A Defense Technology Blog
See All Posts
  • Spook Central: Stealth Helo HQ?
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 5:42 PM on May 12, 2011

    The idea that a regional airport in southern New York state could have been the site for the development of the stealthy helicopters used in the operation to kill Osama bin Laden might seem remote.

    And there's a reason we use the word "may" when we talk about this stuff. Investigation of this kind is never 100 percent certain. However, when a helicopter firm buys a company with experience of acoustic stealth, a background of very small-batch production and a track record of dealings with the Culinary Institute of America, one does wonder.

    But what we did find out for certain was that the US government, both at state and federal levels, monkeys around with Google Earth imagery to a previously unreported extent, and that the airport where Sikorsky's operation is based has been a target of that effort. And there's nothing else there that looks remotely sensitive.

    The New York state geographic imagery service, which provides Google with its data set, not only substituted a five-year-old image for the current view of the Elmira-Corning airport but went to some trouble to blur it beyond recognition, including a splotch on the runway that looks as if a passing Roc mistook it for a freshly washed car.

    blog post photo
    Google Earth

    According to Google, the NY State office “did some processing (apparently blurring of a sophisticated nature using truncated wavelet transformations) of areas that might be generally described as ‘being on the National Critical Infrastructure Protection List.’,” maintained by the Department of Homeland Security. The effects can be seen here in a close view of the airport boundary.

    blog post photo
    Google Earth

    Unless I am missing something, this is a textbook example of lousy security. First, it was obvious that something was up as soon as I started looking for the newer Hawk Works building, built in 2006-07. Second, non-blurred imagery of all sites can be accessed by Google Earth users with the utility’s Historical Views tool, and other map servers have not been censored.

    blog post photo
    Bing Image

    And, as Google technicians pointed out to New York authorities, such a measure “has the secondary effect of visually identifying all of the NCIPL sites for those who might be interested." The New York securicrats' reaction, was, in essence LALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU. "They understand this but find the tradeoff the right one for their purposes," is the Google boffins' frustrated response. "We have no position to question such actions.”

    A number of New York sites, including Syracuse and Albany airports, have received the same treatment – but not, however, the New York City area airports, which might be considered bigger targets. So what's the big secret? Of course, there's at least one unique military aircraft on the site:

    blog post photo

    Tags: ar99, stealth, bin-laden

  • Recommend
  • Report Abuse

Comments on Blog Post