Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Limitations of Spy Satellites

Philip Taubman in today’s New York Times argues that Colin Powell will not likely be able to produce an Adlai Stevenson moment tomorrow when presenting evidence before the UN tomorrow. Taubman points to the limitations of spy satellites, which while capable of viewing objects as small as a football, are nonetheless limited to passing over targets for a limited amount of time on a regular schedule. Because of this regularity, targets may avoid detection.

But these limitations were well known during the last Gulf War. Schwartkopf in particular lobbied to pull the SR-71 spy planes out of moth balls in order to regain the element of surprise. What Taubman fails to take into account is the development and use of unmanned Predator drones for reconnaissance, which reclaims the element of surprise. He also fails to take into account the likely presence of special forces and CIA operatives already on the ground in Iraq. While Powell may be reluctant to reveal some intelligence for fear that it will reveal too much about how the information is obtained, it is implausible to think that the date presented will be limited to satellite imagery.

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