There Were Two Dick-Waggings Directed at Iran This Week

By all appearances President Trump casually released highly classified information yesterday, as he has done repeatedly in the past.

Within hours of this tweet, CNBC confirmed that this image comes from one of Trump’s intelligence briefings, which led experts to assume Trump had been careless.

A U.S. defense official told CNBC that the picture in Trump’s tweet, which appeared to be a snapshot of a physical copy of the satellite image, was included in a Friday intelligence briefing.


But the quality of the photograph quickly raised the eyebrows of national security experts, who say that images this clear are rarely made public.

“I’m not supposed to see stuff this good. He’s not supposed to share it. I’ve honestly never seen an image this sharp,” said Melissa Hanham, deputy director of the Open Nuclear Network and director of the Datayo Project at the One Earth Future Foundation.

Hanham suspected the shot was taken from a high-altitude aerial vehicle using tracking technology, such as an RC-135S Cobra Ball or a similar aircraft.

“This will have global repercussions,” said Joshua Pollack, a nuclear proliferation expert and editor of the Nonproliferation Review.

“The utter carelessness of it all,” Pollack said. “So reckless.”

Even before the NYT weighed in last night, I had my doubts whether this was reckless, or whether it was a calculated decision to dick-wag over the sabotage of a missile program the Iranians deny.

First, the tweet was almost certainly not written by Trump. It has no grammatical errors or typographical anomalies. It uses technical terms and consists of full sentences.

In other words, the tweet has none of the hallmarks of Trump’s reflexive tweeting. Someone helped him tweet this out.

Then there’s the fact that, earlier this week, the US dick-wagged about another successful operation against Iran, a cyberattack that took out the IRGC database that they were using to target western shipping.

The head of United States Cyber Command, Army Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, describes his strategy as “persistent engagement” against adversaries. Operatives for the United States and for various adversaries are carrying out constant low-level digital attacks, said the senior defense official. The American operations are calibrated to stay well below the threshold of war, the official added.

The strike on the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence group diminished Iran’s ability to conduct covert attacks, said a senior official.

The United States government obtained intelligence that officials said showed that the Revolutionary Guards were behind the limpet mine attacks that disabled oil tankers in the Gulf in attacks in May and June, although other governments did not directly blame Iran. The military’s Central Command showed some of its evidence against Iran one day before the cyberstrike.


The database targeted in the cyberattacks, according to the senior official, helped Tehran choose which tankers to target and where. No tankers have been targeted in significant covert attacks since the June 20 cyberoperation, although Tehran did seize a British tanker in retaliation for the detention of one of its own vessels.

Though the effects of the June 20 cyberoperation were always designed to be temporary, they have lasted longer than expected and Iran is still trying to repair critical communications systems and has not recovered the data lost in the attack, officials said.

Officials have not publicly outlined details of the operation. Air defense and missile systems were not targeted, the senior defense official said, calling media reports citing those targets inaccurate.

In the aftermath of the strike, some American officials have privately questioned its impact, saying they did not believe it was worth the cost. Iran probably learned critical information about the United States Cyber Command’s capabilities from it, one midlevel official said.

That story described the views of CyberCommand head General Nakasone, who did some dick-wagging in February over CyberCommand’s role in thwarting Russia’s efforts to tamper in the elections.

Whatever else Nakasone has done with his command, he seems to have made a conscious decision that taking credit for successful operations adds to its effectiveness. There certainly was some debate, both within the NYT story and in discussions of it, whether he’s right. But Nakasone is undoubtedly a professional who, when stories boasting of successful CyberCommand operations get released, has surely thought through the implications of it.

But as I said, last night NYT weighed in on the destroyed missile launch, with a story by long-standing scribes for the intelligence community, David Sanger and William Broad and — listed at the end in the actual story but given equal billing in Sanger’s tweet of it — Julian Barnes, the guy who broke Nakasone’s dick-wagging earlier in the week. It’s a funny story — as it was bound to be, given that virtually no one reported on the explosion itself and while this spends a line doing that, it’s really a story exploring what kind of denial this is.

Trump Denies U.S. Responsibility in Iranian Missile Base Explosion


As pictures from commercial satellites of a rocket’s smoking remains began to circulate, President Trump denied Friday on Twitter that the United States was involved.


