April 13, 2014

Beware the spy in the sky

IT’S EASY TO IMAGINE that when you go over the horizon in a small sailboat you disappear from the view of other humans. But recently I’ve been wondering if that’s still correct.

What made me wonder was all the pictures we’ve been getting of debris in some very remote parts of the Indian Ocean.  Satellites looking for bits and pieces of the missing Malaysian Airlines jet have been sending us pictures of all kinds of junk floating around in the ocean, including one lump that was later described as seaweed.

If common-or-garden satellites such as these are registering such tiny pieces of flotsam, how could they possibly miss seeing a sailboat 20 to 50 feet long? It makes you wonder why we bother with Epirbs and GPS when we’re under 24-hour surveillance out there anyway. And it’s a fair bet that there are military satellites, with far greater resolution, that we are not yet being told about.

It reminds me that the oceans of the world are already criss-crossed with underwater cable networks — listening devices designed to detect the movement of enemy submarines,  both diesel and nuclear.

If they can pick up the muted sounds of electric motors from subs, why wouldn’t they be able to hear the pings from a downed aircraft’s black box?  Of course, for military reasons, you have to be careful about revealing the efficiency and capability of your spy networks. Even if you did locate a black box on the sea bed, you might not want your enemies to know how fiendishly clever you are.

However, the existence of these formerly secret underwater listening arrays is now common knowledge, even if the specifics of the latest developments are kept secret. The Integrated Undersea Surveillance System has provided the U.S. Navy with its primary means of submarine detection for many years, but I would imagine that sophisticated satellites are increasingly being used also.  I have seen a satellite image of a submarine underwater in pitch darkness. The boat’s presence was revealed for anyone to see from above by a bright outline of phosphorescence, which modern science does not yet seem able to suppress.

Anyway, the point is that the oceans are no longer the watery deserts they used to be. Next time you pee over the side or sunbathe nude on the foredeck, be aware that a satellite in space may well be sending a picture of you back to a giant screen in an office full of scientific boffins on earth. You might even provoke them to laughter or scorn. Nothing is sacred any more.

Today’s Thought
The right of an individual to conduct intimate relationships in the intimacy of his or her own home seems to me to be the heart of the Constitution’s protection of privacy.
— Harry A. Blackmun, Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court

Tailpiece
"Why are you limping?"
"I went to a seafood disco last night and pulled a mussel."
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1 comment:

Edward Jones said...

Heck they had Sats that could read a license plate 30 years ago:) Today they can probably count the pimples on your face what color eye you have. I suspect the military knows the location.