Fear of Aerial Images

Time for some more fear about terrorists using maps and images on the Internet.

But the more striking images come when Portzline clicks on the "bird's-eye" option offered by the map service. The overhead views, which come chiefly from satellites, are replaced with strikingly clear oblique-angle photos, chiefly shot from aircraft. By clicking another button, he can see the same building from all four sides.

"What we're seeing here is a guard shack," Portzline said, pointing to a rooftop structure. "This is a communications device for the nuclear plant."

He added, "This particular building is the air intake for the control room. And there's some nasty thing you could do to disable the people in the control room. So this type of information should not be available. I look at this and just say, 'Wow.' "

Terror expert and author Brian Jenkins agreed that the pictures are "extraordinarily impressive."

"If I were a terrorist planning an attack, I would want that imagery. That would facilitate that mission," he said. "And given the choice between renting an airplane or trying some other way to get it, versus tapping in some things on my computer, I certainly want to do the latter. (It will) reduce my risk, and the first they're going to know about my attack is when it takes place."

Gadzooks, people, enough with the movie plots.

Joel Anderson, a member of the California Assembly, has more expansive goals. He has introduced a bill in the state Legislature that would prohibit "virtual globe" services from providing unblurred pictures of schools, churches and government or medical facilities in California. It also would prohibit those services from providing street-view photos of those buildings.

"It struck me that a person in a tent halfway around the world could target an attack like that with a laptop computer," said Anderson, a Republican legislator who represents San Diego's East County. Anderson said he doesn't want to limit technology, but added, "There's got to be some common sense."

I wonder why he thinks that "schools, churches and government or medical facilities" are terrorist targets worth protecting, and movie theaters, stadiums, concert halls, restaurants, train stations, shopping malls, Toys-R-Us stores on the day after Thanksgiving, train stations, and theme parks are not. After all, "there's got to be some common sense."

Now, both have launched efforts to try to get Internet map services to remove or blur images of sensitive sites, saying the same technology that allows people to see a neighbor's swimming pool can be used by terrorists to chose targets and plan attacks.

Yes, and the same technology that allows people to call their friends can be used by terrorists to choose targets and plan attacks. And the same technology that allows people to commute to work can be used by terrorists to plan and execute attacks. And the same technology that allows you to read this blog post...repeat until tired.

Of course, this is nothing I haven't said before:

Criminals have used telephones and mobile phones since they were invented. Drug smugglers use airplanes and boats, radios and satellite phones. Bank robbers have long used cars and motorcycles as getaway vehicles, and horses before then. I haven't seen it talked about yet, but the Mumbai terrorists used boats as well. They also wore boots. They ate lunch at restaurants, drank bottled water, and breathed the air. Society survives all of this because the good uses of infrastructure far outweigh the bad uses, even though the good uses are -- by and large -- small and pedestrian and the bad uses are rare and spectacular. And while terrorism turns society's very infrastructure against itself, we only harm ourselves by dismantling that infrastructure in response -- just as we would if we banned cars because bank robbers used them too.

You're not going to stop terrorism by deliberately degrading our infrastructure. Refuse to be terrorized, everyone.

Posted on June 8, 2009 at 6:15 AM • 65 Comments

Comments

Grahame GrieveJune 8, 2009 6:49 AM

Well, as far as I can tell, only one line in that whole blog article actually defies common sense: "there's got to be some common sense"?

Really? since when? Did anyone get told about it? (evidently not....)

bobJune 8, 2009 7:06 AM

How come the behavior described as "common sense" isn't actually common at all?

There is no tool in existence which cannot be misused for some unintended purpose. If you ask everyone in the US > age 18 to name the one tool which they think does more harm than good you will probably wind up in a country that makes an Amish community look advanced and by extension starve 99% of the population to death where the few survivors return to cave dwelling and fighting buzzards for scraps (and probably create a Taliban nirvana in the process).

Nick LancasterJune 8, 2009 7:10 AM

My GOD! Terrorists could look up my HOME ADDRESS! Forget my kids' school! I'm personally at risk!

Google Earth is going to tell them all about my alarm system, the tripwire claymore in the basement, the shotgun in the closet ...

YosiJune 8, 2009 7:10 AM

Here's some facts, Bruce.
* You can't come nearby military base and start take pictures. You simply can't.
* Attempt to insist may bring very unpleasant consequences. You will be asked few questions.
* At some well-known site in Israel, there's nuclear reactor. You can't take pictures of the place in about 5km range. And you can't fly place there (there's SAM unit in place, just to be sure).