Mr. Trump also included in his tweet a high-resolution image of the disaster, immediately raising questions about whether he had plucked a classified image from his morning intelligence briefing to troll the Iranians. The president seemed to resolve the question on Friday night on his way to Camp David when he told reporters, “We had a photo and I released it, which I have the absolute right to do.”

There is no denying that, even if it runs the risk of alerting adversaries to American abilities to spy from high over foreign territory. And there is precedent for doing so in more calculated scenarios: President John F. Kennedy declassified photographs of Soviet missile sites during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and President George W. Bush declassified pictures of Iraq in 2003 to support the faulty case that Saddam Hussein was producing nuclear and chemical weapons.


Mr. Trump’s denial and the satellite image he released seemed meant to maximize Iran’s embarrassment over the episode.


If the accident was linked to a covert action by the United States — one that Mr. Trump would have been required to authorize in a presidential “finding” — he and other American officials would be required by law to deny involvement.

The laws governing covert actions, which stretch back to the Truman administration, focus on obscuring who was responsible for the act, not covering up the action itself. Most American presidents have fulfilled that requirement by staying silent about such episodes, but Mr. Trump does not operate by ordinary rules — and may have decided that an outright denial was his best course. [my emphasis]

Not everyone agrees with the claim that Trump would be required by law to deny a covert operation. He’s the President. He can do what he wants with classified information.

That said, the story may be an attempt to use official scribes to reframe this disclosure to make it closer to the way the intelligence community likes to engage in plausible deniability, with a lot of wink wink and smirking. Amid all the discussion of deny deny deny, after all, the NYT points to several pieces of evidence that this explosion was part of a successful program to sabotage Iran’s missile capabilities.

Two previous attempts at launching satellites — on Jan. 15 and on Feb. 5 — failed. More than two-thirds of Iran’s satellite launches have failed over the past 11 years, a remarkably high number compared with the 5 percent failure rate worldwide.


It was the third disaster to befall a rocket launching attempt this year at the Iranian space center, a desert complex east of Tehran named for the nation’s first supreme leader. The site specializes in rocket launchings meant put satellites into orbit.

Tehran announced its January rocket failure but said nothing the one in February that was picked up by American intelligence officials. It has also said nothing officially about Thursday’s blast. Like many closed societies, Iran tends to hide its failures and exaggerate its successes.

The NYT also helpfully links earlier stories on on Iran’s missile program, including one from February by Sanger and Broad that states as fact that the US has accelerated a program to sabotage Iran’s missile program.

The Trump White House has accelerated a secret American program to sabotage Iran’s missiles and rockets, according to current and former administration officials, who described it as part of an expanding campaign by the United States to undercut Tehran’s military and isolate its economy.

Officials said it was impossible to measure precisely the success of the classified program, which has never been publicly acknowledged. But in the past month alone, two Iranian attempts to launch satellites have failed within minutes.

Those two rocket failures — one that Iran announced on Jan. 15 and the other, an unacknowledged attempt, on Feb. 5 — were part of a pattern over the past 11 years. In that time, 67 percent of Iranian orbital launches have failed, an astonishingly high number compared to a 5 percent failure rate worldwide for similar space launches.

Every astute reader who read the earlier Sanger and Broad story would have assumed this explosion was part of the American operation they described. Trump’s tweet would not have changed the extent to which the US could plausibly deny its sabotage operation.

Which means, among all the coyness and winking, this is the most interesting line of the NYT story.

It was unclear if Mr. Trump was using the explosion and the lurking suspicions among Iranians that the United States was again deep inside their nuclear and missile programs to force a negotiation or to undermine one.

Not discussed, however, is the other risk to Trump’s tweet: it has effectively given Iran and our other adversaries a sense of what kind of imagery capabilities we’ve got. That’s what some of the proliferation experts are most troubled by, the possibility that by tweeting out the image, Trump will make it easier for others to evade our surveillance.

But that should be discussed in the same breath as the earlier dick-wagging. While Iran surely suspected the database strike was US work, the earlier NYT story confirms it.

Yes, it’s clear that Trump’s tweet yesterday was dick-wagging. But so was the earlier report on the database hack. So this could reflect a broader change in the US approach to deniability.

