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Public Eye
Jamais Cascio, 2 May 04

The quality of unclassified satellite surveillance has improved dramatically over the past decade; what is available to civilians these days either freely or with a moderate price would have astounded even intelligence workers of a few decades ago. One of the best examples of this is the "Public Eye" project at, a Washington DC think-tank trying to expand the public discourse about military and national security issues. The "Picture of the Week" pages have carried satellite photos of newsworthy locations since April of 2001 (it's fascinating to see the improvement of available satellite images even over the last three years).

This week's picture is of Ryongchon, North Korea, site of the huge train blast on April 22. Or, more accurately, this week's set of pictures: the before and after shots show the profound devastation unleashed by the accident, and context shots show the crater, damage to surrounding buildings, maps, and other satellite scans of the region.

These images underscore the increasing power of non-government organizations to take advantage of "Open Source Intelligence," the practice of using materials available to any citizen to build a substantive understanding of an intelligence target. There's nothing stopping environmental activist groups from using satellite images to map pollution flows and clear-cutting, for example, or human rights groups imaging refugee camps and military movements. They just may not realize yet that such feats are now within their power.

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