The analyses of the Al Kibar site and many other intelligence questions are being addressed by many people now that images are available through the internet. Wednesday’s post wasn’t primarily about image analysis, but that is part of the Al Kibar story, of which I plan another installment, probably next week. Bellingcat has been investigating Syrian barrel bombs and Russian military activity in Ukraine through overhead and ground photos.

Google Earth is a great resource, but news photos and the photos people upload from their phones, along with highly detailed and costly satellite photos are all part of the data. It takes some training to do serious analysis, and there are resources available to help.

Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, is an expert in photo interpretation. She provides instruction and quizzes at Arms Control Wonk if you want to improve and test your skills. Yesterday she broke a big story: North Korea’s pesticide factory could also produce biological weapons. Here’s her full analysis, and here’s an article about it in Vice. The New York Times has noted the article.

Arirang, a South Korean news outlet, checked with a defense official who pointed out that the facility does not have the containment required for handling anthrax. That’s a legitimate criticism, but dictatorships have not always taken the same care with dangerous materials that more open societies do. In 1979, an anthrax plant in Sverdlovsk, USSR (now Ekaterinburg, Russia) vented anthrax spores that sickened 94 people and killed 64 of them (more here).

But that was 1979, and everyone is more careful with such things now. The story is still developing. But read Hanham’s analysis.


Top: One of the photos in Hanham’s analysis, from KCTV.

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