93 replies
  1. NorskieFlamethrower says:

    Holy shit, here it comes now! Nuclearize Saudi Arabia, destroy the Iran deal, pull out of Afghanistan, and leave North Africa to the Russians and their mercenaries while the Israelis hold on to the nukes they don’t have. And all this done at the direction and control of the US military. We don’t hafta wait for impeachment to find out where the military is comin’ down in this mess folks. Gee whiz, thank you for this analysis EW, I think I’ll have a fortified brownie, hop into bed, assume the prenatal position and dream about the golden age of WWII.

    • bmaz says:

      I’d add one other thing. When I said immediately above that the Keyhole system is highly classified, it really is. Keyhole hi-res photos just don’t get out into the wild like this. Trump has the authority to do it, because the President can declassify anything if he wants to, he is literally the ultimate classification authority.

      That said, it was a truly sick and improper thing to do so. It gives all kinds of information, just from that one photo (likely from an iPhone) of the intelligence product photo, to people, read enemies, that are now salivating over it. It was an asinine move.

      • P J Evans says:

        I suspect that Russia and China have pretty good ideas of what they can do, from past official Keyhole releases (they’ve been around a long time), and assume that newer ones can do more and better.

        What I’d like to know is, what does the Farsi around the edge of the pad say?

        • bmaz says:

          Russia and China may or may not. It is still asinine to put it out in the open like this. And it gave a boatload of info to Iran specific to this site and surveillance thereof. If anybody but Trump did this, they would be prosecuted immediately.

          • P J Evans says:

            And the prosecution would be deserved. (Far less critical information than this is classified.)
            I read about an analysis of the pic that indicates the photo in the tweet was itself a photo, taken probably by phone, possibly by Tr*mp (but since it’s not his style of tweet, I wouldn’t bet on that).
            post at Kos on this:

            • bmaz says:

              Yeah, that @cgbassa thread was exactly what I saw late last night and could not remember the guy’s handle. But there were several other satellite surveillance experts aghast that it had been put out into the public.

              Best as I can tell, and I am sure no expert, USA-224, and its sister USA-245 launched in 2013, are still the most advanced and secret satellites of the Keyhole program with the exception of USA-290, launched this year.

              • P J Evans says:

                I’d like to see whoever took that photo – and whoever tweeted it using Tr*mp’s account – prosecuted. Not that it’s likely to happen, but it would be a useful reminder that no one should be above the law.
                (My father had a clearance, and sometimes a compartmented one, so I grew up with the idea that “need to know and you don’t” is a real thing.)

      • Troutwaxer says:

        The article says the satellite was launched in 2011, which may mean it’s not the latest and greatest, and given the speed at which technology moves, it could even be two generations old. As much as I dislike Trump, it might not be a big deal. Or it could be a very big deal. From outside, it’s really hard to tell.

        • BobCon says:

          Even satellites locked in orbit can get system upgrades — a lot of the capabilities have to do with software on top of the optics.

          A lot of what the Russians and Chinese will be looking at is not just a sense of what our eyes can see, but how those eyes are communicating back to us.

      • BobCon says:

        If I remember right, in the hierarchy of secrecy the National Reconnaisance Office is even more tightly bound up than the NSA.

        • bmaz says:

          That I can attest to. I tried to subpoena them once. I got an immediate visit from a couple of Feds, and the subpoena got quashed almost immediately after it was served. They were VERY animated that they were so secret that they could not even be named on a subpoena, and were pissed that they had been.

      • MikeA says:

        In this particular case there is no chance this was not done in coordination with the military and intel folks. So asinine or not, it was a planned decision.

        • bmaz says:

          You have to be kidding me. There is not one shred of evidence to support this claim. None. Every NatSec person I have seen or talked to has been livid and aghast.

          But, hey, thanks for dropping in with some pro-Trump trolling as your first comment.

          • A. Non says:

            Either you didn’t talk to anyone with TS/SCI/TK clearance or they are trolling you. Ask your friends how Trump would even get that picture off the classified system up to twitter without defense staff helping him.

              • A. Non says:

                When confronted with reasons, you turn to insults? You literally know nothing about my political beliefs, but feel free to label me. And for the record you guessed completely wrong.

                • P J Evans says:

                  I’m going by your comments here,which are very much IOKIYAR as well as ignorant. Prove that you aren’t a troll, or GTFO.

            • eh says:

              By all estimations, it’s a photo of a computer screen taken with a phone, which only requires a “post to twitter” step to complete the circuit. Not sure which scenario you were imagining.

