Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/09/13/google_earth_threatens_democracy/

Google Earth threatens democracy

Military hardware laid bare to Godless commies

By Lester Haines

Posted in Bootnotes, 13th September 2005 13:54 GMT

The recent news that South Korea is to take the US to task over Google Earth images which expose its military installations to close Commie scrutiny has provoked a mini stampede of other peace-loving nations eager to protect their assets from prying eyes.

Enter stage right Thailand, which says it may ask Google to "block images of important state buildings vulnerable to attack". Armed forces spokeschap Major General Weerasak Manee-in told Reuters: "We are looking for possible restrictions on these detailed pictures, especially state buildings. I think pictures of tourist attractions should do, not crucial places which could threaten national security."

Well, we went and had a quick shufti at some Thai military installations, and took the opportunity to scour the Earth's surfaces for other Google satellite data which might threaten Our Way of Life. We restricted ourselves to stuff which lends itself to perusal, mostly air force bases, because (trust us on this one) you can easily waste a whole day looking for Russian ICBM installations.

First up, the evidence for Thai military preparedness. Here's Udorn Air Force base, around 300 miles from Bangkok:

Udorn

Move along, nothing to see here, but try Korat:

Korat

That's more like it. Zoom in for a closer look, and voila! Top-quality, US-bought hardware:

Korat close up

They've even got an awacs parked there on the hard shoulder:

That Korat awacs in full

Hmmm. The good General may have a point. On the other hand, what is Thailand realistically going to do about it?

Manee's Sri Lankan counterpart, Brigadier Daya Ratnayake, admitted it was a "serious concern if anyone could get detailed images of sensitive installations and buildings", but added: "This is a new trend, we will first have to see whether, in this day and age, if this a considerable threat to national security."

He sagely added: "In this era of technology, you have to live with the fact that almost everything is on the internet - from bomb-making instructions to assembling aircraft. So it's something the military has to learn to live with and adapt."

India agrees. Reuters quotes an anonymous security official there as confirming that "the issue of satellite imagery had been discussed at the highest level but the government had concluded that 'technology cannot be stopped'."

"We are aware that there are websites which give detailed pictures of buildings like the president's house including every tree in the compound. Our security agencies are aware of this but how can we stop technology?" he added.

How indeed? And just to prove the point, here's Palam airport in New Delhi, home of domestic flights but also government air transportation in and out of the capital:

Palam

A planespotter's paradise, as a close-up reveals:

Palam close up

Australia, too, has been fretting a little over Google's all-seeing eye. The Australian Department of Defence has said it is taking "appropriate measures to manage the threat" posed by satellite imaging:

Lucas Heights

The above is a lovely snap of Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, south of Sydney, although ANSTO declared the "current images on Google posed no security risk" because: "Although buildings are clearly visible, critical infrastructure is not. The photographs are over two years old."

Quite so. At this point we're getting the feeling that the South Koreans and Thai may be over-reacting a tad. What's more, they're not looking at the plus side: if Vietnam and North Korea are as we speak eagerly filling their broadband boots with Google-supplied military secrets, what's to stop us exploiting the same resource?

Accordingly, we thought we'd have a sniff around for installations belonging to those coutries who do not share our absolute belief in the God-given right to surf the internet for Paris-Hilton-based soft-core porn and military secrets.

As we've already said, scouring the birch forests of Russia for ICBM silos is a fruitless task, although we invite readers to prove otherwise. Yes, we know the Russians are our mates now, but there's something deliciously Cold War about aerial views of Zhukovsy air base - blessed with the longest runway in Europe, we gather, as the pic shows:

Zhukovsky

Zhukovsky - now the Gromov Flight Research Institute - lies close to Moscow, and is the world's largest centre for aeronautical research and testing. That runway, btw, is a whopping 5.4km long. Crikey.

The Chinese can't match the Russians in terms of sheer runway length, but they've got plenty of air bases to ensure their skies remain secure:

Lingshui

This particular facility is Lingshui, on the island of Hainan. It's home to the 22nd Regiment, 8th Division of the snappily-titled PLANAF, or People's Liberation Army Navy Air Force - charged with providing "air defence of ports and naval installations as well as air protection for fleet units", as GlobalSecurity.org puts it.

What Global Security can't say, however, is what exactly goes on at Beijing Capital, just a short bicycle ride away from China's capital:

Beijing Capital

Down in North Korea, meanwhile, which was the cause of all this kerfuffle in the first place, there are Migs in that thar Orang airbase, make no mistake:

Orang

Not very impressive, we agree - and hardly the kind of top-quality imaging which brought us the US's famous Area 51:

Area 51

There's more on Google's handling of alien space technology in our previous probe into the matter, but the contrast between the resolution of snaps of America's finest crashed-spacecraft-handling facility and Godless commie airstrips brings us to our final, crucial question: has Google sold the West out to the forces of darkness?

The answer to this is yes. And no. Sort of. Let's have a look at some sensitive UK sites, starting with Aldermaston:

Aldermaston

If we told you what went on at Aldermaston, we'd have to, well, call on each and everyone of you personally and politely ask you not to tell anyone else. You get the idea. The same goes for Fylingdales:

Fylingdales

Here are a few more non-democracy-threatening grabs, starting with RAF Brize Norton, a big hub of flyboy activity:

Brize Norton

Out East, meanwhile, Lakenheath is the largest US Air Force-operated base in the UK:

Lakenheath

At Mildenhall, the US 100th Air Refueling Wing jostles for space with the 352nd Special Operations Group, 727th Air Mobility Support Squadron, the 95th Reconnaissance Squadron and the 488th Intelligence Squadron. Not that you'd know it to look at this:

Mildenhall

And finally, another US-run facility is RAF Molesworth:

Molesworth

Disappointed? Yes, us too, until we took another swoop over the English countryside.

It's a matter of record that Google has obscured the White House roof, and the tops of other key US governmental buildings (Why? Because that's where they park the black helicopters, naturally), but this concession to national security does not extend to RAF Coltishall, the "Home of the Jaguar":

Coltishall

The chaps were obviously having lunch when the satellite passed over, because:

Coltishall close up

It's not just British air power which is blown wide open to internet snooping, though, as you can see down in RAF Fairford:

Fairford

And just what does the US operate down in Gloucestershire? Hmmm, you tell us*:

Fairford close up

Nice. In conclusion, we'd like to say that we cannot claim to have scoured every tasty airbase in the world to see if Google has caught the propeller-jockeys with their trousers round their ankles, but we reckon readers will have hours of amusement hunting for naked military hardware, like this lovely display at Edwards AFB out there in sunny California. Go to it:

Edwards AFB

Bootnote

*No don't - we reckon we've got it sussed, but finding out will give you something to do this afternoon if you're at a loose end.