So, until you've got private satellite (or run intelligence agency), you can't have those photos.
See where I'm heading?

NeighborcatJune 8, 2009 7:49 AM

"Techno-geeks hate it because they don't want any kind of limit on anything," he said. "If they could get down to the atoms in the brick, they would do it. The man on the streets says 'I get it. I don't know why I need to see the bricks to get to the building.'"

You foolish, foolish techno-geeks, with your fancy machines and reckless curiosity. What you all need to do is stop aiding terrorists and learn a trade... like piano tuning.

Now, I have nothing against piano tuners. It is an honorable and useful trade, but those damn techno-geeks went and invented electric pianos. Don't you worry though, piano tuning will return to it's former high status after terrorists destroy our power grid.

Anyone else smell a motive here? Isn't piano tuning and nuclear power generation sort of an odd combination of interests?

Say, Mr. Portzline, I noticed you always carry an ample supply of piano wire with you and spend quite a bit of time looking at pictures of nuclear power plants. If I was a terrorist wanting to make a garrote to, say... attack the people in the plant's control room, I would want that piano wire.

I think I'll suggest a bill to limit the length of the pieces piano wire you can carry to something less useful to terrorists. How about "no pieces longer than one foot?" Don't worry though, I'll make sure the bill is intentionally "slow-tracked" And by the way, we can already image the atoms in a brick, you moron.

Of course, the real fool here is Mike Ahlers, who consults a piano tuner/nuclear watchdog for his cutting edge journalism, and his editor, who encourages and possibly even pays him.


You think Mr. Portzline introduces himself with the "piano tuner" part or the "nuclear watchdog" part at cocktail parties? Granted, the question probably doesn't come up often...

(I really do respect the piano tuning trade. Hell, I've even hired one before. Really great guy. Not an authority on nuclear security, mind you, but really nice all the same.)

NC

NeighborcatJune 8, 2009 8:08 AM

@ Yosi:

So the fact that some ineffective security measures already exist justifies further such measures? Is that where you are going?

Yes, the Israelis are pretty good at security. We should probably follow their lead in lots of other areas, such as airline security. However, they are not immune to the same mis-assessment of risk that the U.S. is currently wallowing in.

And as for restricting photography around military bases... IT'S A MILITARY BASE. There are armed men here, and here, and a whole bunch of them in that building there, and barbed wire all around there... do you really need photos?

IF terrorists are going to attack something, I think a military base is really ideal. Also near the top of the "OK" list are facilities with concrete and steel containment walls several feet thick.

NC

shadowfirebirdJune 8, 2009 8:08 AM

Isn't this just another variation on the "security through obscurity" argument?

Bruce, I know you've argued that that is sometimes valid, but it seems to me that more often than not it's just short sighted.

So no-one knows how X works, uh? You think that makes X safe? How long do you think that will last?

fransJune 8, 2009 8:12 AM

@neighborcat actually my dad builds (and tunes) clavichords and he is a specialist in radio protection.. These things happen :-)
I do agree that banning aerial photos from the Internet will not change a thing to our security, but he might be qualified to talk about both piano tuning and nuclear security... By the way, if you do disable the people in a control room, the very worst that can happen is automatic scram and shutdown.. I'm also pretty certain there is a dead man switch somewhere that would raise the alarm and the backup team very quickly..

PhillipJune 8, 2009 8:29 AM

"Joel Anderson, a member of the California Assembly, has more expansive goals. He has introduced a bill in the state Legislature that would prohibit "virtual globe" services from providing unblurred pictures of schools, churches and government or medical facilities in California. It also would prohibit those services from providing street-view photos of those buildings."

That's nice, most of such services aren't hosted in California, I doubt they'll (said services) care. I also doubt there is much the State of California (or the Federal Government) can do about it as these services can easily be hosted overseas.

AnonymousJune 8, 2009 8:30 AM

Half the topics on this blog reminds me of the conflict between Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia in the book Nineteen Eighty-Four.

It is nothing but perpetual bullshit that everyone is either in favor or opposition of. It doesn't really matter what side of that fence you are sitting on as both sides keep the conflict fueled.

PhillipJune 8, 2009 8:34 AM

Plus, prohibiting photos -- isn't that kind of security by obscurity?

