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Public doesn't get picture with Gulf satellite photos

Gary W. Olson Mar 11, 1991 3:37 PM
Posted in group: alt.conspiracy
This is reprinted sans permission from "In These Times" Feb 27-March 19, 1991,
page 7.  The first six paragraphs were written by the ITT editorial staff,
to introduce this article written by Jean Heller, as published in the St.
Petersburg [Fla.] times.  The remainder is the article itself, reprinted
verbatim from the St. Petersburg [Fla.] Times of January 6, 1991.  Comments
like {this} are my own. - GWO

-----Public doesn't get picture with Gulf satellite photos-----

When President George Bush began his massive deployment of American troops to
the Persian Gulf last August, he claimed that Iraq, which had just invaded
Kuwait, had set its sights on Saudi Arabia.  Last September 11, Bush addressed
a joint session of Congress, saying, "We gather tonight to witness to events
in the Persian Gulf as significant as they are tragic.  In the early morning
hours of August 2, following negotiations and promises by Iraq's dictator
Saddam Hussein not to use force, a powerful Iraqi army invaded its trusting
and much weaker neighbor, Kuwait.  Within three days, 120,000 Iraqi troops
with 850 tanks had poured into Kuwait and moved south to threaten Saudi
Arabia.  It was then I decided to act to check that aggression."

On January 6, however, Jean Heller reported in the St. Petersburg [Fla.] Times
that satellite photos of Kuwait taken the same day the president addressed
Congress failed to back up his claim of an imminent Iraqi invasion.  In fact,
there was no sign of a massive Iraqi troop buildup in Kuwait.

Heller told In These Times, "The troops that were said to be massing on the
Saudi border and that constituted the possible threat to Saudi Arabia that
justified the U.S. sending of troops do not show up in these photographs.  And
when the Department of Defense was asked to provide evidence that would
contradict our satellite evidence, it refused to do it."

But the national media has chosen to ignore Heller's story.  St. Petersburg
Times editors approached the Associated Press twice about running her story
on the wire, but to no avail.  Likewise, the Sripps-Howard news service, of
which the St. Petersburg Times is a member, chose not to distribute the story.

"I think part of the reason the story was ignored was that it was published
too close to the start of the war," says Heller.  "Second, and more
importantly, I don't think people wanted to hear that we might have been
deceived.  A lot of the reporters who have seen the story think it is
dynamite, but the editors who have seen it seem to have the attitude, 'At
this point, who cares?'  If the war ends badly with a lot of casualties,
more than the administration had led us to expect, you might hear of this
story again." {Fat chance at this point...}

We believe you should hear about Heller's story now.  In These Times does not
as a rule publish articles that previously appeared in other newspapers, but
in this case we decided to make an exception.  Below is her story as it
originally appeared in the St. Petersburg Times.

{The original title for the article was not given, but several of the
satellite photos that were printed in the paper were reprinted on the
cover of the Feb 27-Mar 19 ITT.  Check the Jan 6 St. Petersburg Times if you
want to eyeball them yourselves.  The remaining portion of this article was,
as mentioned above, written by Jean Heller.}

By Jean Heller (Washington)

Soviet satellite photos of Kuwait taken five weeks after the Iraqi invasion
suggest the Bush administration might have exaggerated the scope of Iraq's
military threat to Saudi Arabia at the time.

The photos are not conclusive proof that the administration overestimated
Iraq's buildup along the Saudi border, a buildup that was cited as a
justification for the deployment of U.S. troops.  But two American satellite
imaging experts who examined the photos could find no evidence of a massive
Iraqi presence in Kuwait in September.

"The Pentagon kept saying the bad guys were there, but we don't see anything
to indicate an Iraqi force in Kuwait of even 20 percent the size the
administration claimed," said Peter Zimmerman, who served with the U.S. Arms
Control and Disarmament Agency during the Reagan administration.

