Trump tweet showed US spied on Iran via spacecraft USA 224: NPR
Experts argue that the release of this image proves Trump is unfit to regain the presidency due to his inability of handling classified data.
On August 30, 2019, former US President Donald Trump published a tweet that showed a satellite picture of a rocket that exploded on a launch pad inside Iran, NPR reported on Saturday.
The quality of the image was so clear that experts initially thought it is impossible for the picture to have been taken via satellite.
"This picture is so exquisite, and you see so much detail," says Jeffrey Lewis, who studies satellite imagery at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. "At first, I thought it must have been taken by a drone or something."
Aerospace experts later determined the picture was shot using the USA 224, one of the US' most prized intelligence assets.
Three years after the tweet was published, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) formally declassified the original image after NPR requested its issue under the Freedom of Information Act.
“The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran. I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One." @POTUS45 August 2019 🦤 🤡 pic.twitter.com/QM7Bt7cROz— Jane (@PlaintanJane) August 17, 2022
The agency that produced the image in Trump's tweet, the NGA, is responsible for providing the government with intel information, which includes images from drones, spy planes, and satellites, and turning them into information to be accessed by decision-makers.
A specialist in secrecy and classification at the Federation of American Scientists, Steven Aftergood, said that several details of the original image were concealed.
As such, the publication of such a tweet was the outcome of an impulsive and uncoordinated decision.
"He was getting literally a bird's eye view of some of the most sensitive US intelligence on Iran," Aftergood told NPR. "And the first thing he seemed to want to do was to blurt it out over Twitter."
NPR says the revelation comes a few days after Trump announced his bid to run for the presidency in 2024, and after the FBI's seizure of classified documents from Trump's Mar-a-Lago property in Florida.
Whether this is supposed to help Trump in regaining office is unsure because it exposes the US to scrutiny over its illegal spying activities on countries as advanced as Iran, amid claims that Trump had the best interests of Americans at heart by revealing information that is usually made inaccessible to the public.
Robert Cardillo, who served as director of the NGA from 2014 to 2019, said governments often release images in a lower resolution from a commercial satellite "as a way to protect that source, but then also get the information out."
Cardillo added that imagery is no longer as secret as it once was and that over his career, levels of classification for spy satellite images were loosened up.
"Because there is so much commercial imagery out there, I feel like there's less sensitivity," he said.
But this particular image was still classified, hence the NGA must've received a heavy jab on its face after its release.
"The entire US intelligence community is incredibly averse to letting this information out," Lewis says. "The idea that the president would just scream 'YOLO!', photograph it and tweet it--is really hard to take."
A possible excuse for releasing such an image would be "that Russia would have done the same thing and Iran would have done the same thing," Cardillo claimed.
Aftergood said the latest release "confirms a kind of recklessness on the part of former President Trump and also a disrespect for the rather astonishing intelligence that he was receiving."
Lewis likewise said the release of such an image shows Trump's inability to handle sensitive data, hence a possible form of discrediting the President who is heading for the 2024 presidential race.
"I wouldn't tell this man any information that I wanted to remain private," Lewis said. "The idea that he could again have access to classified information is unnerving."
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