UnpopularJune 8, 2009 8:40 AM

@neighborcat&yosi: The Israelis appear to be very good at security *as they define it*. And yet, their citizens endure suicide bombings, car bombings, severe infringements of their freedoms, and so on. So how good are they really? "Common sense" suggests that perhaps their solution isn't so good after all.

szigiJune 8, 2009 8:50 AM

Well, back in the good old communist days here, there was a road sign with a camera crossed over, meaning that photography is prohibited. Now whenever you saw one in the middle of an otherwise ordinary forest, you could be sure, that there was something of military importance here. So, to aid terrorist, just blur sensitive areas on google maps, and give the following legend: "Blurred area indicates potential target".

DaveShawJune 8, 2009 8:53 AM

"It struck me that a person in a tent halfway around the world could target an attack like that with a laptop computer"

Yes, but the person is still halfway around the world and has nothing more than a picture. They can't just right-click on the map and next to "Find Directions" click "Commit Terrorism" ;)

Dave

Nick LancasterJune 8, 2009 8:56 AM

Anderson's proposed legislation ignores the obvious:

- A ban on photos of church exteriors would not have saved Dr. George Tiller.

- A ban on photos of school exteriors would not have prevented Columbine.

- A ban on photos of the World Trade Center would not have prevented terrorists from crashing planes into it.

Anderson's proposal assumes that whatever the terrorists/shooters are planning, they need detailed satellite imagery. Sounds like he's been watching too many 'Mission: Impossible' reruns.

dudeJune 8, 2009 9:12 AM

'security' is relative, who are your enemies and what can they bring.
No one is actually safe. Its always about the odds. Plenty of terrorists are killing people at intersections because they can't put down the cell phone while driving.
The congress man is just suggesting targets to the terrorists, because they do not have the cultural background to
know how we feel about all these 'targets'
Hes actually helping them make decisions and when they follow his advise, he can crow about it and say "I told you so". Politicians of the ignorant type, Imhofs or tancredos, are the source of most of our unnatural problems,
They promote them, see "charly wilsons war" if you want to know how we got to where we are now.

EdT.June 8, 2009 9:16 AM

"It struck me that a person in a tent halfway around the world could target an attack like that with a laptop computer"

Which means that the solution is obvious: ban the use of laptop computers by people in tents halfway around the world.

~EdT.

uk visa lawyerJune 8, 2009 9:17 AM

Joel Anderson (R) feels he's doing something useful for the safety of Californians by opposing aerial photography.
OK, whilst it's somewhat amusing shouldn't he be using his time in less naive - more useful pursuits...

AustringerJune 8, 2009 9:17 AM

The real problem with this logic is that a hardened target is hard and a soft target is soft. Terrorists aren’t going after whatever incredibly hardened target that Yosi thinks Israel is most concerned about. They’ve gone after places with a big welcome mat out front and clearly labeled entrances.

If you want to every bit of destructive energy out of your bomb (because say, you’re trying to do controlled demolitions and don’t want to send bricks flying everywhere) then yeah, pictures would be great (a degree in engineering would be good too). We’re postulating terrorists here. They’re not going to be trying to minimize their carbon footprint by using the smallest bomb possible. If mayhem is your goal then a big explosion pretty much anywhere in or around an office building, train, bus, airplane or subway car is going to get you there.

NeighborcatJune 8, 2009 9:18 AM

@ Unpopular

You make my point; Despite decade upon decade of implementing security measures against a very real and active threat, the Israelis are still not immune to implementing ineffective security measures, and still suffer losses almost daily. So, yes, "Common sense" suggests that perhaps their solution isn't so good after all, and therefore, the Israelis having implemented a particular measure, such as "no photos and SAM installations around nuclear facilities", isn't automatic evidence of effectiveness, as is suggested by Yosi.

You go even further by pointing out that infringement of personal freedoms is also one of those ineffective security measures, a measure that the U.S. currently embraces...

John CampbellJune 8, 2009 9:41 AM

Ummmmm...

Somehow obscuring images-- if not outright disconnecting them, as has the old "BridgeCam" that showed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge as well as damn near all of the publicly accessible webcams overlooking down-town Manhattan-- is an exercise in "risk avoidance" that reminds me of "child-safing" a house by putting cushions over any hard edges and locking all of the power outlets.

At some point humans have to "grow up" and cope with an environment that includes risks in dealing with power outlets, stairs and door-knobs ... and things like automobiles and air-planes.

Look, we either move towards locking EVERY HUMAN BEING into a padded room so they're safe from themselves or we live with the basic concept of reality that there are always risks just taking our next breath... even without terroristic threats!

All terrorism does is skew how we see personal risks by inflating the perceived risks of living and reduces our trust of our social systems.

cassielJune 8, 2009 9:47 AM

If I were to put myself in the terrorists' shoes for a moment, I would probably be able to locate a school by looking for a building whose gate was labelled "school." The absence of aerial photographs would not be too much of a hindrance.

