Posted on | November 16, 2013 | Comments Off
This post previously appeared on a prior, ill-fated blog project of mine. It was basically an attempt to create one of those “top 10” lists that get so many hits from reddit and digg and whatnot, but as long as I was doing that, I chose a subject matter I found personally interesting and combined it with some general dicking about with Google Earth, which I also enjoy. I took out the amazon ads I had put in the original (it got over 1,000 hits and I made about 5 cents), cleaned it up a little, and the savings I pass along to you!
I had some fun making this one. I wanted to make a little exhibit, if you will, of some interesting open source imagery. Every location listed here is described much more fully in plenty of other places on the internet (some more than others, of course).
Nothing here is “secret” in any meaningful sense of the term… and yet, these locations – or perhaps more accurately their referents – are indeed secret. What does that mean? It’s an interesting thing to think about, and I did for a few minutes, but then realized it was just a lot more fun playing around with Google Earth and putting this together.
1.) Mount Yamantaw
Starting first with this massive Russian underground command center and shelter, akin perhaps to Mount Weather or Cheyenne Mountain in the United States:
Mount Yamantaw is in the Ural Mountains, Bashkortostan, Russia. The name means evil mountain in the Bashkir language. It is … suspected by the United States of being a large secret nuclear facility and/or bunker. The closed military town of Mezhgorye is situated nearby. As late as 2003, Yamantaw was not yet fully operational. Large excavation projects have been observed by U.S. satellite imagery as recently as the late 1990s, during the time of Boris Yeltsin’s pro-Western government after the fall of the Soviet Union.Two garrisons, Beloretsk-15 and Beloretsk-16, were built on top of the facility, and possibly a third, Alkino-2, as well, and became the closed town of Mezhgorye in 1995. They are said to house 30,000 workers each. Repeated U.S. questions have yielded twelve different responses from the Russian government regarding Mount Yamantaw.They have said it is a mining site, a repository for Russian treasures, a food storage area, and a bunker for leaders in case of nuclear war. Responding to questions regarding Yamantaw in 1996, Russia’s Defense Ministry stated: “The practice does not exist in the Defense Ministry of Russia of informing foreign mass media about facilities, whatever they are, that are under construction in the interests of strengthening the security of Russia.”Large rail lines run into and out of the mountain. Mount Yamantaw is near one of Russia’s last remaining nuclear labs, Chelyabinsk-70, raising speculation that it already houses nuclear weapons. Russian newspapers reported in 1996 that it is a part of the “Dead Hand” nuclear retaliatory command structure.
Source: Mount Yamantaw, article at Wikipedia.
2.) RAF Menwith Hill
Golf Balls of the Gods, or jointly run US/UK communications intercept station? You decide!
The Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center in North Korea has been the focus of much media attention these past few years. The site was shut down in 2007, suggesting either a lull in activity or the extraction of nuclear materials for possible military use. It was then reactivated in late 2008. IAEA inspectors were asked to leave.
4.) Negev Nuclear Research Center
Israel’s primary nuclear research facility at Dimona in the Negev Desert and the widely-believed center of its rumored (but still officially undisclosed) nuclear-weapons program. The nature of this facility was revealed by a former employee in 1986, Mordechai Vanunu. He was subsequently kidnapped by the Mossad in Rome and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment for treason and espionage.
The Negev Nuclear Research Center is an Israeli nuclear installation located in the Negev desert, about thirteen kilometers to the south-east of the city of Dimona. Its construction commenced in 1958, with French assistance according to the secret Protocol of Sèvres agreements. The complex was constructed in secret, and outside the International Atomic Energy Agency inspection regime. To maintain secrecy, French customs officials were told that the largest of the reactor components, such as the reactor tank, were part of a desalination plant bound for Latin America. The purpose of Dimona is widely assumed to be the manufacturing of nuclear weapons, and the majority of defense experts have concluded that it does in fact do that. However, the Israeli government refuses to confirm or deny this publicly, as part of a policy of deliberate ambiguity. The Dimona reactor went on-line some time between 1962 and 1964, and with the plutonium produced there, perhaps together with enriched uranium, the Israel Defence Forces most probably had their first nuclear weapons ready before the Six-Day War.
Source: Negev Nuclear Research Center, article at Wikipedia.
This is probably one of the more unusual sites listed, and certainly the one that piqued my interest the most when I first heard about it. Everyone knows something about Chernobyl, the nuclear reactor complex in the Soviet Union (now Ukraine) which suffered a catastrophic meltdown in April 1986. Less well known is another site, roughly six miles south-south-west of the Chernobyl plant, deep within the contaminated (and fearsomely named) “Zone of Alienation,” called either “Chernobyl-2” or “Duga 3” in the few sources that reference it.
The site houses a massive antenna array which was part of an over-the-horizon early-warning radar system (NATO-codenamed “STEEL YARD”). This array (pictured left) was the source of an extremely powerful radio signal which baffled intelligence agencies and radio enthusiasts the world over – named the “Russian Woodpecker” because of its frequency and repetitive tapping character. The site (which as noted is deep within the contamination zone) is abandoned according to most sources, although the array still stands. But at least one (admittedly dated) source suggests otherwise:
Oleksandr Lalak, deputy of the Kiev Council and head of the Independent Association of Ukrainian Servicemen (NPVU), sought answers… when he made a tour around the “secret” facility accompanied by NVPU members Mykola Boyko, Anatoliy Murachov, and Viktor Sidletskyy… The investigation revealed that the facility’s ground equipment is completely destroyed. This is shown in the pictures that Mr. Lalak gave… along with documents about the inspection of “Chernobyl-2.” On the other hand, the inspection group has established that antennas of the horizon radar complex… and the space communications system “Kruh” remain operational.
Source: “Whom does the mysterious ‘Chernobyl-2’ serve?”, VECHIRNIY KYYIV, 12 Apr 96 p2, reprinted at GlobalSecurity.org.
This next pic is from English Russia, “Duga: The Steel Giant Near Chernobyl,” (definitely worth checking out, lots more pictures there) – to give some sense of the scale of the array:
And the Google Earth image:
Other Sources: Chernobyl 2: Military Facility in the Shadow of Chernobyl; Zone of Alienation, article at Wikipedia.
6.) Pine Gap
This is Menwith Hill’s counterpart, on the opposite side of the world – another jointly-run signals intercept station, almost dead-center in the Australian outback. Pine Gap appears to have gotten the Dick Cheney treatment from Google Earth (or at least a new paint job) since last I took a peak at it a few years back.
Source: Pine Gap, article at Wikipedia.
Speaking of Dick Cheney, what kind of list would this be without at least one of his favorite haunts? Yes, it’s time for an “undisclosed location,” Site “R” – also known to the in-crowd as the Raven Rock Mountain Complex at Raven Rock, Pennsylvania. Home to (among others) the Alternate Joint Communications Center, the Alternate National Military Command Center, and the emergency operational commands of the army, navy and air force.
While the map clearly shows its location as Raven Rock, PA, Sharon Weinberger at Wired’s Danger Room blog noted that the complex is actually “one of those places that exists somewhere between the worlds of secrecy and lunacy.” Continuing from the article “How To: Visit a Secret Nuclear Bunker”:
For all the secrecy surrounding Site R, the mountain facility suffers from the obvious flaw of just about every bunker out there: Its existence isn’t secret, and in the era of Google Earth, it really can’t be kept secret. And if it’s not a secret, what good is it? A modern thermonuclear warhead would destroy it in an instant. In fact, Site R was almost mothballed prior to September 11. As we learned from our travels, bunkers are typically obsolete the day they open their doors, but they live off the inertia of bureaucracy… Are bunkers good for combating terrorism? Probably not. As the nation learned on September 11, what you want in the event of a terrorist attack is information: immediate, accurate and unfiltered. Site R, where government workers are stripped of their personal cell phones and PDAs, is arguably the worst place to be. When you walk into a government office these days, the big board equivalent is not a classified feed, but a flat screen playing CNN.
This is Syria’s entry in the nuclear-reactor category – or it was, until Israel bombed it on September 6th, 2007 (see Operation Orchard). Nobody outside the loop was sure what it was they bombed until clues from various official sources started to trickle out 8 months later. The site pictured below is a recent reconstruction: “On January 11, 2008, DigitalGlobe released a satellite photo showing that a building similar to the suspected target of the attack had been rebuilt in the same location.However, an outside expert said that it was unlikely to be a reactor and could be cover for excavation of the old site.” (Also from the Operation Orchard wiki article.)
On April 1, 2008 Asahi Shimbun reported that Ehud Olmert told Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda during a meeting on February 27 that the target of the strike was “nuclear-related facility that was under construction with know-how and assistance from North Korean technicians dispatched by Pyongyang.” On April 24, 2008, the CIA released a videoand background briefing, which it claims shows similarities between the North Korean nuclear reactor in Yongbyon and the one in Syria which was bombed by Israel. According to a U.S. official, there did not appear to be any uranium at the reactor, and although it was almost completed, it could not have been declared operational without significant testing.
Other Sources: Some extensive open source visual analysis on the Al-Kibar site is found in: The Al-Kibar Reactor: Extraordinary Camouflage, Troubling Indications, report by David Albright and Paul Brannan for the Institute for Science and International Security (May 12, 2008).
9.) Kurchatov (Semipalatinsk-16)
I wanted to include an example of one of the former USSR’s famous “closed cities” – large cities that because of their scientific and/or military purpose were essentially off limits to the public. Kurchatov, located in Kazakhstan, was a city which housed the military and scientific personnel responsible for operating the Soviet Union’s largest nuclear weapons testing area, the Semipalatinsk site(s). It is probably somewhat more open today than it used to be (although the environmental contamination still remains).
