Thinking Tech

How satellite technology may have tracked down Bin Laden

How satellite technology may have tracked down Bin Laden

Posting in Government

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency worked behind the scenes to track down the world's most wanted terrorist.

Behind a decades-long exhaustive effort to take down Osama Bin Laden is a secretive agency that probes the world from the skies above.

Before yesterday, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) was a rarely-mentioned arm of the U.S. government that supported military operations by analyzing images from highly-advanced satellites and spy aircraft. Now, the NGA will forever be remembered for helping to pinpoint the whereabouts of the world's most wanted terrorist.

While certain laws prohibit commercial satellites from taking close-up snapshots, it's generally believed that military and surveillance satellites are capable of photographing at much higher resolutions.

In 2007, Newsmax's Ronald Kessler gained access inside the NGA and wrote up a fascinating report on the sophisticated technology used to hunt down terrorists and keep Americans safe.

Here are some highlights of his report:

  • Whenever a tip comes in about Bin Laden's whereabouts, NGA analysts examine satellite images of his purported location for clues.
  • Using satellite imagery, NGA analysts can track a target's movement by zeroing on indicators such as tire tracks and campfire smoke and cross referencing what they find with older images.
  • Agents use a wide range wavelengths within the electromagnetic spectrum to detect activity. For instance, they can determine what chemicals are present in a smoking build or locate crops being grown in the soil.
  • The NGA can generate 3-D images to simulate what a pilot would encounter when flying into a mountainous area.
  • To prepare for a military assault, agents can analyze the soil and terrain to map out the best entry points for helicopters and other military vehicles.
  • Some of the NGA's contributions have included reinforcing the security team during the Winter Olympics; surveying damage from hurricanes; and mapping a safe route for transporting Patriot missile batteries across a hazardous location in Iraq.

To learn more, read the full report on NewsMax's website. I highly recommend it.

(via Newsmax)

Image: CIA handout, Digital Globe

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Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure