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5 Eyes in the Sky: The TRUTH about Flight MH370 and SPOOKSATS

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Perhaps DigitalGlobe's fleet can do even better than .25 metre resolution. If it can, it is entirely reasonable to assume it would be shared with the US's partners in the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance, one of which is Australia. And Australia operates a Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO) that boasts its capabilities include “the process of examining an image collected from satellites or aircraft to identify features, describe activity and interpret what is occurring at a given place on the Earth’s surface.”

AMSA has cited DIGO as a source.

For what it is worth, it is known that the US government rents satellites. In 2013 it even leased a Chinese satellite, according to US News.

It's therefore entirely plausible that DIGO and its ilk around the world regularly receive 0.25 metre or better resolution images from a DigitalGlobe or other commercial satellite and that its find of the “credible” candidate for MH370 debris is the result of business as usual, not special efforts.

It is conceivable that US authorities spotted the candidate debris using classified, never-for-public-eyes sources and then made it known where those searching for MH370 should look. It's also a little bit plausible, because while DigitalGlobe has created a crowdsourced image database to help the search for MH370, it appears that effort is not the source of yesterday's find.

If the US went to such lengths to conceal its capabilities, that's a matter for wider debate.

But speculation something secret has been pressed into service is just that. It's also worth considering the track record of the media outlet offering this analysis, as it has twice of late jumped to alarmist conclusions about intelligence matters. Fairfax media, the source of the notion that MH370 was found by spooksats this week, followed Crikey by reporting in July last year that a subsidiary of Telstra, Australia's dominant telco, had agreed to US surveillance of voice traffic on a submarine cable. The "secret document" Crikey uncovered was actually a pro-forma document any submarine cable operator landing in the US signs. Those documents all authorise surveillance, so the notion Telstra alone had thrown open its digital doors was dubious.

In November 2013, another report suggested Telstra's purchase of deep packet inspection products represented a surveillance effort. As we pointed out at the time, it would be of more interest if a major telco did not operate deep-packet inspection kit as the absence of such tools would indicate lax management of mission-critical networks.

The Reg, and your correspondent, make mistakes. But mistakes like the ones recorded here are particularly unhelpful if they heighten public paranoia.

Happily, the source of the spooksat speculation has calmed down and reported on the existence of DigitalGlobe and even extracted a confirmation it is the source of the images that are sparking so much hope for information about MH370.

If only that story had come before the spooky speculation. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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