Further reconnaissance could be achieved by purchasing a street map of the area, and again looking for the word "school." Clearly, the only effective countermeasure is to treat buyers of street maps as suspects - but hey, I live in the UK so that may well be happening already - or alternatively, to prevent people from learning to read.

MiramonJune 8, 2009 9:49 AM

Yeah, this is just ridiculous. What's next, no-fly zones over all infrastructure? We've got an awful lot of infrastructure. Will there be armed guards stationed along every 100 meters of natural gas pipeline? Machine gun nests at every reservoir?

Let's face, it any half dozen guys with hunting rifles or shotguns could take out the security at any one of a thousand important installations around the country, and then conduct whatever movie plot is being imagined.

kashmarekJune 8, 2009 9:56 AM

I believe that hiway departments and also utilities, put out information about road closings or detours, where construction is underway. With that data you can identify places where secret cable is likely to be buried (as in the story about secrect cable locations in Washington DC.

Security theater.

AnonymousJune 8, 2009 10:08 AM

@Neighborcat
>> such as "no photos and SAM installations around nuclear facilities", isn't automatic evidence of effectiveness

SAM around nuclear installation IS common sense.
"No photos" around military bases IS common sense.

People who saw military only on TV and Hollywood movies always amaze with their "common sense".

Jason R. CoombsJune 8, 2009 10:08 AM

If governments enact measures like this, it drastically complicates the deployment of the technology, increasing costs of these services, possibly to the point of infeasibility. The companies will probably foot the bill and just pass it on to consumers (another hidden tax to the public), or possibly just discontinue the service altogether due to the artificial limitations. We're voluntarily imposing sanctions inspired by the terrorists themselves.

mcbJune 8, 2009 10:14 AM

"'It struck me that a person in a tent halfway around the world could target an attack like that with a laptop computer'

Which means that the solution is obvious: ban the use of laptop computers by people in tents halfway around the world."

If we slippery-slope this the next step will be to ban tents, regulate the sales of glare reducing appliques for laptop screens, and require that laptops not work in the shade in the third world (GPS meets DRM, easy peasy)...remember, if it saves one life it's worth it.

Maybe people who think they have super sensitive infrastructure they don't want satellites to see could price putting a roof over the naughty bits. Then their boss can evaluate the risk/reward/TCO/ROI and the market will attach a dollars and cents value to common sense.

YosiJune 8, 2009 10:34 AM

@mcb
"people who think they have super sensitive infrastructure they don't want satellites to see could price putting a roof over the naughty bits"

You can't "put a roof" over military base. Or classified research facility.

Idiots.

NeighborcatJune 8, 2009 10:36 AM

@ Anonymous

"SAM around nuclear installation IS common sense.
"No photos" around military bases IS common sense.

A well-supported and insightful comment. What was I thinking?

(Actually, I don't even own a TV, and was on a military base that services our nuclear armed sub fleet less than three weeks ago, with a camera.)

NC

Priorities?June 8, 2009 10:50 AM

Nice to see Calif. has gotten their budget worries sorted out, so they can concentrate on these important issues.

IsaacJune 8, 2009 10:52 AM

This explains a lot. In California, assemblyman consider it more important to daydream about things that aren't happening, than to do actual useful things like figure out how to fix their budget.

I'm afraid that, at least in California, the terrorists have already won!

Rich WilsonJune 8, 2009 10:59 AM

"SAM around nuclear installation IS common sense.
"No photos" around military bases IS common sense."

I would argue that these are not 'common sense' either direction (to have or to have not).

'Common sense' is something you don't even need to think about. Everybody knows it.

If you make security decisions without thinking them through you're probably applying your resources ineffectively, and missing some unintended consequences.

Before banning photos at a military base, consider how useful it would actually be to a terrorist? And could a terrorist get those pictures anyway?

Before spending tons of money on SAMs, how much real damage could a plane crashing into a nuclear site cause? Those things are designed to withstand earthquakes remember. Could a SAM really prevent a full on meltdown, or is it window dressing? And what are the chances the SAM misses? Or effective counter measures are applied? Is a SAM enough or do you have to patrol the site with F16s 24x7?

I don't know. I just don't think it's 'common sense'.

I am pretty sure that blurring images of churches is exceedingly dumb.

PhilippeJune 8, 2009 11:00 AM

I would have them blur everything BUT military bases thus ensuring the terrorists target the bases instead of the shopping mall where I shop and the school my kids go to!

