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Topic: Shalom/Salaam! : Semitic World News: Israel's top secret sites on Google Earth  (Read 7334 times)
MuslimInDeed
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« on: October 10, 2007, 05:46:50 PM »

[taken from http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/10/10/MNVASLM01.DTL]

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

(10-10) 04:00 PDT Jerusalem --

Israel's most top secret security installations have been jeopardized by a new version of Google Earth, Israeli military experts say.

Satellite photographs of the sites, downloaded from Google Earth, were published last week on the front page of Israel's largest-selling newspaper. The latest version of the popular Internet mapping tool clearly shows sites viewed by the government as sensitive - such as the nation's classified nuclear research station in the Negev Desert city of Dimona, the headquarters of the Mossad spy agency, Israeli air force bases, the location of the Arrow missile defense system and the central military headquarters and Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv.

Yediot Ahronot, the Israeli daily that published the photographs on its front page, said the upgraded Web site is an "asset" to enemy states and a "treasure" to terrorists. Israel has spent decades and millions of dollars hiding these sites from public view. All are heavily guarded round-the-clock, and the location of the Mossad headquarters is a closely guarded secret. Reporters in Israel are forbidden from photographing or revealing any details about these locations under strict military censorship.

Israeli government and security officials refused to comment on the photographs. But a former military intelligence officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "Anything I say will be counterproductive. I think I'll avoid that issue completely."

But Professor Gerald Steinberg, chairman of the political science department at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, disagrees. He says Israel has been prepared for the new Google Earth images, which he says do not endanger Israel's security.

"Israel has had 10 years to prepare for this," said Steinberg, who helped draft an agreement with the United States limiting satellite resolution imagery. "It was the Clinton administration's policy to make available high-resolution imaging. Israel was granted a cushion which for clear security reasons does not put all the available information on the Internet.

"The satellite pictures were available before now to anyone with a few thousand dollars. They are not real-time pictures, and they were not taken yesterday. I don't think this is a major change in security."

The new high-resolution images, made available to Google Earth users last week, consist of one pixel per 2.4 square yards. Until now, previous images of Israel were limited to one pixel per 12 to 24 yards.

Cordy Griffiths, a Google spokesperson in London, said the images were upgraded last week in line with a Google Earth policy of improving its service to users. But Griffiths said all Google Earth images are bought from commercial satellite imaging companies and governed by the U.S.-Israel agreement.

"These new images fall within the law," said Griffiths. "It is higher resolution than the imagery we had before, but it is freely available material that we buy from third parties. The onus is on them to check that everything is legal."

Griffiths preferred not to answer whether Israeli officials have complained to Google since the new images were posted. "We would be happy to discuss any concerns the Israeli government might have," she said. "None of the images have been changed since the imagery update for Israel in Google Earth last week."

Griffiths also denied reports that Google images of India were deliberately blurred or distorted to protect security installations in that country.

"Google does not intentionally degrade or distort image quality. However, we use the imagery that comes to us from our data suppliers, some of which includes clearly blurred or degraded imagery. For example, an airbase in the Netherlands, the vice president's residence in Washington, D.C.," she said.

According to Israeli experts, the photographs in question are a year or two years old, and clearly show the layout of top-secret buildings. The photograph of the nuclear plant at Dimona shows the approach roads, internal walkways and individual buildings in a facility that is off-limits and hidden behind electric fences with large warnings signs and a complex array of cameras and other security devices.

The images also include Camp Rabin, the heavily guarded defense headquarters in central Tel Aviv that is surrounded by anti-terrorist blockades, a high wall and buildings with bomb-proof windows. It contains the underground bunker from which Israel's top generals command their military campaigns, as well as the offices of the prime minister, defense minister and Shin Bet secret service.

Moreover, the alleged Mossad headquarters, whose location is a highly protected secret, was identified and labeled by a Google Earth user.

"This contains a stock of information in which any intelligence body would be willing to invest a great deal of money and effort in order to get its hands on it," said Alex Fishman, Yediot Ahronot security correspondent. "Locating sensitive strategic and security facilities in Israel is a major objective for countries like Iran and Syria."

But political scientist Steinberg recalls similar fears when the first satellite photos of Dimona were declassified by the United States some 10 years ago.

"There was concern this would have a negative impact on Israeli security," he said. "It doesn't seem to have given any information to anyone that was used to carry out attacks."
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