Declassifying Government Information p. 20

By: Debra Gersh Hernandez Executive order from President Clinton permits formerly
classified satellite imagery to be released to the public sp.

HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of satellite images taken between 1960 and 1972 have been declassified by an executive order from President Bill Clinton.
This is the first time such formerly classified satellite imagery has been released, explained Vice President Al Gore, during a recent press conference at CIA headquarters announcing the order.
The material will not be available to the public for about 18 months, while it is transferred from the intelligence community to the National Archives and Records Administration, where it will be cataloged. Copies also will be sent to the United States Geological Survey.
Once the transfer is completed, the public will be able to access the images at the National Archives facility in College Park, Md., or via the Internet, where they can peruse an electronic index with reduced resolution images and order duplicates.
"These satellite systems are obsolete now, but in their time they played a pivotal role in our national security," said Adm. William O. Studeman, acting director of Central Intelligence, during the ceremony.
The Corona system began taking satellite images from space in August 1960, just 110 days after the U-2 aircraft piloted by Gary Powers was shot down. The Corona satellites were designed to replace the risky U-2 flights, Studeman explained.
The imaging resolution started out at 8 meters, or about 25 feet, and was eventually improved to 2 meters, or about 6 feet.
The more than 800,000 images make up 2.1 million feet of film in 39,000 cans, according to the CIA.
One lesson from the Corona program, Studeman continued, "is that these intelligence systems are valuable assets that belong to the American people. We should declassify them when their secrets are no longer critical to national security. Film from these early broad-area-search systems still contains a wealth of information."
One way the information is being used is for environmental purposes. In fact, the initiative to declassify the images was begun by Gore when he was a senator and Robert Gates was director of the CIA.
These satellites collected thousands of times as much information as was needed for intelligence activities, Gore said, noting that it made sense to figure out ways to use that data without compromising national security.
In the spring of 1992, an Environmental Task Force was formed to study how the images could be applied to environmental studies, and, at the same time, the Central Imagery Office began reviewing its classified policy and procedures. "The process of bringing these early spy satellites in from the Cold War has been long," Studeman said. "We are working on ways to provide critical information to people who need it sooner, without compromising national security concerns."
This release is only part of a process that will allow for other uses of data gathered by intelligence systems, the vice president said, although there is no plan for any system of automatic declassification of current images after the elapse of a set period of years.
A draft executive order currently being worked on would set parameters for the automatic declassification of certain classified documents after a period of years.
?(Taken Aug. 20, 1966, this photograph-which is a 30X enlargement of the original image-show a major Soviet strategic bomber base and is an example of how early imagery could distinguish between heavy bombers and transport aircraft.) [Photo & Caption]


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