Specifically, the photo is believed to have come from a US KH-11 spy satellite called USA-224.
“These are high resolution optical satellites that resemble the Hubble Space Telescope but look down to Earth instead of to the heavens,” Marco Langbroek, a Dutch expert who tracks satellites, wrote recently.
Trump’s tweet came a day after an Iranian rocket designed to carry satellites into space exploded on the launchpad, NPR reported.
Commercial satellite imagery of the blast was made publicly available after the incident, but the photo in Trump’s tweet was of a much higher resolution and better quality, leaving experts flabbergasted.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Dave Schmerler, the leading expert on open-source imagery analysis who analyzed photos provided to NPR by Planet Labs, told Insider’s Alex Lockie. “I know that [the US military has] amazing capabilities, but I don’t know what this is.”
Cees Bassa, a professional astronomer who works for Astron, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, was among the first to suggest that based on the features of the launchpad in the photo and the positioning of the camera, the image most likely came from the USA-224.
Michael Thompson, a Purdue University graduate student studying astrodynamics and spacecraft navigation, also used publicly available data to determine that the USA-224 passed over the Iranian space center on Thursday, Spaceflight Now reported.
Bassa explained that these satellites, known as Keyhole satellites, “are believed to produce the sharpest images of the Earth’s surface.”
Langbroek was also able to simulate the view from the USA-224, and it was a match to the photo Trump tweeted out. “It is a very good match so there is no doubt in my mind that it is an image taken by USA-224,” Langbroek wrote on Twitter.
Melissa Hanham, an expert in satellite imagery, told NPR she was initially skeptical that a photo of that quality could have come from a satellite.
“When I saw the image, it was so crystal clear and high-resolution that I did not believe it could come from a satellite,” she said, acknowledging that the latest analysis was convincing and suggested that the USA-224 was “very likely” the source of the photo.
Intelligence veterans have suggested that the president’s tweet may be a windfall for adversaries, even if the photo in the tweet appeared to be a photo of a photo.
“One doesn’t use intel for the purposes of taunting. The Russians and the Chinese will be very happy to study this,” Robert Deitz, a former top lawyer at the CIA and the National Security Agency, told Insider.
“I imagine adversaries are going to take a look at this image and reverse-engineer it,” Hanham told NPR.
Defending his decision last week, Trump told reporters, “We had a photo and I released it, which I have the absolute right to do.”
But former officials stressed that even though, as president, Trump has the authority to declassify anything he wants, he was still expected to act with discretion.
John Sipher, a former CIA clandestine-services officer who spent 28 years at the agency, told Insider that Trump’s release of the image was “consistent with his disdain for foreign policy and intelligence expertise.” He added: “If he sees an immediate personal or political benefit, he does not feel any need to follow rules, regulations, protocol, or even laws.”
Bruce Klinger, a former CIA and DIA imagery analyst, posted on Twitter: “I still remember being warned about carefully controlling top secret information ‘whose unauthorized disclosure could result in exceptionally grave danger to the nation’ and the penalties associated with violating our responsibilities.”
The true capabilities of the $2 billion KH-11 spy satellites are closely guarded secrets, and people who have leaked those secrets have paid a price for it.
In the late 1970s, the former CIA employee William Kampiles was sentenced to 40 years in prison for espionage after he stole an instruction manual for the KH-11 satellites and sold it to the Soviets. In the 1980s, Samuel L. Morison, a Navy intelligence analyst, was sentenced to prison time for leaking three classified KH-11 photos to the press.
- [LLODO] Pennsylvania, Nevada certify election results for Biden despite Trump legal challenges
- [LLODO] California church asks Supreme Court to block coronavirus restrictions on gatherings
- Audit complete: Kentucky Department of Education clears JCPS to operate on its own – Courier Journal
- Educate Maine releases 2020 ‘Education Indicators for Maine’ report – Bangor Daily News
- [LLODO] ‘Tony Meatballs’ among 15 mobsters busted in Philadelphia
- Conn celebrates International Education Week – Connecticut College
- SJSD workers see representation reform, amid criticism | Education – News-Press Now
- Biden’s Best Choice for Secretary of Education – Governing
- Seguin ISD brings special education teachers to students learning from home – KENS5.com