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March 07, 2008

Pentagon bans Google map-makers from bases

The Defense Department has banned Google mapmakers from making detailed studies of US military installations. [BBC]


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An obvious and correct decision, but....the horse is largely out of the barn with this technology.

My friend looked up his own house on Google Earth and could recognize his own PT Cruiser car in the backyard.

In my prehistoric Navy days, was told that satellites could detect how much time was left on a parking meter.

There is only so much that can be done.

I'm not complaining. If anything I wonder why the authorities didn't take action earlier. The Sam Houston pictures have been available for months.

I suspect that the Navy exaggerated slightly (read a parking meter at an acute angle through atmospheric distortion including city pollution? I'm not sure it matters how good your optics are...), but there is some value to this regardless. What was removed were not satellite images, but ground-level views, containing information not visible from overhead by sheer angle.

At least the Pentagon has the pull to make this happen. The rest of us have to suck it up: Google Street View is a privacy nightmare.

The Phantom: In my prehistoric Navy days, was told that satellites could detect how much time was left on a parking meter. Whoever told you that didn't know what they were talking about. To resolve details on the order of 1 centimeter (the needle on the parking meter) from an altitude of 100 kilometers would require a telescope aperture of 5 meters -- twice that of the Hubble Space Telescope. Spy satellite camera apertures are rather smaller, and orbit at rather higher altitudes than 100 km, and therefore have rather lower resolutions.

Zed, Alan

What you say makes sense. Would not have been the first time they exaggerated. The precise example was "a parking meter in Havana". But I am not even sure Havana has parking meters.

Too little too late. This is keystone kops stuff.

I agree that Military bases should be off limits all together not just ground level shots.

Just searched for Fort Meade MD on google earth and not only can I see my old barracks I can see the NSA building.

I used to work there and I would not like it if terrorist or any fanatic can get a birds eye view of NSA.

But it's too late. Game over, and it isn't funny.

While there are legitimate reasons to hide military stuff from public view, it’s not too hard to see all sorts of restrictions coming down the pike. Rail yards, port facilities, hydroelectric projects, river locks, reservoirs, hospitals, police stations, bridges, tunnels, electrical substations and transmission lines, refineries, petrochemical plants, nuclear power plants, toxic waste storage facilities, irrigation nodes (of the colossal California variety), even things as trivial as coastal and river navigation markers and signals are all potential terrorist targets. How far should we let the waronterror panic go?

I lived in Germany in the sixties on and around US army bases. At that time (Berlin wall constructed, Cuban missile crisis, ICBMs developed, first spy satellites, massive infiltration of W. German government by East block controlled agents, etc., etc., etc.), there was a palpable level of paranoia on the US military bases, but it had more to do with a “conventional” and peculiarly Cold War sort of mind set. Spies were assumed to be everywhere, and war, if it came, was going to start with Warsaw Pact forces pouring out of the Fulda gap, accompanied by a possible nuclear exchange. At the bottom of every stairwell in US army housing facilities and posted around in places like the PXs and officer’s and NCO’s clubs was a poster that described the air raid warning signals: continuous warble for conventional attack, interrupted warble for chemical/biological/nuclear attack, and flat for all clear.

Still, with all that, there was no sense of personal danger from fanatics or terrorists. If the Soviets attacked we would know it and meanwhile we had no reason to fear for or from anything in particular. Residential portions of bases, often as not, had access no more restricted than any conventional neighborhood or suburb. Other portions of bases were restricted to varying degrees, but things were often open (to everyone, Germans as well as Americans) to a degree that’s hard to imagine anymore.

The change came with the anarchist movements in the seventies. With the emergence of groups like the Baader-Meinhof gang in Germany, the Brigatta Rosa in Italy, and the Japanese Red Army along with their pale/absurd counterparts in the US, the Weather Underground and the pathetic Symbionese Liberation Army, military bases overseas took security concerns to a new level. During the height of the Baader-Meinhof scare in Germany for instance, they’d check your engine compartment and trunk and slide a roller-mounted mirror under your car before allowing you on base. Previously, military license plates got you a perfunctory wave through the gates.

The security obsession, already strong during the Cold War, slowly ratcheted up even as the Soviet empire collapsed (suddenly we had to worry about unaccounted nukes from shitty little abandoned bases in Central Asia, for instance), and went into overdrive after 9/11.

Now no one questions the idea that security concerns trump everything. No photos of military installations? No question about it: seize the cameras if they don’t stop taking pictures. The general creepiness of life in the Communist zone used to be illustrated with frequent references to the kinds of restrictions routinely mandated there regarding what could and could not be photographed. Everyone visiting the East Block knew that one risked having one’s camera confiscated if one took pictures of government buildings or bridges. Now we’re becoming the East Block, and no one notices or objects.

-Now we’re becoming the East Block, and no one notices or objects.-

Baloney. The Eastern Bloc was militarized to keep its own people imprisoned behind a Wall, on behalf of the Soviet Empire.

The measures the US has taken since September 2001 are in response to a the attack that happened and the many others that were planned.

What would you have the government do? Do you think that the absence of terrorist attacks since 2001 might have something to do with security measures that were implemented?

Its not a panic on anyone's part. Its common sense.

Its common sense.

And more common sense, and more common sense, and more common sense . . .

There is no doubt that there are legitimate and valid security concerns. When does it stop though? The nervousness ratchets up one tooth on the wheel at a time. Is each and every click always fully warranted? Will the pawl ever be released?

The government owns the property, uses it routinely for non-public use and it owes no one a duty to permit entry. I would feel differently if the space were bona fide public space e.g. The Mall.

Well, when it comes close to going too far, this can be an interesting topic of conversation.

