China, Technology, Power & Security Commercial satellites — not U.S. intelligence — revealed China’s missile program
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August 3, 2021
Erik Lin-Greenberg and Theo Milonopoulos | The Washington Post
Last week, researchers at the Federation of American Scientists used satellite imagery to uncover more than 100 suspected nuclear missile silos under construction in western China. Days later, private analysts identified new underground facilities at a Chinese nuclear test site using similar satellite images.
These revelations, coming after the discovery of another Chinese missile field in June, leveraged satellite imagery to disclose some of Beijing’s most closely guarded secrets about its nuclear program.
But these images didn’t come from government intelligence agencies. Instead, they were collected using privately operated commercial satellites and analyzed at think tanks — no high-level security clearances required.
This is not how we used to find out about major national security secrets.
Once upon a time, such findings were almost exclusively in the hands of governments with robust intelligence organizations. The proliferation of commercial satellites has upended this near-monopoly on government intelligence gathering. And this also means leaders now have less freedom — both politically and strategically — to handle this kind of news.