NET NEWS: Bird's-Eye Nuclear Landscape

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Science  05 Mar 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5407, pp. 1411
DOI: 10.1126/science.283.5407.1411a

Grainy images of Soviet rocket launchers in Cuba pushed the United States and the Soviets to the brink of war in 1962, illustrating the power of satellite reconnaissance to influence U.S. foreign policy. Now armchair analysts can log on to the Web (www.fas.org/irp) to see some of the best clandestine Cold War photos and take a shot at deciphering the secret weapons labs that other countries strived to hide.

From 1960 to 1972, the U.S. CORONA spy satellite program snapped more than 800,000 detailed pictures, including stunning shots of known and suspected nuclear facilities in the Soviet Union, China, Israel, and Taiwan. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency declassified the images in 1995 but has kept under wraps its accompanying analyses. Over the past year, the nonprofit Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has culled the CORONA stash for revealing photos that, it claims, “can help public analysts evaluate current arms control and nonproliferation problems.”

At a symposium last month in Washington, D.C. FAS's Public Eye Initiative detectives trotted out dozens of the best shots, including the sharp 1971 view of Israel's Dimona Nuclear Facility, a center off limits to international inspectors and thought to have dozens of nuclear weapons. The aging photos may have lost long ago the power to change the course of history. But at least they can now be seen by informed observers outside the U.S. government: The CORONA trove, says FAS's John Pike, “is going to introduce a new standard of facticity to the public policy debate.”

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