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Mapping fears: the use of commercial high-resolution satellite imagery in international affairs

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In October and November 2001, the Pentagon purchased the rights to all images of Afghanistan taken by the Ikonos remote sensing satellite, a high-resolution satellite owned and operated by Space Imaging, Inc. Ikonos is one of a growing number of privately owned and operated remote sensing satellites. It is suggested that Ikonos and other high-resolution satellites carry at least two challenges to national security policy makers. The first is a challenge to operational security - the ability to plan, prepare and carry out military operations in a controlled information environment. Second, commercial remote sensing presents a political challenge to policy makers. Policy makers today face a greater challenge in their efforts to maintain control over the content of debate concerning national and international security priorities and objectives. It is argued here that the nature of the security policy debate itself is in the midst of a fundamental shift in tone and quality as a result of remote sensing satellite technology. It was principally this latter challenge - and not a concern over operational security - that led to the Pentagon's purchase of all Ikonos images during the opening phases of the war in Afganistan.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: The George Washington University (GWU), Washington, DC 2: Washington, DC

Publication date: October 1, 2003

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