Cheney: The censorship that isn’t

I’m in London. I meet a friend for lunch and am told, conspiratorially, that Dick Cheney is actually running the US government because while you can see the White House in detail in Google Earth, The Naval Observatory where Cheney lives is pixelated. Who says, and what’s one got to do with the other, I ask? “The Guardian wrote that in an article,” I am told. Sure enough, here it is in a piece from last Monday, which begins:

Is this the real president of the United States?

He rarely speaks in public and closely guards his privacy. But there’s a growing consensus in America that it’s Dick Cheney who calls the shots at the White House, on everything from the war in Iraq to climate change policy. Ed Pilkington reports

Monday July 23, 2007
The Guardian

It is a party trick well known to curious teenagers across America. Zoom down on Washington via Google Earth and you get an extraordinary eagle-eyed view of the world’s greatest powerhouse. There’s the White House and its West Wing. There’s the spot where they put the national Christmas tree festooned with lights. Sweeping south-east across the Potomac you soar above the pentagon of the Pentagon; then back up a bit north and you can sit for hours counting the tiles on the roof of the Lincoln memorial. But there is one thing you can’t do. If you scroll over the site of the vice-president’s official residence, all you will see, mysteriously, is a blurry fuzz.

The 46th vice-president of the US, Dick Cheney, has a fondness for remaining invisible. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Google Earth or a bank of television cameras, he won’t play ball. He rarely presents himself to the media, and when he does so he likes to keep it in the family.

I think we can safely conclude that it is now received wisdom that Dick Cheney has had that imagery censored. After all, not only have Maureen Dowd and Jon Stewart said as much, we now have reputable British newspapers stating this as a fact. Never mind, of course, that you can buy uncensored versions of the imagery for $35 online, or for $0 if you are willing to live with “preview” watermarks. Google is just using an outdated dataset, is all.

It’s sort of depressing to watch a lack of understanding about how such imagery is captured, processed and published turn into an baseless urban legend, mostly among those who at the same time accuse the Bush administration of having rushed to judgment on Iraq without first considering the evidence.

11 thoughts on “Cheney: The censorship that isn’t”

  1. Man, I hope the old gasbag finally dies. He’s a big cancer to this nation. The whole Bush Administration will burn in hell when their time is due.

  2. Just to be clear, the censorship of the Naval Observatory is not just due to some old low-res imagery — there’s a clearly defined circle of pixelation reaching to the boundary road, meaning that _someone_ intentionally censored that data.

    It was almost certainly not Google and it may not even have been Cheney’s people, given that only this one data source has the pixelation (not that Cheney’s people can be accused of excessive competence).

    That said, the reporter who called it a “blurry fuzz” clearly didn’t look at the image. It’s pixelated, not blurred. It’s hard to confuse one for the other.

  3. While we witness yet another wave of arm-chair image analysts and security experts asking the ‘tough questions’, from all over the world — we also realize that these are the same people who didn’t ask too many of those ‘tough questions’ when this administration did go into Iraq.

    Although Michael Moore went off like a kid who just found the only remaining copy of the first Silver Surfer in the local neighborhood comic shop (I have no idea what that all means, but it sounds good so I’ll roll with it) — he was at least correct about that point.

  4. Just to be clear, there definitely is censorship there — a great big pixelated circle — but what I ‘m saying is that the image is old, and that the censorship is a leftover from old guidelines before DigitalGlobe and others started selling their wares, uncensored, online, and before Google Earth came onto the scene.

  5. Uh, remember the USNO is also a military installation. They may have some secret stuff there that has nothing to do with Cheney.

  6. The image on Google is from early 2002. If you check out the coordinates on, you have the ability to select various images from various time periods. Images prior to 9/11/2001, and images up until October of 2002 are pixelated. From October 2002, the images are no longer masked.

    The image on is also pixelated, so it’s clearly not just Google.

    I loathe Cheney and this administration, but the real issue here is with Google and There is no reason for them not to have updated the images for all of DC since late 2002. There are plenty of high res images available to do so.

  7. Up in arms that there’s a lie about his house being censored, not too upset about lies leading to war then?

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