Source: Kurchatov article at GlobalSecurity.org.
10.) Mercury, Nevada
America also had its share of cold-war “closed cities,” Mercury, Nevada is a prime example. Today it is a ghost town with only a skeleton staff maintaining its facilities, but it used to be home to over 10,000 people operating the Nevada Test Site. The town was governed by the Atomic Energy Commission and today still falls under the Department of Energy’s responsibility. It is also still closed to the public.
Source: Mercury, Nevada article at Wikipedia.
And two that almost made it to the list…
11.) Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant
The nuclear facility at Bushehr is slated to go online within the next year. While it’s not overly mysterious (Iran occasionally allows inspectors and the press in), it is a closed facility and its purpose and future remain uncertain. In similar circumstances 20 years ago satellite images of such a site would be worth a fortune to those curious about such places, today – like all the other images here – they are available to the general public.
Source: Bushehr, article at GlobalSecurity.org.
12.) The Ararat Anomaly
This last one could well be much ado about nothing, but two facts still stand: The “Ararat Anomaly” has intrigued both image specialists and intelligence agencies, and no-one, even today, knows exactly what it is – or at least, they’re not telling. Sitting close to the border between Turkey, Iran and Armenia, images of the site are frequently classified. Some say (perhaps a bit hopefully) that it could be the remains of Noah’s Ark: Identifying the Ararat anomaly has been a 13-year quest of Porcher Taylor, an associate professor in paralegal studies at the University of Richmond’s School of Continuing Studies in Virginia. Taylor has been a national security analyst for more than 30 years, also serving as a senior associate for five years at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve got newfound optimism … as far as my continuing push to have the intelligence community declassify some of the more definitive-type imagery … I’m calling this my satellite archeology project,” Taylor said. It’s an effort that has now included use of QuickBird, GeoEye’s Ikonos spacecraft, Canada’s Radarsat 1, as well as declassified aerial and satellite images taken by the various U.S. intelligence agencies. Taylor said his goal is straightforward: Combining this imagery to make the Ararat anomaly transparent to the public, as well as to the discerning, dispassionate eyes of scientists, imagery analysts, and other experts. “I had no preconceived notions or agendas when I began this in 1993 as to what I was looking for,” Taylor said. As for the saga of Noah’s Ark, he is quick to note that there are those who say it is fable while some take it as truth. Nevertheless, the anomaly may not be a ridge line of ice, snow and possibly rock, but an artificial ridge line, Taylor said. “I maintain that if it is the remains of something manmade and potentially nautical, then it’s potentially something of biblical proportions.”
Source: CNN/Space.com, “Satellite closes in on Noah’s Ark mystery,” March 2006. Wikipedia notes others may disagree: the anomaly site is “sometimes confused with the Durupinar site, a feature 30 km from the mountain that is claimed to be Noah’s Ark by the adventurer Ron Wyatt and marine salvager David Fasold.” So what does the area look like with the latest freely available imagery? Something like this:
Better luck on the next pass, we hope.
Posted on | September 27, 2013 | Comments Off
Posted on | August 16, 2013 | Comments Off
This is a section of a map of the under-construction Marmaray, showing the undersea railway tunnel crossing the Bosphorus and linking Europe with Asia. It looks much like any of dozens of unremarkable stylized metropolitan commuter maps, making me wonder what the Byzantines or Ottomans would think to know how ordinary crossing between two worlds would one day become.
Posted on | August 12, 2013 | Comments Off
The DEW line is relatively well known as early warning radar lines go, but the Mid-Canada and Pinetree lines not so much.
This little map also goes to show that Canada was the primary battleground (so far as ballistic missiles went) of a cold-war envisioned WWWIII.
Posted on | May 27, 2013 | Comments Off
Posted on | May 14, 2013 | Comments Off
Was looking at the Polar Navy map on wunderground.com and never realized how much unexploded ordnance there was in almost any given area. Took a screenshot from the Atlantic off eastern Long Island. Also probably worth avoiding the sulfuric acid patch…
Posted on | March 29, 2013 | Comments Off
Interesting travel account of an interesting place: the conjunction of North Korea, Russia and China…
Posted on | March 29, 2013 | Comments Off
Nuclear weapons are naturally objects of concern, but North Korea’s fledgling nuclear arsenal changes little in terms of the underlying trump card Pyongyang has held since the end of the Korean War.
Posted on | March 23, 2013 | Comments Off
The last vestige of French sovereignty in North America, St. Pierre and Miquelon. Historic rivalry and conflict distilled into two small islands. And some ocean. Good place for cod fishing and/or signals interception.
Posted on | October 31, 2012 | Comments Off
Sadly nothing eclectic about this map. It brought home visually however just how serious Hurricane Sandy was going to be for New Yorkers, and how much of NYC is vulnerable to flooding. Click the link for a PDF.
Source: NYC Office of Emergency Management.keep looking »