              • P J Evans says:

                They’re imagining any scenario that doesn’t translate to “the president broke a bunch of laws”.

        • Rayne says:

          Nope. If you get off your little reactionary Trumpist tush and take a gander through the social media feeds of seasoned natsec experts you’ll see they are extremely uncomfortable with surprise disclosure of sources and methods.

          Now go troll someplace else until you can bring more credible comments to the table.

        • A. Non says:

          You’re 100% right. It’s not possible for Trump to download a highly classified picture from someone else’s account on a classified information system by himself without the explicit cooperation of account holder (ie., defense staff). They showed him the picture, gloated about their success, and maybe even asked if he wanted to tweet it. They probably even wrote the text of the tweet since, as Marcy noted, Trump certainly didn’t.

          • Rayne says:

            Speculation. We don’t know what happened. Even Marcy is speculating if making smarter-than-the-average-bear speculation.

            We’re talking about a guy who has no respect for either the intelligence community or classification of intelligence. That’s very useful depending on access and agenda. He can be coaxed into saying things if they feed his narcissism. Useful.

            Pretty sure folks have forgotten how thin the cover was on Stuxnet and which countries were involved.

            EDIT: Has everyone forgotten Dan Coats and his deputy already after less than two weeks?

            • P J Evans says:

              I’m pretty sure it wasn’t DoD/IC people goading him to tweet that pic. They’re not usually that stupid. And clearance levels are drummed into you so that you don’t talk, even years after you leave.

            • A. Non says:

              The president owns all classified information. He/she can use it as he/she sees fit. The whole classification system exists to prevent everyone other than the president from disclosing government secrets. So your criticism of Trump in this respect appears misguided.

                • A. Non says:

                  All classification authority flows from the president, who delegates it to the secretary of defense and so on down the line. The president literally owns all classified information and can do with it whatever he/she wants.

                  • Rayne says:

                    Knock off the “president owns” shit. Seriously. Read Article II of the Constitution — the president is the executive, sworn to faithfully execute the law and uphold the Constitution. He doesn’t own anything paid for by the people described in that Article.

                    You might get your head wrapped around the “faithfully” part, too. Intelligence or military personnel aren’t supposed spend their time “sticking it to the Iranians”; they’ve got an oath to uphold as well.

                    • Rayne says:

                      The subject hasn’t changed.
                      — The president’s job is defined by Article II of the Constitution;
                      — That job description doesn’t include ownership of anything paid for by the people;
                      — The president is the executive, which means he executes the laws made by Congress under Article I;
                      — Executive orders are just that, orders explaining how law will be executed when not defined already by law;
                      — That nifty link you shared is a summary, not the actual executive order issued by Barack Obama;.
                      — EO 13526 explains what 50 USC 834, 50 USC 46, 18 USC 783, 18 USC 798, 18 USC 1924 don’t spell out ( I may have missed a few more laws).

                      And one reason this site exists is that the executive branch tries to work outside the law and the Constitution. And it’s not taken well when someone tries to excuse the executive’s slipping outside the lines — like “the president owns.” Bullshit.

                    • Eureka says:

                      Rayne 603p:

                      And one reason this site exists is that the executive branch tries to work outside the law and the Constitution.

                      Besides appreciating this site, this is also why I appreciated an HJC member saying that impeachment is not (only) about this president, but about the presidency.

                    • Rayne says:

                      Yup. An impeachment inquiry is about documenting history for the future Americans who may be unfortunate/stupid enough to find themselves in this bind — with scofflaw narcissist-in-chief — who needs to checked, even if we’re unable to remove Trump from office by a Senate conviction.

              • Rayne says:

                Blah-blah-blah. Just because the president can insta-declassify doesn’t mean the president SHOULD insta-declassify materials.

                You’re also wrong about ownership. The president owns exactly dick of U.S. government resources even if he thinks he’s a fucking king.

                I’ll criticize this and any other president whenever I wish without your blessing.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            I doubt that even Trump’s intel staff would have asked this president whether he wanted to enter into the public domain via twitter apparently highly classified intel.

            The notion you seem reluctant to deal with is that having the power to do something is not the same as it being remotely prudent to do it.

            In fact, gross abuse of his office by mishandling the government’s – not his – classified data, should be added to the articles of impeachment. In a similar vein, so should handing out security clearances to family members who don’t otherwise qualify for them.

