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The US may pull the plugs on civilian GPS (Global Positioning System) during a war in Iraq, and could take steps to disrupt satellite communications systems, according to a Gulf News report. Quoting "senior industry sources" the report suggests that GPS - which is the simplest candidate for a switch-off - would be the first satellite service to be affected, but that it could be done "as part of a wider drive to stem the flow of information/propaganda during the conflict, especially in the initial phases."

At the moment the US is the only game in town when it comes to GPS, and just over a year ago US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz appeared to be trying to keep it that way. But clearly he couldn't have been, because the State Department was at the time spreading sweetness, light and interoperability. Possibly meaning that Galileo is cool provided we can switch that one off as well.

But even if not, it's still a couple more wars down the line. As far as today's war is concerned, disabling non- US military GPS might have some impact, not necessarily confined to the war zone, but action against satellite communications systems in general would be a more drastic step. Inmarsat yesterday said it had increased its capacity from four to nine operational satellites in the Middle East in preparation for increased demand, and helpfully quoted CNN's Nic Robertson as saying: "Videophones put you in the heart of a story." Indeed they do Nic, indeed they do.

Given that the US has indicated that users of 'freelance' sat systems may be in some personal peril, some less potentially lethal attempt to shut off the supply in general would make sense. But how? ®

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