WaltJune 8, 2009 11:33 AM

"You can't "put a roof" over military base. Or classified research facility. "

Um... I think most classified research facilities do have roofs. Keeps the rain out and the cool air in.

Surprisingly, they also frequently use walls as well.

John PhillipsJune 8, 2009 11:34 AM

Wow, however did the terrorists manage before google earth, the Internet or mobile phones. Must have been a golden age free of all terrorism.

Kid AnarchyJune 8, 2009 11:48 AM

Terrorists hide in caves to keep it covert. We can all move into caves and be safer.

mcbJune 8, 2009 12:13 PM

@ Yosi

"You can't 'put a roof' over military base. Or classified research facility.

Idiots."

I think I found your problem. Looks like your sarcasm detector is all gummed up, which is jamming your "read the whole post all the way through to the end" sensor...see, yep, right there. I can see about getting a used one overnighted, but ordering from the factory will take a couple weeks minimum. Sorry, I don't have a loaner. Your call.

MarkHJune 8, 2009 12:30 PM

@yosi, who wrote, "So, until you've got private satellite (or run intelligence agency), you can't have those photos."

Those of us too poor to have a private satellite (including, alas, myself), have to make do with commercial satellite images:

http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/israel/...

http://maps.google.com/maps?...


@anonymous who wrote, "SAM around nuclear installation IS common sense."

Most reactors in the USA have very strong containments which, according to engineering analysis, have a high capacity to withstand aircraft impact. I suspect they would also be very difficult to breach with ordinary bombs or missiles. So the security benefit from anti-aircraft protection might be very small indeed.

On the other hand, deployment of an anti-aircraft system poses the risk that harmless civil aircraft could be destroyed by mistake (the world has lost at least 2 airliners this way). Such a threat to civil aviation HARMS security.

So a decision as to whether overall security would be enhanced by SAMs around nuclear sites, would seem to require balancing these two concerns (readers of this blog will think of other problems that must also be considered).

But much more important, SAM systems imposing costs and budgets being finite, is to ask, "would spending this money on anti-aircraft mean giving up other security measures with a higher expectation of effectiveness?"

If common sense demands without hesitation to field SAM systems, without conducting the research and analysis... then I surely lack common sense!

Clive RobinsonJune 8, 2009 12:45 PM

@ Yosi,

"You can't "put a roof" over military base. Or classified research facility.

Idiots."

Hmm there are quite a few classified research facilities with a lot more than a roof on them, some are in bunkers that are supposadly nuke proof.

Oh and there are a number of Columbian and other drugs cartels that think nothing of covering their crop growing and other activities with camo nets etc.

The simple fact is that most facilities realy are not worthy of any serious camo or photo protection, simply because the photos realy do not show much that is of interest other than to those who know or can recognise the vulnerable points on a site because they have a great deal of familiarity with the site or type of instalation. Terrorists who possess this level of knowledge don't need the photos...

Ward S. DenkerJune 8, 2009 1:06 PM

"If you make security decisions without thinking them through you're probably applying your resources ineffectively, and missing some unintended consequences.

Before banning photos at a military base, consider how useful it would actually be to a terrorist? And could a terrorist get those pictures anyway?"

These two paragraphs, in conjunction, clarify the situation.

Here's a not-so-movie-theater plot. The government bans photography at or near various important buildings. People who work in those buildings feel safer, needlessly, which may cause some of them to take fewer precautions than normal (the terrorists can't get pictures so we're safe, right?).

The terrorists then select one of these targets simply because:

A) We've told them we're scared of them attacking those targets by creating inane laws to "protect"
B) At least one of them will have lax enough security for the terrorists to pull it off, perhaps made more lax by instilling a false sense of security by prohibiting photographs.

ModeratorJune 8, 2009 1:09 PM

Would the person posting quotations from movies and books on this blog please stop? You're wasting everybody's time, and your contributions are just going to keep being deleted.

AnonymousJune 8, 2009 1:14 PM

In general I agree that prohibiting photos is nonsense. Especially in the US of A.

The Israeli's, however, aren't just protecting their nuclear site against terrorists.

They also have to be concerned about several disagreeable neighbors who have more significant capabilities and who, it can be plausibly argued, have an unfriendly interest in that particular site.

Furthermore they themselves have shown that with good planning you can do quite a lot of damage to such a site.

It's a very different situation than the stupidity being proposed by our elected dingbats.

ModeratorJune 8, 2009 1:28 PM

Kid Anarchy, in re your removed comment, please stick closer to the topic. In particular, please don't post links unrelated to the topic. Thank you.

SJune 8, 2009 1:36 PM


We can build telescopes that take pictures of galaxies across the universe. What stops someone from flying outside the 5km range, at 3-4km altitude, in a small private plane, with a telescope and a camera? Feed it into a computer with stereo-vision code, and you'll have a nice 3-D model of the facility. Far superior to what Google provides.

Why do we think it's bad for terrorists to use Google? It provides a nice, trackable record of what they've looked at. (What, you thought it was anonymous? Maybe with Tor... Even then, I'd bet on the NSA.) You think we won't use those records to track them down? Or to find their friends?

"Common Sense" isn't all that common. Half of all humans have below-average IQs.

Steven HooberJune 8, 2009 1:46 PM

> You can't "put a roof" over military base. Or classified research facility.

Wrong. Just one example: The Boeing plant had fake houses, streets and trees throughout WW2 all over the roof, making it /quite/ difficult to detect from the air. Anti-bombing, but also intended to be good enough to thwart aerial observation. Just takes patience and money.

The article misses a key point. There is not ALSO an expert on the plant pointing out where the air intake for the control room at the local nuke plant is. It's just a photo.


As soon as my neighborhood freaks out like everyone in many other countries, I am walking down the street and taking high resolution photos of each house, then posting them to Flickr.


I have taken photos from inside military bases, and lots of people do. Like the people who raise families there, and have photos of their kids playing outside base housing, while tank transporters roll down the street. Life goes on. Figure it out.

Dom De VittoJune 8, 2009 1:49 PM

Actually, if you think that those hostile governments aren't able to purchase the photography themselves, you're quite delluded.

The allies got plenty of intelligence from other 'friendly' nations before invading Iraq - why wouldn't an enemy of Israel ?

...and those not-so-friendly nations could just as easily give some photocopies to terrorist organisations - or do countries not support terrorist groups anymore?

Do you think terrorists would trust maps from 'Google' or their 'backers' ?

Why-o-why-o-why does everyone think terrorists aren't state funded?
In 25 years, the only non-sponsored attack I can recall was Oklahoma City.....and nothing has been done to reduce that threat.

NiemandJune 8, 2009 2:02 PM

What so many people fail to remember is that sensitive (and I use the term governmentally) sites don't change all that much. If you have ANY picture of a dam, nuclear site, military base, etc, from any time in the last 15 years, chances are the major structure are more or less the same.

Moreover, given all major terrorist groups have at least some backing (possibly several levels indirect) from people with access to non-commercial satellite photography, it is dubious that anyone with the capability to attack a hard target like the Panama Canal, LANL, et al, is going to be relying on Google Earth to realize their nefarious scheme.

The only instance of a paramilitary attack on serious "restricted access" infrastructure I can remember is the Beirut barracks bombing of 83, in which case satellite photography was unneeded and probably would have added no value.

The aforementioned Israel SAM installation near their worst-kept-secret nuclear compound is not there to prevent anyone important from photographing it, it's there to keep all its neighbors from doing something stupid with a surprise air attack. Iran has a SAM battery at their nuclear site too for the same reason, despite its picture having been posted in news magazines world wide (relative of a friend actually drove by it on a tour in Iran several years ago as well. The police stopped him at one checkpoint because they'd never seen an American before, gave him a pamphlet on how great Iran was, and sent him on his way).

kangarooJune 8, 2009 2:30 PM

Yosi: You can't 'put a roof' over military base. Or classified research facility.

Hmm, most classified research facilities in the US are pretty obvious -- they're big square boxes with no windows. Not only do they have roofs, they also have walls, usually gauss boxes to avoid electromagnetic eaves-dropping.

Neither the location nor the external surfaces are secret -- it's the inside that is classified. But what the hell do we know? Unlike the super-genius Israelis who can't take the bus or order a pizza without risking their lives, we're just "idiots".

kangarooJune 8, 2009 2:34 PM

Niemand: The aforementioned Israel SAM installation near their worst-kept-secret nuclear compound is not there to prevent anyone important from photographing it, it's there to keep all its neighbors from doing something stupid with a surprise air attack.

And since most Israelis are geniuses compared to our friend Yosi, we can safely assume that it's a badly kept secret INTENTIONALLY. The secrecy is a giant blinking "We have lots of nukes right here" sign.

It's like Dr. Strangelove -- a DOOOOMSDAY device is of little use unless your opponents believe you have it, and know it's capabilities.