            • posaune says:

              Forgive if these are duplicative questions:
              Who took the photo (of the oval office presentation board, if that’s what it was)? WH staff?
              Who sent it to Trump’s twitter account? WH staff?
              And how was it sent? were those accounts classified? or subject to inspection, i.e. government-issued phones?
              When did Trump actually “de-classify” the image? before he tweeted or after?

        • Kobyashi Monroe says:

          The fact that the classification is blacked out in the upper left corner (instead of being officially declassified) strongly indicates that this photo was not in any fashion intended for publication by anyone other than trump and his loyalists.

    • harpie says:

      Maybe this is thread you’re referring to:
      4:23 PM – 30 Aug 2019
      […] It is not often that images from US Keyhole spy satellites are published. These satellites have 2.4m mirrors (as large as that of the Hubble telescope), and are believed to produce the sharpest images of the Earth’s surface. The actual resolution of the images is kept secret. […]

      • bmaz says:

        Yes, that is it. I saw it later in the night. But the thread, and a bunch of the responses to it (including a highly technical Reddit thread linked at some point), were very good.

    • orionATL says:

      ew specuates that the tweet accompanying the picture was not written by trump.

      it would be possible for a senator or congressman (or two) to raise a fuss and demand investigation and prosecution of improper, damaging release of a classified document. this in turn might smoke out who ordered what of whom – say, from trump to dod or dia, et al? after that might come a coordinated fuss about the improper (i didn’t say illegal) and damaging to nat’l security release of classified documents by this administration. a noisy fuss, if it went on for a while, would add to the general public’s growing perception that trump is unwise, unreliable, and dangerous.

      • bmaz says:

        Think that is fair speculation by Marcy. Though Trump may have directed and been looking over the shoulder of the more literate person crafting the tweet.

        • orionATL says:

          bmaz –

          i have no doubt that emptywheel’s speculation is very reasonable.

          my point is that starting with that assumption suggests a strategy to smoke out all the twists and turns about this photo caper (and maybe other related capers) some congresscritters could demand info on all the whos and whys involved in the photo upload. of course they would be stiffed by the whitehouse, but that would put the mattter into extended public view and likely add to the growing public distrust in our president’s competence in line with this criticism with which i strongly agree:

          the type of action i suggest moves from fruitless argument to more fruitful fact gathering and extended public discourse.

          • bmaz says:

            Oh, I join in the thought of more fruitful fact gathering. The actual process behind that tweet may, or may not, come out anytime soon. But it will be fascinating.

      • A. Non says:

        The president OWNS all classified information, and can disclose whatever he/she wants whenever he/she wants. Classification stops everyone other than the president from disclosing the government’s secretes.

        • P J Evans says:

          That’s not strictly true – he shouldn’t release classified information, but Tr*mp is stupid and a narcissist, and doesn’t understand need-to-know , and no one can get across to him that this kind of thing is Really Bad.

          • A. Non says:

            You really don’t get it. Need-to-know doesn’t apply to the President. He/she literally owns ALL classified information and can do whatever he/she wants with it.

            • P J Evans says:

              What kind of classification did you have when you were working? It doesn’t work that way. Presidents are supposed to NOT do this kind of thing (they’re also supposed to have functioning brains and understand what the rules are for their job).

              • A. Non says:

                What rule or law are you referring to (the one that says what presidents are supposed to do with classified information)?

                • bmaz says:

                  You are spewing absolute bullshit. Like you long have about the status of Assange. If you think we don’t pay attention to the baloney, you are mistaken.

                  • A. Non says:

                    Good non-reply! Don’t answer the question, just attack the questioner. That sounds a lot like someone you detest.

                    • pa says:

                      Um, why are you all arguing with this Russian troll? Do you think you can change their mind (because it’s probably a couple Russians controlling this account, that’s how it works I am in international cybersecurity…)

            • earlofhuntingdon says:

              Your comment assumes that not breaking the law is the same as competent governance. It lies in the same basket as the belief that not getting caught in a lie is the same as telling the truth.

              If Congress had to draft federal criminal law having in mind a president as ignorant and voraciously self-serving as Trump, it would never stop writing new criminal statutes.

              It would be much simpler if Congress were to recognize his gross incompetence and remove him from office. But it seems his incompetence and self-serving priorities are fully shared by his party.

