- White House
- President Donald Trump looks to have shared a photograph of an intelligence briefing that could have exposed US military secrets to the world while taunting Iran over Twitter.
- The image Trump shares appears lifted from an intelligence briefing and is much more high-resolution than anything commercial satellite image providers have produced.
- At first blush, it looks like someone took a photo of this surveillance product with a smartphone, rather than being prepared by the intelligence community.
- The Kennedy administration famously presented spy plane images showing Russian nuclear missiles in Cuba. But it would be highly unusual for a president to declassify an image captured by a non-public military asset to mock another country.
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President Donald Trump looks to have shared a photograph of an intelligence briefing that could have exposed US military secrets to the world while taunting Iran over Twitter.
Iran on Thursday suffered a failure of a satellite launch vehicle that blew up on the ground. Immediately after the test, commercial satellites photographed the wreckage and sold the images to civilian analysts.
But on Friday, Trump shared an image that put the commercial satellite photography to shame. Trump’s photo looks like it was snapped from a large print out of a very detailed close up of the launch. The notations and presentation of the image suggests it likely comes from US intelligence services, possibly in a briefing for the president.
In releasing the high-res image, Trump noted Iran had suffered a “catastrophic accident,” adding: “I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One.”
Images shared on Wednesday were much more distant and less detailed.
So Trump’s photo revealed either that the US has fantastic satellite photography capabilities, far beyond what Iran, or even US civilians can get their hands on, or that the US had a drone close enough to take pictures.
However, the extreme angle of the picture makes it look like it wasn’t taken from space, but rather from an aircraft.
The launch took place at the Imam Khomeini Space Center North West of Tehran. This location is more than 120 miles from Iran’s nearest border. If a drone took the photo, it was either flying over Iranian airspace undetected or somehow able to take a great picture from 120 miles away.
Both of those situations involving drone photography would be big news.
“I think I just got flexed on by the president,” David Schmerler, a leading expert on open source imagery analysis, told Business Insider of the image. Schmerler had spent hours the night before analyzing the widely available pictures of the failed launch, but was blown away by the quality of Trump’s image.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” he said. “I know that [the US military has] amazing capabilities, but I don’t know what this is.”
Trump, as president, has the power to easily declassify photos and documents, such as the picture of Iran’s failed launch.
But the photo does not look like it was prepared by US intelligence agents. Instead, a camera flash can be seen on the surface of the image, which was most likely a printout. The image may also show the shadow of the photographer.
It would be highly unusual for a president to declassify an image captured by a non-public military asset to mock another country.
Business Insider has reached out to several open source image analysts to see what else this photo may tell us about the US’s activity in surveilling Iran and will update the post with any further revelations.