BWJune 8, 2009 2:40 PM

Guns kill more people each year than terrorists do heck some terrorists even kill people with guns. If we are going to go down the common sense road... need I say more?

kangarooJune 8, 2009 2:42 PM

S: "Common Sense" isn't all that common. Half of all humans have below-average IQs.

Got it backward -- the problem is that common sense is exactly "common". The below-average 50% have 25 times much weight in deciding what common sense is as the top 2%. And an IQ of 120 ain't that impressive anyhow...

EricJune 8, 2009 3:02 PM

So I am curious, is it legal for someone who is not the federal or state government(i.e., a business) to take a satelite picture of my house and serve it up for anyone to see? And for that matter if you are one business having your picture taken by another, same question.

I'm just wondering if anyone has ever challenged google earth or google street view and won.


Personally I dont care if someone takes a picture of my house(or nuclear reactors) and puts it up on the internet.

bobJune 8, 2009 3:30 PM

Dont know about satellite, but I am of the belief that as long as I can get physical access with an aircraft (ie ATC permission in those places where airspace is controlled, not difficult except near ORD, ATL, LAX etc) then I have carte blanche to photograph anything I want to from 1000' AGL. And even $100 camera images from 1000' are going to blow away NROs best from 121,439,000' higher up.

In fact, aerial photography is one of the few "profit making" businesses you can run with a basic private pilot's license (as opposed to Commercial or Air Transport Certificates). Although FAA keeps toying with the idea of making that illegal too (because of the rain of photography birds crashing around our ears - oh, wait never heard of one. Nvm just wait 'til it actually happens once THEN declare it to be a plague - my bad, not "thinking" like a politician).

Any number of people around the country make money by flying along photographing peoples' houses or businesses' buildings from the air and then flogging prints (or fancier presentations) of them to the owners (my mom bought one ~25 years ago; about 5 years ago I flew over and took ~the same photo for a comparison shot.) But as with any other right, that too will be regulated out of existence once the government realizes it exists.

CurmudgeonJune 8, 2009 3:48 PM

The Republicans have hardly ever met a new (to them) technology that they didn't want to ban or neuter. Fear of terrorism is just their latest excuse to use in their fight to prevent change.

Clive RobinsonJune 8, 2009 5:05 PM

Just one thing about SAM's,

The majority cannot actually destroy a large stable flight aircraft (747 etc) sufficiently to stop it being used on the last stages of a suicide run.

Therefore you would have to set your air exclusion zone appropriatly far out.

As has been shown in the past comercial airline aircraft can be flown and landed with sizable chunks of the airframe damaged or missing even from terrorist bombs.

The reason that SAM's are usually effective against combat (not transport/cargo) mil aircraft is that most are not designed to be stable in flight infact the oposit to get high performance and manoverability.

The price that is paid for the high performance is that there is only so much the on board flight control electronics can do when the aircraft is made even less stable by having bits of it missing. A surprisingly small amount of damage to the flight control surfaces will flip the control loops and likewise the aircraft.

Davi OttenheimerJune 8, 2009 5:16 PM

Geez, I wish you had started the post with "a Republican legislator who represents San Diego's East County".

Would have saved me the trouble of reading any further...Joel Anderson of La Mesa has a reputation for being a ridiculous extremist. Check his voting record:

http://www.votesmart.org/voting_category.php?...

Seems to me he votes against anything that doesn't involve turning nature preserves into parking lots. Note the PawPAC grade for him on envirosafety. Big fat F

http://www.pawpac.org/nss-folder/...

Let's put this in perspective. Anderson voted against a state protecting itself from an existing massive health catastrophe -- brought forward after the Cosco Busan disaster...but he thinks satellite imagery is a serious threat!

Bruce, how about compiling a voting record guide for reps like this on security issues? I mean if a rep votes for the Joel Anderson tin-foil bill...fail.

Paul CoddingtonJune 8, 2009 6:04 PM

"SAM around nuclear installation IS common sense."

...now where was that article I read the other day about pilots not being allowed to know where they are not allowed to fly... ?


Snickering at the IdiotsJune 8, 2009 6:07 PM

@Yosi
"You can't 'put a roof' over military base. Or classified research facility."

Actually, you CAN put roofs and other camouflage over these areas... its been done before quite successfully. Try reading "To Fool a Glass Eye" - entire plants were hidden during WWI, and the Germans even changed the look of a harbor from the air to throw off Allied bomber aiming points.

NiemandJune 8, 2009 6:16 PM

@Clive: The majority cannot actually destroy a large stable flight aircraft (747 etc) sufficiently to stop it being used on the last stages of a suicide run.

