News

First New Leaked Satellite Image in 12 Years
[from our Special Correspondent]

A CURRENT reconnaissance satellite image has been leaked to the Washington Times. It ran in the January 1, 1997 issue. You can check it out at the following address:

http://www.fas.org/irp/imint/kh-12.htm

Now I nearly fell off my chair when I saw it. The last "current" reconnaissance satellite photo was leaked in 1984 by Samuel Eliot Morrison Junior. He leaked to Janes' Defense Weekly a photo of the Soviet aircraft carrier Kuznetsov under construction in Nikolaev Shipyard. He went to jail for five years because of it (they charged him with espionage, which is a greater charge than would normally be applied to the leaking of classified information to the media. I believe that this was a previously unprecedented charge for the leaking of information considering that he did not leak the info to an adversary. This was in the height of the Reagan years and they nailed Jonathan Pollard with a heavy sentence for selling information to the Israelis, but it shows just how damn serious they consider the leak of satellite photos).

What this photo shows is the Russian aircraft carrier Varyag being scrapped in Nikolaev Shipyard (in the Ukraine).

Now does that strike you as just a little bit ironic? Note the two releases:

When?
19841996
What?
Aircraft carrier
Aircraft carrier
Where?
Nikolaev shipyard
Nikolaev shipyard
How?
Under construction
During scrapping

John Pike, who follows and comments on these things regularly, thinks that there is a little game going on here. The author of the article is Bill Gertz of the Washington Times. Gertz is the single best reason to read the Times. He is just about the only reporter who has serious sources within the intelligence community. Everybody else seems to get their material on background--somebody tells them as part of an officially unofficial leak. Gertz gets his stuff because he knows somebody with a very high clearance who just doesn't give a damn. This has caused great consternation over at CIA. Deutch (now heading out after a silent coup by the White House--they didn't like the fact that he had told the truth about Iraq being stronger now than it was before) was quite peeved. Deutch even reportedly told people involved in proliferation issues that they could not count on anything concerning India or Pakistan to remain secret and they should plan accordingly. He ordered a full investigation to locate the leaker. But this has not resulted in anything. They simply cannot find this person, whoever he is.

What's going on here, with this latest leak, is that the leaker is upping the ante. He is daring them to try and catch him. In many ways, this is like the classic serial killer from thriller television shows. Once he knows the police have an all-out investigation to find him, he decides to flaunt them by calling the detectives, leaving provocative messages, etc. This guy is now doing the same. And he's doing it with criminal spook style.

The irony is so thick you could cut it with a knife. The story itself is not newsworthy (so the Russians are scrapping an aircraft carrier, so what?), but the satellite image IS. The last time a satellite image was leaked it was an aircraft carrier under construction and the guy went to jail. This one is leaked and it's an aircraft carrier being torn apart. You cannot get anymore bold than that, can you? And the fact that it ran on January 1 ("Happy New Year, CIA!") is also deliberate. What is even more interesting is that it ran on page 3 of the Times. Not page 1, but inside the front cover, almost as if it's not a big scoop. Yeah, we get these things at the Times all the time...

Whoever this leaker is, he will have an interesting story to tell when they throw him in jail.