            • Peterr says:

              Need-to-know is one thing. Need-to-tell is quite another, and Trump seems to be unduly afflicted with this.

              But nice try at distraction.

  2. BobCon says:

    In possibly related news, the Washington Post had this article about Bolton’s supposed freeze out at the White House:

    I’d be interested in whether this is true, of course, but also what the significant amount of access given to Sanger and Broad means about internal controls in the White House, and who is calling the shots (if anyone).

    • NorskieFlamethrower says:

      “…the internal controls at the White House, and who is calling the shots (if anyone).”

      LOL, seriously! Let’s remember back in 1932-33 when Adolf Schicklgruber it took him 6 years to rearm and rebuild the German military. Today we have a corporate military institutionalized and running out of stuff to justify it’s existence and in the hands of a madman who the corporate oligarchy thinks it can control. Whatever could go wrong?!!

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Good question about whether anyone is in charge of this White House. The usual response is that Javanka have more control than anyone else, but that is a relative measure.

      I don’t see evidence that anyone can control this president. He has the attention span of a two year-old and the vindictiveness of a Bond villain.

      The possible exception is Putin, but like any good spymaster, he modulates his demands according to what he thinks is within his charge’s grasp.

      Speaking of which, has this latest tweet-disclosure by Trump anything of value that Putin might want?

  3. Peterr says:

    the tweet has none of the hallmarks of Trump’s reflexive tweeting. Someone helped him tweet this out.

    Yes, though the tweet-writer is trying to channel Trump — just not doing a great job of it. The “I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One” sounds close, but off-kilter in ways that Trump isn’t off-kilter. The first part of that — “I wish Iran best wishes . . .” — could be Trump, but I think it is more likely a poor edit in a committee-crafted sentence. Instead of the more measured/bureaucratic/nuanced verb “determining,” I think Trump would have gone with something much more direct phrasing, like “figuring out.”

  4. Peterr says:

    Whatever else Nakasone has done with his command, he seems to have made a conscious decision that taking credit for successful operations adds to its effectiveness.

    This strikes me as less about adding to the effectiveness of their operation, and more about adding to the reputation of his command. A better reputation means they’ll get more consideration when it comes to (a) approval of future possible operations, and (b) a stronger position when arguing for more money in the budget.

    When the SEALS went into Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden, that story built up their reputation, so that the next time folks are thinking about a future operation and wondering who to give it to, the SEALS can point back to this and say “We can handle it.” But CyberCommand operations don’t have the same automatic front page/breaking news appeal, so Nakasone has to make his own press.

    • emptywheel says:

      Yup. Considered that myself.
      It may be a combination. If you’re going up against GRU and they’re bigfooting everywhere, maybe there’s value to doing some counter-big-footing.

    • A. Non says:

      Bingo! Remember when NSA was “No Such Agency”? Careerism and self-promotion sure put an end to that.

      • Peterr says:

        US Cyber Command began life as a part of the NSA, and only became an independent DOD Command unit in May 2018. I’m not so sure it’s “careerism and self-promotion” as much as it is “we may be the new kid on the block among the various unified Commands within the DOD, but we Get The Job Done.”

        IOW, fighting the in-house DOD turf battles via PR.

    • orionATL says:

      and then there is the basic matter that someone at dod (maybe nakasone) should be concerned that citizens like me would like to see some evidence that our (very expensive) military has some competence in this new frontier of invisible warfare where the sappers are internet bots one can’t know are there thru any of our senses.

      as opposed to, say, repelling an invasion of unarmed, child-bearing, brown-skinned miscreants 5’4″, 120 lbs. soaking wet:

  5. scribe says:

    I’m in the skeptical-about-satellite school of thought.
    1. Satellites have known orbital paths, which decent mathematicians can predict very accurately. It’s a standard tactic to defeat satellite imagery, to wait until they are not there to do whatever it is you want them to not see. Yes, more modern spy satellites can change their orbits with maneuvering thrusters but that takes fuel. Given there is no US capability at present to refuel satellites in orbit (known publicly to exist) one is forced to conclude expenditure of maneuvering fuel is governed quite tightly. And, once the bird changes its orbit it’s only good for a couple hours until the maths plug and crank out the new predictions of pass times. So we’re supposed to swallow whole that the satellite just happened to be there in time to get pictures while the pad was still smoking? Just a coincidence? Come on.
    2. The image has entirely too little haze, mirage, and so on. Yes, adaptive optics can compensate for a lot of that, but you’ll get a lot less haze, mirage, etc. looking through 10 or 15 miles of atmosphere as opposed to 120 or so miles of space and atmosphere. Yes, the spy satellites are roughly like turning the Hubble around and pointing it down at us rather than up at the stars, but that doesn’t change the amount of atmosphere they have to see through.
    3. I am of the school that says this was likely a drone – with a good camera – or a manned aircraft with a similarly good camera. From the angle, I’m inclined to say “Drone”.

