[FOUNTAIN]U.S. satellites show they are fallible

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[FOUNTAIN]U.S. satellites show they are fallible

“Enemy of the State,” a Hollywood movie released in 1998, starts off as an ordinary action film about an African-American lawyer, Robert Dean, who becomes involved in a murder plot by the National Security Agency. Then the movie becomes far more interesting as the agency mobilizes satellites to find Dean. No matter where he goes, the satellites track him down and corner him.
Along with awe for the advancement of the satellite system, the movie invokes fear in viewers that George Orwell’s 1984 has come true. “Enemy of the State” and other movies featuring satellite surveillance have created a myth of the all-knowing American satellite system. But scientists say that clouds and other obstacles block satellites’ views, and the movies have exaggerated their power.
According to “Iraq War,” a booklet published by the Air Combat Development Group, the U.S. forces mobilized many satellites for the war against Iraq. The United States has three reconnaissance satellites, KH-12, that move at a speed of 8 kilometers per second and orbit the earth 14 times a day at an altitude of 500 kilometers. There are three more lacrosse spy satellites and commercial satellites, QuickBird, that provide high-resolution images. The high-tech satellite system might sound like it can provide a perfect view of Iraq from the sky, but that’s not the case.
Behind the recent ado about the explosion in North Korea is the myth of the all-knowing U.S. satellite system. According to a high-level government official, the United States had sent satellite images in accordance with the information exchange agreement, but the photos coming before Sept. 14 showed only clouds, just like the satellite images the government had obtained. The images that captured the alleged region came on Sept. 15.
There were some special satellite images, but the United States does not share confidential intelligence with any other nation. Some still criticized the government for having failed to obtain satellite photos from the United States due to a lack of collaboration.
Satellite images can only be properly analyzed with the help of other reconnaissance vehicles and intelligence. Images from American satellites are no exception. The lesson might be that we could get into trouble if we over-trust the myth of U.S. satellites.


by Ahn Sung-kyoo

The writer is a political news deputy editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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