How Trump Used Classified Intel to Troll Iran

September 3, 2019
Joshua Pollack

The following is an excerpt of an article published in Daily Beast.

Half a dozen people gathered in the Washington, D.C., offices of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies on Thursday morning to gawk at senior research associate Dave Schmerler’s monitor. What stared back wasn’t a kitten or puppy video, but it was instantly recognizable to most of us: a circular launch pad at a space facility in Semnan, Iran, seen from above.

For about a week, Dave had been watching launch preparations at Semnan through daily three-meter resolution commercial satellite pictures from Planet in California. What made Thursday’s shot different was the massive column of black smoke rising from the center of the discolored pad—the unmistakable signs of a fire or explosion. The launch had failed.

So Iran tried and failed to launch a satellite today –

— Dave Schmerler (@DaveSchmerler) August 29, 2019

That was impressive, but it was nothing much compared to Friday afternoon. That’s when the Tweeter-in-Chief chose to share another version with the world:

The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran. I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2019

Donald Trump’s taunt hints at sabotage, raising the possibility that the United States or another nation might have just undertaken a stealthy “left of launch” operation against a space program it considers indistinguishable from ballistic missile development. That’s childish at best, an indiscretion at worst.

More surprising, and far more consequential, is the accompanying photograph. Its resolution is well beyond that of any commercially available image, maybe just a few centimeters per pixel, revealing an extraordinary level of detail. Its exceptional quality and informative annotations (“damaged propellant burner trailer”) strongly suggest that the President of the United States has just tweeted out a sensitive imagery intelligence (IMINT) product.

A closer look at the picture tends to confirm that impression. It’s a photograph of a document, with visible distortion around the edges. What looks like glare from a light fixture can be seen near the center, and the shadow of the person taking the picture looms over the scene. A black rectangle has been added to the upper left corner, apparently to obscure classification markings.

Continue reading at Daily Beast.

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