Wednesday, August 27, 2008

C4ISR: Unearthing Secrets

How the U.S. digs up intelligence on underground sites
By Jeffrey T. Richelson
August 01, 2008

In late May 1991, a few months after Iraq’s loss in the Persian Gulf War, four Iraqis drove up to a U.S. Marine checkpoint in the Kurdish north of Iraq, near the town of Dohuk. One occupant claimed to be Saddam Hussein’s top nuclear scientist. The U.S. whisked him away to Turkey and then Munich for debriefing, during which he claimed that the coalition bombing campaign had missed a number of key facilities, including a large underground uranium enrichment facility inside a mountain north of Mosul.

Like many defectors, he was not exactly telling the truth. He was not Saddam’s chief nuclear scientist, but a physicist who had worked at the Ash Sharqat facility, home to a calutron, a World War II-era device for enriching uranium. There was no sophisticated, secret underground uranium enrichment facility.

Not all reports of underground facilities are the figment of someone’s imagination, which is why in 1997, then-Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet ordered the Defense Intelligence Agency to establish the Underground Facilities Analysis Center (UFAC). There, the motto is “unearthing the truth in defense of our nation.” Its logo shows a sword crossed with a pick laid on top of an image of the Earth. To give the analysts at UFAC more to go on, the U.S. is working on technologies to study underground facilities in greater detail from the air and space and with seismic sensors.

A May 2000 Air War College paper raised the possibility of equipping a UAV with a gradiometer, a GPS receiver and a means of transmitting the gradiometer data to an airborne or space platform. Gradiometers measure the slight changes in the Earth’s gravitational tug when dirt, rock, ice or water are moved around. The gravity maps, or gradients, they produce have been employed by the U.S. Navy’s submarine force to stealthily detect underwater obstacles.

If a country were to dig tunnels through a mountain the gravity gradient would reveal the presence of cavities. The paper noted that the “ability to program a UAV to autonomously accomplish such a mission, from take off to landing, is feasible and in fact serves as the fundamental concept for the Air Forces’ Global Hawk UAV.”

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