelligence services of countries not possessing national reconnaissance programs in order to collect a significant amount of information about well-known targets of local interest," says Dr. Peter D. Zimmerman, an associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who served on the START delegation of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

Zimmerman, who with Krepon is an editor of the newly released book "Commercial Observation Satellites and International Security," said that if evidence were needed that SPOT is being used by national intelligence services, the government of West Germany acknowledged that on August 3, 1987, its foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichten Dienst, using SPOT satellite pictures, confirmed that the new industrial plant near Rabta, Libya, was most likely for the production of chemical warfare agents.

"SPOT's operations have, indeed, given the world community a new tool for intelligence-gathering and national security," says Zimmerman, a former professor of physics at Louisiana State University. Recounting a series of case studies done by the Carnegie Endowment involving SPOT, Zimmerman said that "even at 10-meter resolution, airfields and ports are open to detailed observation and description."

"Naval fleet strengths and compositions can be gauged in SPOT imagery...aircraft can be located on runways...large facilities for ground forces can be recognized, studied, and analyzed, and bases with their ballistic missile silo launchers and headquarters complexes can be identified and the missile silos counted," Zimmerman said.

The potential military applications of SPOT Image satellite data was advertised in the company's promotional booklet "Surveillance" published in 1988:

GE 3 NEA208 "Before taking any decision concerning a target located deep inside a zone inaccessible to reconnaissance planes...three main points need to be analyzed; the target, the 'threats' surrounding it, and the route leading to it. The ideal way to handle these studies is to observe SPOT satellite images ...prepared in advance and covering the main targets," the promotional booklet stated.

"Spot Image got badly burned by the Iraqis," and has since abandoned that marketing approach, Krepon notes. "When SPOT was launched in 1986, the line between remote sensing and intelligence-gathering became blurred," he says.

"Satellites have a dark side: they can assist nations in carrying out offensive attacks against neighboring and even distant states," Krepon notes. He adds, however, that they also have a bright side, with many promising, peaceful applications, which "clearly outweigh the potential for mischief-making." NNNN


File Identification:  02/26/91, NE-208
Product Name:  Wireless File
Product Code:  WF
Keywords:  SURVEILLANCE; IRAQ/Defense & Military; MILITARY STRATEGY; PERSIAN GULF AREA; COMMUNICATIONS SATELLITES
Thematic Codes:  1NE
Target Areas:  NE
PDQ Text Link:  174017