A Soviet commercial satellite took a photo of Saudi Arabia on September 11
and a photo of Kuwait on September 13.  At the time, the Defense Department
was estimating there were as many as 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks in
Kuwait.  The photos were obtained by the St. Petersburg Times in late

The Times informed the Defense Department of the results of the photo analysis
in early January and asked to see evidence that would support the official
U.S. estimate of the Iraqi buildup.  Spokesman Bob Hall turned down the

"We have given conservative estimates of Iraqi numbers based on various
intelligence resources, and those are the numbers we stand by," Hall said.

Playing with numbers: The mystery surrounding the number of Iraqi troops first
surfaced in November after ABC News purchased several Soviet satellite photos
of Kuwait taken on September 13 and could find no evidence of large numbers of
Iraqi troops.

ABC officials decided not to air the photos because they did not include the
strategically important area of southern Kuwait.  Without seeing this
territory, ABC officials said, they could draw no conclusions about what they
were seeing - or not seeing.

The Times bought the missing photo of Kuwait, as well as a photo of part of
Saudi Arabia, from Soyuz-Karta, a Soviet commercial satellite agency that
sells pictures worldwide for such purposes as geological studies and energy
exploration.  The cost was $1,560 a photo.

The Times retained two satellite image specialists to interpret the photos:
Zimmerman, a nuclear physicist who now is a professor of engineering at George
Washington University in Washington, D.C.; and a former image specialist for
the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) who asked not to be named because of the
classified nature of his work.

While Iraqi troops cannot be seen, it is easy to spot the extensive American
military presence at the Dhahran Airport in Saudi Arabia.

"We could see five C-141s, one C-5A and four smaller transport craft, probably
C-130s," said Zimmerman.  "There is also a long line of fighters, F-111s or
F-15s, on the ground.  In the middle of the airfield are what could be
camouflaged staging areas.

"We didn't find anything of the sort anywhere in Kuwait.  We don't seen any
tent cities, we don't see congregations of tanks, we don't see troop
concentrations, and the main Kuwaiti air base appears deserted.  It's five
weeks after the invasion, and from what we can see, the Iraqi air force hasn't
flown a single fighter to the most strategic air base in Kuwait.

"There is no infrastructure to support large numbers of [military] people.
They have to use toilets, or the functional equivalent.  They have to have
food.  They have to have water at the rate of several gallons per man per day.
They have to have shelter.  But where is it?"

The former DIA specialist agreed: "I simply didn't see what I expected to see.
There should be revetments - three-sided berms with vehicles inside facing the
anticipated direction of attack.  There should be trenches.  But they aren't

"Maybe we waited too long to act over there.  Given their [Iraq's] apparant
lack of structure for defending Kuwait in September, maybe we would have had
a lot more success against Iraq than we would now." {Or not.}

Glaring omission: Both analysis say there are several possible explanations
for their inability to spot Iraqi forces.

The troops could have been so well camouflaged that they were hidden from the
Soviet cameras.  However, Zimmerman said that would be a departure from Iraq's
strategy during its war with Iran in the 1980s, when virtually no effort was
made to hide military positions.  Both analysts recall seeing Iraqi troop
deployments during that war on poorer images from the French SPOT satellite.

It's also possible that troops were so widely dispersed that the satellite
couldn't "see" them because its cameras could not resolve images smaller than
five meters, or about 16 feet, across.  Or it might be that glare from the sun
on the Kuwaiti sand smudged out troop images, although images taken over Saudi
Arabia appear unaffected by glare.

Another possibility is that the Soviets deliberately or accidently produced a
photo taken before the Iraqi invasion.

"We have to take on faith that the image is what the Soviets say it is,"
Zimmerman said.  "I think that's a reasonable assumption, because they
wouldn't have a motive to misrepresent it, and if they did misrepresent it
and the word got out, they'd never sell another picture to anybody.

