Google Earth offers unprecedented public access to satellite material that was once the exclusive preserve of the state. One obvious if unintended consequence of this service, writes Nicholas Kaempffer, is that insurgents and extremists now use satellite imagery to plot and better coordinate their activities.
By Nicholas Kaempffer for Canadian Military Journal (CMJ)
Take 3rd World Ideology, Add 2nd World Weaponry, Plus 1st World Technology, Equals…
Within the tragic tale of the long-established Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is clear that Israel has held the dominating position of military supremacy via technology and surveillance for several decades. This balance of power is slowly starting to shift, and one element in this ever-changing equation is the introduction and utilization of Google Earth by Palestinian militants to more accurately strike Israel with rockets. Striking distant targets with indirect fire (munitions fired beyond line-of-sight) is extremely difficult, as numerous variables are required to predict the necessary point of aim. Imagery from Google Earth allows the collection of distance, altitude, and target identification, allowing militants the ability to both fixate (figure out where they are) and orient (what way they need to point) rocket positions, to strike Israeli positions using firing tables. In layman’s terms, Google Earth allows Palestinian militant groups, such as the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, to more accurately strike specific locations within Israel, by giving them a better picture of real-world intelligence on the ground. This cartographic knowledge was once almost exclusively held by the Israelis, and Google Earth is, in essence, ‘levelling the playing field’ between the two combatants. Khaled Jaabari, a commander for the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, stated: “We [al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade] obtain the details from Google Earth and check them against our maps of the city centre and sensitive areas.” Thus, Google Earth is narrowing the technical divide between two historically mismatched opponents. Ten years ago, militants such as Khaled Jaabari simply could not match the surveillance and cartographic capabilities of the Israelis, who spent millions, if not billions of dollars to maintain such superiority. Now, groups like the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade are receiving high quality geographic information, for free. While this cost is easy for them to bear, it is certainly the opposite for the Israelis, and efforts have been undertaken to have imagery purposely censored or lowered in resolution to make targeting more difficult. Following the next case study of Google Earth and the ‘War on Terror,’ further discussion will deal with state responses and security issues regarding Google Earth.
Lieutenant Nicholas Kaempffer, an artillery officer, has a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in Geography from Queen’s University. He is a Troop Commander at the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery School (RCAS).
Phi Beta Iota: Once again, non-state actors have gained an advantage by being more agile than industrial-era governments and their bureaucracies. A saving grave is that humanitarian applications are emergent, Crisis Mappers International being one of the most promising. On the down side, the so-called humanitarian agencies, both national and international, are pathologically dysfunctional, challenged at every turn by ideologues and the military-industrial complex, and rather jejeune about “new” technologies. Open Source Everything (OSE) has not yet taken off, but it is approaching a vertical launch point in its gestation curve. If Sir Richard Branson, for example, were to commit to The Virgin Truth, 1st World Technology would bring peace and prosperity to the 3rd and 2nd Worlds. All that is required is intelligence with integrity. A challenge.