Fixing Basra

I’ve been told off (politely) via email for showing terrorist readers of Ogle Earth how to get to the imagery that used to be in Google Earth by publicizing the Google Maps API tile comparison tool in my previous post. The argument was that these things may be easy for me, but not for the average Iraqi, and that what I did was akin to posting information on how to pick locks.

I only partly agree. I think my previous post was more like pointing out that there is no door to lock.

Ten minutes ago I gave myself the task of getting hold of recent imagery of Basra without access to Google Earth or the Google Maps API. I got what I was looking for on the first try. Tell me if what I just did is not accessible to anyone with dial-up internet, a point to prove, and a positive IQ.

  1. Go to DigitalGlobe’s home page.
  2. Click on, oh, I don’t know, how about The Digital Globe Online Store.
  3. Search for “Basra” in Iraq.
  4. Zoom in.


Picture 2.jpg

Click to enlarge

Note that the acquisition date of the image is the exact same as that of the now missing imagery in Google Earth. $105 gets me an immediate digital download, $30 a month lets me surf without watermarks all I want. Or if I can live with watermarks, it’s right there for the screen-grabbing and stitching, no credit card required. Here’s the preview:


If I go for the $105 option, I get a 3000×2400 pixel download of the area — that is in fact much better than what Google Earth Free or Plus will get you. And it’s oh-so easy to overlay on Google Earth.

Of interest is that the more recent imagery, from 2005 and 2006, is not available via this method. To get at those images, you need to use the more powerful Image Library, and then submit your request to humans for vetting/preparation. I also suspect that this imagery is a lot more expensive, but I haven’t tried it. Many regional oil companies have no doubt bought that imagery in order to check up on the competition’s wells around Basra.

All this is beginning to lead me to believe that the imagery switch by Google Earth in the recent update may have been inadvertent, similar to how newer imagery of the Canary Islands was replaced with older imagery simply because a different vendor started providing it (perhaps for free or cheaply). I’ve asked but haven’t heard back from Google; in the absence of a definitive answer from them, I have to say that I think the rhetorical question “Did Google censor Basra imagery?” is now looking more tentative.

An inadvertent switch is the only explanation I can think of why other providers continue to be so sanguine about this imagery from Iraq — after all, intelligence experts have been quoted over and over since as long as I’ve listened that two-year old data is harmless, because military commanders work under the assumption that their deployments are tracked by any number of satellites, and act accordingly. Meanwhile, 2006 data is already offered for sale to the public, albeit at a price, and presumably with some checks — though I wouldn’t presume those checks are foolproof.

5 thoughts on “Fixing Basra”

  1. Of course the average Iraqi planning a miltary oeration involving several people and using military equipment is too dumb to figure out how to use an API :P

    When will people realise just because someone is your enemy doesn’t make them stupid.

  2. Of course grieving relatives of slain or injured service personnel would also be clever enough to use the internet to find out where you live, should they have any kind of grudge against you in the future.

    All they’d have to do (which I’m sure they already know) is type in :

    and they could find your address :

    Administrative Contact:

    Geens, Stefan

    Baeckvaegen 75 2tr

    Haegersten, Stockholm 12647


    706115711 Fax — 706115711

    Isn’t this internet fun!!!

  3. Let me complete Fred’s point for him: Because WhoIS makes it so easy for both innocent people and disturbed madmen to find somebody’s address, WhoIS should be shut down. Then only the truly motivated disturbed madmen will find the address via some other slightly more circuitous route, while the innocent lose access to an easy tool.

  4. Ugh, have to agree with you here Stefan. And sorry to see Fred did that. :(

    A side note, keep up the good work with this blog. Doing a great job, eventhough at times I disagree. :)


  5. Ugh, have to agree with you here Stefan. And sorry to see Fred did that. :(

    A side note, keep up the good work with this blog. Doing a great job, eventhough at times I disagree. :)


Comments are closed.