    I am still not a little aghast at this kind of imagery being out in the wild, though. He coulda shook his dick quite effectively just by denying involvement, without a picture. Having been around a couple bar fights, I can attest that shaking your dick at someone is a good way to start one and quick. Better get your hands up to defend yourself quick, maybe so quick you don’t have time to zip up.

    • bmaz says:

      Um, have you seen the Reddit where it appears to line up perfectly with USA-224? I know little about satellites versus drones or manned flights. But the evidence appears to be pretty good it was the former. Who knows. And, frankly, it should not be known.

      Which is kind of the point. It was still idiotic and asinine for Trump to have put that out in the wild. There is no level of Trump splaining on social media or the Mag Habs apologia circuit that can change that.

      • scribe says:

        Like I said:

        I am still not a little aghast at this kind of imagery being out in the wild, though. He coulda shook his dick quite effectively just by denying involvement, without a picture. Having been around a couple bar fights, I can attest that shaking your dick at someone is a good way to start one and quick. Better get your hands up to defend yourself quick, maybe so quick you don’t have time to zip up.

      • Rollo T says:

        I’m trying to understand where you’re coming from regarding this image. I get that the NatSec people don’t want their sources and methods on display. I’ll agree with you that Trump releasing the photo is idiotic and asinine, as are most things he does, but I’m not sure I see the actual harm here given the following: 1. The resolution of this photo is better than average, but nowhere near the capabilities of current NRO equipment. Pretty much anyone in any competent intel agency in the world knows we have capabilities well beyond what are shown in the photo. 2. Information regarding most satellite passes is pretty well available to anyone. Certainly even the Iranians can figure this out. 3. Conclusion: Yeah, it’s a bad precedent, but where is the real harm with this particular photo? (And no I’m not trolling and yes I have read the above links and spoken with someone who used to know all about such photos)

        • P J Evans says:

          The resolution is estimated at 10cm per pixel – that’s less than 4 inches. It’s apparently from one of the newest satellites, so it’s very much current (and restricted) information. As for harm – would you want photos of US military facilities released that are at that resolution? How about photos of your city?

          • Rollo T says:

            Granted, the dissemination of such photos might be restricted, but we aren’t talking about Iran taking photos of our cities with 4″ resolution, we’re talking about us taking photos of a particular launch site in Iran. I can google Travis AFB and easily read the letters on each plane. So can the Iranians. While 10cm/pixel is impressive, my source said they could read Pravda over your shoulder…. in the 1970s. I’m not trying to be glib, but I don’t see any direct harm with this particular photo of their missile accident given publicly available information.

            • Ken Muldrew says:

              Your source was making game of you. The diffraction limit for a 2.4m mirror at 250 km is about 10cm and that’s a hard limit. If you know what you’re looking at, then you can use digital processing to do better than that, but you also introduce artifacts that look real. It takes a bit of cleverness to sort out artifacts from reality when doing this kind of thing. In the 1970s none of these techniques were available and there sure weren’t any 2.4m mirrors orbiting the earth. Maybe your source was thinking of U2 planes?

            • Eureka says:

              This part of the conversation (“over your shoulder”) reminds me of the Russian surveillance plane(s) flyovers earlier in August. Search results show dates this year of ca. 11th over the Midwest, ca 9th around the upper east coast.

              But we saw a jet on an earlier date that seemed like it was flying surveillance; maybe instead it was one of ours.

              Russian spy plane trolls Trump with flight over D.C., New Jersey

        • bmaz says:

          Rollo T – Fair comment. And I understand fully the counterargument you make. And, yes, there are satellite/surveillance specialists that immediately got a bead on this because some of the information has long been out there. Sure.