That's not going to be the intent of the system anyway. It's there because like Iran, Israel has neighbors with functional air forces that could cross their border from otherwise unalarming flight paths in a short amount of time with fast-attack aircraft.

You'll note that does not apply to many other nations, specifically the United States. There are, for instance, no major defensive batteries around the ITAIPU, Hoover, Bonneville, etc, dams, which would be at the top of my list if I was a radical out to prove how scary my cause was.

AndrewJune 8, 2009 7:02 PM

Open source intelligence is a wonderful thing.

>> "You can't come nearby military base and start take pictures. You simply can't."

Yes, you can, but this gives military intelligence the chance to catch you at it. Reminder: the aerial imagery used to plan Pearl Harbor was obtained by renting a private aircraft and taking photos.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takeo_Yoshikawa

bobJune 9, 2009 7:01 AM

So this guy's position is that a terrorist group large and well enough equipped/trained to take out a pretty hard target is unable to come up with intel on a power plant better than a 3-year old, low-res image from the internet that has an ad for viagra on the same page? Sounds like we've already won the war on terror then, disband the DHS. Besides, dont most of these plants sit on (or in as at TMI) rivers, in order to provide cooling water? And isnt water pretty much in the lowest place around? So wouldnt that mean theres usually higher ground nearby where someone equipped with, you know, feet, could walk to and take zoom photographs (I know there is at TMI)?

Nevermind bringing their own pilots over and renting or buying a plane (still legal in US - for now); for less than $400 you can buy a Walkera Dragonfly (electric R/C helicopter) AND equip it with a real-time camera and spy to your heart's content (these are small enough it doesn't matter whether its legal or not you couldn't stop it, they could smuggle dozens into the US along with their assault rifles). As long as you stay 300' or so away from the guards no one will even be able to tell you are there, unless they detect the RF camera feed. You can even use it during the "attack" for command and control purposes. But fortunately for us, there's no way for an internet-equipped terrorist in a tent halfway around the world to know about UAVs.

@Paul Coddington: Right after 9/11 the government outlawed flying near nuclear power plants -AND- removed them from the flying maps (sectional charts), which you would need in order to know what to avoid. Seems like they should pick one or the other. The way it currently is, all it is good for is providing an excuse to arrest the pilot after he lands. Which is meaningless from a security standpoint, the damage would have been done by then.

Clive RobinsonJune 9, 2009 7:58 AM

@ Niemand,

"That's not going to be the intent of the system anyway. It's there because like Iran, Israel has neighbors with functional air forces that could cross their border from otherwise unalarming flight paths in a short amount of time with fast-attack aircraft."

Sorry I did not make myself as clear as I might have.

The reason I diferentiated between stable flight and unstable flight platforms was for two reasons,

1, As far as I am aware the only "terrorist air strike" using jet engine aircraft was 9/11 (I'm aware of some of the others but as far as I'm aware they are from flight stable aircraft).

2, For the reason you state.

There used to be on the Internet somewhere a report conclusion about 1600 Pensilvania Ave and shoulder launched SAM and their expected effectivness against various types of aircraft (I'd post a link but I can't currently find it).

Quick movie plot terrorist scare story...

Al-Terror spend 3million on a second hand 747 etc and register it as a "hire Cargo plane". After tootling around various parts of the world they fit it out with an internal frame of structural steel and some shells of depleated uranium (left by the USA on various middle east battlefields) in appropriate launch system pointing aproximatly forward, set to impact launch.

They then fly this on a recognised flight plan near a nuke reactor site in their target country. When at an appropriat point they get the transponders to signal a catastrophic electrical or other failier and put the 747 into it's final suicide path.

On impact with the outer structure of the reactor building the depleated uranium shells are fired automaticaly. The chances are that atleast one will find and penetrate a sensitive area. Even if not the fear such a "terrorist weapon" would generate would be felt world wide for a considerable period of time (just like "Three Mile Island" and "Chernobyl").

No terrorist believe meJune 9, 2009 10:13 AM

I am surprised, that they think terrorists are too stupid to operate a digital camera. A terrorist can just make a picture and has the information he wants to have. Or are they afraid of terrorists in - lets say siberia? What can a terrorist in siberia do to harm a nuclear plant? The only idea I have is to start a intercontinental ballistic missile, but for this he does not need detailed pictures. I would be more afraid of terrorists on-site. They do not need detailed pictures in the internet, because they can use the digital camera described above. So, security by obscurity does not work in this case.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..