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Al-Qaeda probes enemy on Google Earth

So claims US Marine

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Amid all the kerfuffle of late regarding Google Earth and its possible threat to the national security of several jittery nations comes an interesting snippet from an email purporting to be from a US Marine who served in Iraq. In it, he suggests that al-Qaeda is using Google Earth as a intelligence tool in its fight against the US military.

You can read the full text on The Jawa report (and elsewhere, since it's proving a bit of a hit in cyberspace) under the snappy headline Iraq Gun Porn: Which Guns Suck, Which Guns Rock. It's preceded by the following which gives some cause for suspicion:

It [the email] was forwarded by a reader in the Navy, Mike, who in turn got it from a friend of his in the Marines. You may have seen it making the rounds already. The review of the weapons are one recently returned Marine's opinion [name removed to protect his identity] and does not necessarily mean a consensus has formed. If you scroll to the end you'll also see an assessment of our enemy's capability as well as those of our allies.

However, the email is plausible enough. It's also fairly long, so to cut to the chase, here's point five under the "Bad guy weapons" heading:

Bad guy technology: Simple yet effective. Most communication is by cell and satellite phones, and also by email on laptops. They use handheld GPS units for navigation and "Google earth" for overhead views of our positions. Their weapons are good, if not fancy, and prevalent.

Hmmm. One of biggest objections to the use of Google Earth as a military intelligence tool is the age of the images, and resolution is often an issue for detailed fact-finding. The results of our Google Black Helicopter competition demonstrate this quite nicely.

Regarding how often Google updates stuff, have a look at this image of Rasheed "airport" on the outskirts of Baghdad, as we featured it back in October:

Rasheed black helicopters

And here it is now:

Rasheed Airport as it is now

Yes, the black helicopters have unlanded. To where, we know not, but note the resolution of the first snap. An interesting image, but its usefulness to an enemy - even if were right up-to-the-minute - is highly questionable. ®

Bootnote

Another posting of the same email has the following intro, so the text may actually have been written by the Marine's father:

Hello to all my fellow gunners, military buffs, veterans and interested guys. A couple of weekends ago I got to spend time with my son Jordan, who was on his first leave since returning from Iraq. He is well (a little thin), and already bored. He will be returning to Iraq for a second tour in early '06 and has already re-enlisted early for 4 more years. He loves the Marine Corps and is actually looking forward to returning to Iraq.

Jordan spent 7 months at "Camp Blue Diamond" in Ramadi. Aka: Fort Apache. He saw and did a lot and the following is what he told me about weapons, equipment, tactics and other miscellaneous info which may be of interest to you. Nothing is by any means classified. No politics here, just a Marine with a bird's eye view's opinions.

Oh yes - and thanks very much to John Latham for the tip-off.

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