"We're willing to concede, at least for purposes of argument, that it is not
impossible that all Iraqi activity is below the level of resolution.  But if
there were tent cities, if there were bunkers, if there were staging, supply
and maintainance areas, we find it really hard to believe that we missed

On September 18, only days after the Soviet photos were taken, the Pentagon
said Iraqi forces in and around Kuwait had grown to 360,000 men and 2,800
tanks, a movement of troops and equipment sizable enough to leave telltale
marks and scars on the landscape that should be visible by satellite.

In fact, the photo of southern Kuwait bought by the Times clearly shows the
tracks left by vehicles that serviced a large oil field, but there are no
indications of tanks.

Moreover, both analysts said all Kuwaiti roads leading to the Saudi border
were covered at intervals by deep deposits of wind-blown sand.

"The sand cover is very extensive," the former DIA analyst said.  "In many
places, it goes on for 30 meters [about 100 feet] and more."

"They would be passable by tank but not by personnel or supply vehicles,"
Zimmerman said.  "Yet there's no sign that tanks have used those roads.  And
there's no evidence of new roads being cut.  By contrast, none of the roads we
see in Saudi Arabia has any sand cover at all.  They've all been swept clear."

A satellite photo of the same area of Kuwait taken on August 8, just a few
days after the invasion, shows some sand cover on the roads, Zimmerman said,
and the cover appeared to be less extensive, suggesting that it continued to
build up over the next month.

"It certainly indicates that nobody's been driving over them and that the
[Iraqi] military hasn't bothered to clear them for traffic," he said.

Suppressed evidence: That there was an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait early in
August and that some Iraqi troops remained in the small nation in mid-
September is not in doubt, of course.  Kuwait City was occupied and heavily
damaged, atrocities were committed by Iraqi troops, and Westerners fleeing
Kuwait for Saudi Arabia reported encountering Iraqi soldiers in the Kuwaiti

"But does that mean there were 250,000 [Iraqi] troops or that there were
10,000?" Zimmerman said.  "The Kuwaiti border with Saudi Arabia isn't very
long.  It wouldn't take more than 10,000 Iraqi soldiers to cover the border
area to the point that people fleeing would run into them all over the place.

"In Kuwait City, 2,000 nasty MPs would have been enough to terrorize the city.
Everything we've seen and heard about could have been done by a small enough
Iraqi contingent that two Marine divisions might have driven them back into
Iraq relatively quickly and with relatively little bloodshed."

At the time the Soviet photos were taken, there were more than 100,000 U.S.
troops in Saudi Arabia.

The photos give no hint, of course, of the situation in Kuwait today.  The
Bush administration estimates that Iraq now has more than 500,000 troops in
and around Kuwait.  An agent for Central Trading Systems, the American
representative of Soyuz-Karta, told the Times no further satellite photos of
Kuwait were scheduled to be taken until late January at the earliest.

Asked if Defense Department officials could dispel the mystery created by the
Soviet photos, Pentagon spokesman Hall replied: "There's no mystery as far as
we're concerned.  They [the Iraqi troops] are there.  We'd like it to remain a
mystery to [Iraqi President] Saddam [Hussein] what our intelligence
capabilities are.  We are not going to make our intelligence public."

The Pentagon, apparantly, has not revealed evidence to Congress, either.

Rep. Charles Bennett of Jacksonville, the No. 2 Democrat on the House Armed
Services Committee, told the St. Petersburg Times: "We've had evidence in the
sense that we've had testimony about what the situation was back in September,
but I've seen no photographic evidence to back up the administrations claims."

Members of the Armed Services Committee staff said they had not seen any
conclusive evidence of Iraqi troop strength, either, and had simply relied on
what the administraion was saying.

{end of article "Public Doesn't Get Picture with Gulf Satellite Photos,"
In These Times Vol. 15, No. 14 - Feb 27-March 19, 1991, page 7.}


Gary W. Olson     (34EPWQL@CMUVM.BITNET)    Central Michigan University
************      "Revolt, you thick-skulled idiots!"      ************
************  -Fritz the Cat (R. Crumb, "Fritz Bugs Out")  ************