I don't see it as "nervousness" or as "panic" --which you sometimes hear from Europeans .

On a European blog a few days ago, someone made the comment along the lines of "in America, everything's a fortress after 9/11"

I asked him where this fortress was located, as I live in NYC and ride subways all hours and travel all around the country and have never seen it.

He never responded.

I've not seen any fortress, and I've not seen much of any nervousness, and this is one area --maybe the only area--you can't criticize the Bush administration on with a straight face.

The heightened security has been measured, appropriate, very largely unobtrusive. Just right.

If something has been done wrong, I'd like to know exactly and precisely what.

>The measures the US has taken since September 2001 are in response to a the attack that happened and the many others that were planned.

>What would you have the government do?

Denounce outright bigotry, hate-mogering and the "Fuck Them Ragheads" stance that the Phantom pushes. Just a little reminder.

Do you think that the absence of terrorist attacks since 2001 might have something to do with security measures that were implemented?

This is a common right-wing claim, and I have no idea what it's supposed to mean. There have been many terrorist attacks since 2001. Several thousand American troops have died in terrorist attacks in Iraq since our occupation of that country has triggered the rise of Al Qaeda there. There have also been major terrorist attacks on civilians since 2001 in Britain, Spain, and Indonesia. Within our borders, pro-life groups have committed a number of terrorist attacks on abortion providers.

Perhaps what you meant to say is that there haven't been successful Muslim terrorist attacks on U.S. civilians on U.S. soil. That is true, but if that's your standard, you have to acknowledge that Clinton was just as successful at preventing such attacks---actually, more successful---without implementing such security measures, and shredding the Constitution.

Basic bit of logic: Don't claim that your change X has caused improvement in Y, if your predecessor did without X and had a better Y.

Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.
Lisa: That's spacious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, dear.
Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn't work.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: It's just a stupid rock.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you?
[Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

Autumnal Harvest

I'm not going to get into Iraq here, as that is ground gone over many times.

But the fact is that there have been no major terrorist attacks in the United States since September 11, 2001.

That's a good thing. Roast Bush on everything else, but you must give him that.

The government owns the property, uses it routinely for non-public use and it owes no one a duty to permit entry.

We the public ARE the fucking government. At the risk of sounding like a sagebrush revolution, libertarian fanatic here, I don’t necessarily trust the federal government to be the best and wisest stewards of land that is automatically beyond the reach and purview of any sort of civilian, i.e. public, oversight.

In the Eastern U.S. it’s not so glaringly obvious, but west of the continental divide, the Pentagon has used our land as its crapper ever since WW II & the Manhattan Project. Think about it: If some federal government entity (like the DOD) currently wanted to bury a single barrel of low-level radioactive waste in Westchester County, NY there would be a colossal shitstorm of hurricane Katrina proportions, with oceans of ink spilled on the front pages of the NY Times and it would never, repeat, never, happen. Out here in the western hinterlands/colonies however, if they decide that we need to ramp up nuclear weapons production and testing, no one’s going to stop the DOD/DOE from boring holes in the desert to seed millions of tons of test-shot fractured rock with a veritable zoo of ugly radioisotopes.

Vast tracts of land confiscated by the Pentagon during WW II and the Cold War years are either (mostly) still locked up, or, when they are actually released, are often such polluted shitholes that they’re more burden than asset to the unlucky local governments that receive them. There are rafts of official EPA designated toxic cleanup sites located on former and current military land, and that’s just scratching the surface.

An illustrative local example here in Washington State is the Hanford Nuclear reservation. Fifty years of work that was sloppy and careless to a literally epochal degree, considering how long the mess is expected to last, has left the place permanently (as in thousands of years) trashed. There is a sort of silver lining I guess: The economy of the urban area that grew up next to it since WW II is now substantially and stably based in perpetuity on the cleanup of the radioactive filth left over from our Cold War atomic bomb frenzy. The place is also untouched by the irrigation, grazing, and agricultural development that has obliterated the desert in the rest of Eastern Washington. However, radioisotopes leak out in unforeseen ways into what otherwise appears to be a semi-pristine landscape: Ants bring radioactive sand up from buried waste, plants at the surface incorporate the radioisotopes into their tissue, rodents and birds eat seeds and leaves from those plants, then the coyotes that eat the rodents and birds scatter radioactive turds and piss miles outside the reservation. Meanwhile there’s a giant plume of radioactive groundwater moving from the reservation towards the Columbia River that cannot be stopped except perhaps by God.

Forty minutes drive to the south is the Umatilla weapons depot where they’ve been storing war gasses like mustard gas, sarin, phosgene, etc., in hundreds of bunkers ever since fuck knows when. Lately they’ve started up an incineration facility that in a dozen years or so should burn up what they’ve got buried in the bunkers there. This, after weapons gas production was stopped during the Nixon administration. A prominent feature of the surrounding well-populated landscape are loudspeaker towers that are periodically fired up to announce test warnings. - Eerie monotonic declarations booming clearly in English and Spanish accompanied by an incongruously euphonic cell phone ring-tone like sound, followed by the comical din of dogs barking for hundreds of square miles in every direction. Should there actually be a gas leak, what you’re supposed to do is go into your bathroom, seal all cracks with duct tape, and hope the fuck the wind is blowing in a favorable direction.

So yeah, color me a slightly skeptical shade when the feds start locking up land in the name of security. That land may be locked up, and often fucked up, forever.

Long after we've forgotten Bin Laden and the war on terror, we'll be living with the security consequences. And I'm just talking about land here.


Very well said.

Updated the map page to use Google maps. You can now link right to Google maps and enter your address for directions, zoom in and out, use the terrain setting or satellite setting.

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