          That said, this is “current NRO equipment”. USA 224 and USA 245 are still at the top line. USA 290 is the only real next gen Keyhole satellite in orbit currently. USA-224 is not some dusty relic. So, sure, there is a known history that allowed a couple of specialists to glom on to what Trump had really done.

          I am not sure in the least how what Trump did can be minimized or discounted. Not after the idiocy that was made of the personal servers of Clinton that have never been shown to have been breached. What Trump did here is simply insane. By any measure, and certainly by that that he and the GOP cravenly held Hillary Clinton to.

          • Rollo T says:

            Agreed. I don’t minimize or discount Trump’s damage in any respect. His idiocy should be exposed at every turn.

    • orionATL says:

      scribe –

      a different perspective helps an argument a lot.

      “hubble turned around and looking down” is quite memorable.

      but to provide us this you may have had to sacrifice a bit of the privacy surrounding “what did you do in the war, daddy”.😀


  6. quebecois says:

    After taking a look at this picture, you can see the reflection of the person using a flash that burns the middle of that pic. The resolution is exceptional, takes the best algorithms to be able to get through the haze of our atmosphere from 15 miles up.

  7. bmaz says:

    Just so that this thread is clear, “A. Non” is a troll that has appeared here exactly 32 times, beginning January 19 of this year. Most of its trolling was in craven protection of Julian Assange.

    A full 11 of the total of 32 comments over eight months were today on this thread.

    I wonder why this troll is so engaged on this thread on this day?

    • P J Evans says:

      Maybe they know that that pic was still classified after it got tweeted to the world via Tr*mp’s account. And they sure are invested in trying to convince us that the president (if only the current one) can do whatever they want. (I wonder what they’d say if Obama had done that. I doubt they’d be making the same claims.)

      • bmaz says:

        Well, as previously admitted, it is fully within any President’s power to declassify and publish things like this. That is not even a question. The question is “should” they; and the obvious answer is no.

        But, from the party that thought Hillary Clinton had a private server for some email, at a time after the entire insecure SIPRNet had been violated by an Army private, is a little rich.

    • orionATL says:

      bmaz –

      thanks for the data. i don’t recall ever seeing such here before this.

      very helpful in deciding what is really going on, all the more since “troll” is used 6 ways from sunday in the media these days.

    • bmaz says:

      Aw jeez, that is the worst Formula wreck, whether One, Two or Three, I have seen in a while. Just brutal. Top level auto racing has made such improvements in driver safety over the last three decades or so, it is too easy to forget that it is such a dangerous sport still. Until you see something like this. Even more than Bianchi into the crane. Has been a while since I’ve seen anything that brutal.

      • scribe says:

        Racing is inherently dangerous. Period. Full stop.
        Those who don’t recognize and embrace that, should leave.
        There has been a pissing contest about the conditions at Pocono and whether Indy Car should continue there. To those arguments, this article from Mario Andretti’s local paper should put it to rest: “Pocono is not for sissies”, says Mario.
        “When you talk to drivers, those who are more accomplished drivers all embrace Pocono,” Mario Andretti said. “It has always been like that. The drivers from Day 1 have had a love-hate relationship with Pocono. The drivers that cherish the challenge love it, and I’m one of them.
        “Don’t blame the track. Blame the drivers. It’s the drivers’ responsibility to do it, and after something happens they all say mea culpa, but it’s too late.”
        In sum: “Pocono is not for sissies,” the Nazareth-area legend said Wednesday via telephone. “They don’t call it the Tricky Triangle for nothing. It’s something to conquer, not to walk away from.
        “It would be a grave mistake for IndyCar not to go back to Pocono. That’s my clear position and I don’t mind expressing it.”

        I guess that shows not only his clear opinion on the sport, but also his opinion of the Sage Karams of this world.
        All racing is like that. The challenge of conquering that danger, or at least wrestling it under control, is why people drive. It’s also why we watch.

  8. Kathy Williams says:

    Much of what Trump does is to benefit his real allies: Russia, Saudi Arabia and the .01%. This fits the pattern.

    • Worried says:

      Trump takes care of Trump.
      He gets pleasure in belittling anyone when he perceives a chance to twist the knife.

  9. Zwik says:

    Has it been established if the president’s practically-unlimited power to release anything at all extends to whoever has access to his Twitter account? This official-action-by-tweet thing has such far-reaching implications.

Comments are closed.